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Miller: Death of a Salesman

2. Act I – Stage Directions and Set

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About this Lecture


In this module, we explore the very first part of the play, before anyone has even spoken, focusing in particular on: (i) the play’s subtitle (‘Certain private conversations in two acts and a requiem’) and what it tells us about the play; (ii) the importance of the stage directions in general; (iii) the literary and cultural history of the flute and the importance of the flute music that begins the play (“A melody is heard, played upon a flute”); (iv) the importance of the “angry glow of orange” that lights most of the stage at the beginning of the play; (v) some potential readings of the characters’ constant movement around different parts of the set; (vi) Miller’s essay ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’ (1949), and the idea of Willy Loman as a ‘common man’; (vii) the working title for the play (‘Inside of His Head’) and the extent to which what we see on stage are Willy’s externalised hopes, fears, memories, etc.; and (viii) our first glimpse of Willy (“He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly”).


In this nineteen-part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, literary and cultural context, before going through the play scene-by-scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism, and more.

Note: Page numbers are based on the Penguin edition of the play (1998, ed. Christopher Bigsby). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both text and page numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2021, January 22). Miller: Death of a Salesman - Act I – Stage Directions and Set [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act I – Stage Directions and Set." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021,

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