Ever been pressed to death? Matt Chittick talks about the historical person of Giles Corey.

Posted on Oct 28, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments

MATTHEW CHITTICK —Over the past few months, I have spent many hours on Robert Ward’s opera The Crucible. This is a hauntingly beautiful opera based on Arthur Miller’s play of the same name. Most days of the week, I find myself on the stage of the Old Aud, in the shoes of Giles Corey, an old, outspoken farmer from Salem, Massachusetts, in the year of 1692.

Giles Corey is a fascinating character, and I’ve had a great opportunity to do some digging into the historical person himself. Historically, Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft by Ann Putnam, Jr., Mercy Lewis, and Abigail Williams. When tried in court the first time, he refused to plead and was subsequently committed to jail until the next trial a few months later. Again, at this trial, he refused to plead. The legal remedy at the time for refusing to plead was pressing. This is a process where the prisoner is stripped, has a heavy board placed on their chest. Rocks or boulders were then placed on the board, to as great a weight as the prisoner could bear. The prisoner was then to be fed 3 morsels of food on the first day, and three draughts of standing water the second day. This continued until the prisoner either confessed or died.

After two days, Giles was questioned again, from under the weight of the rocks. In answer to all the questions, he simply said “more weight.” This is the only known instance of pressing in New England.

It has been a great experience delving into the character of Giles Corey: this outspoken, hot tempered man, who is at the same time noble and honourable. Trying to recreate the kind of person he might have been, and trying to do it justice, is a daunting task, but I’m enjoying the challenge. With such a wonderful cast of singers around me, it’s impossible not to enjoy it. I think, however, that I’ll skip out on learning what it feels like to be pressed.