The scene opens in Reverend Parris’s house, in a small upstairs bedroom, in the year 1692. The narrator describes Reverend Parris as a suspicious man in his mid-forties, one who often imagines that the world is against him. The narrator describes Salem as a new town with a strict Puritan way of life, and its outlook on the rest of the world one of “parochial snobbery” – in other words, small-town small-mindedness. The town saw itself as persecuted, a legacy from persecution of Puritans in the Old World (Europe). Because the Puritans sought a community, they managed to survive. But by 1692, much that was good about the Puritans, the narrator suggests, has been lost to history. The Salem witch-trials were an opportunity for neighbors to vent against neighbors, to publicly air long-standing jealousy, to accuse those they disliked. And all while sounding righteous and religious!
The first scene opens as Tituba, the Rev. Parris’s slave, enters the bedroom. Reverend Parris is weeping and praying over his daughter Betty’s bed. They exchange brief words, as Tituba asks if Betty is getting better, but the Reverend tells her to get out of his sight. The door opens and seventeen-year-old Abigail Williams, the Reverend’s niece, announces the arrival of Susanna Walcott.
Susanna tells the Reverend that Doctor Griggs can find no cure for Betty’s sickness. He thinks there might be an “unnatural cause” to the illness, but Reverend Parris denies this possibility.
Abigail and the Reverend tell Susanna to go home but not to spread these kinds of rumors in the village.
Abigail and the Reverend Parris discuss the rumors of witchcraft in the village – and the minister confronts Abigail about how he found girls dancing in the forest. He says she has put his position in the church in jeopardy, as he has many enemies. Abigail protests that what they did was all in fun and they were never naked, but the minister says she has still created problems. Then he wonders what the people in the village say about Abigail, especially since Goody (Mrs.) Proctor fired her. Abigail claims that Goody Proctor is a “lying, cold, sniveling woman” who just wanted a slave.
Mrs. Ann Putnam enters and wants to know “how high” Betty flew, indicating the kind of rumors going around.
Thomas Putnam enters and the Reverend learns that their daughter Ruth is sick, too. Mrs. Putnam believes it is the Devil’s sickness. Parris admits he has called for Reverend Hale, a renowned witch-hunter, from the neighboring town of Beverly, but only as a precaution.
The narrator breaks in to describe Thomas Putnam as a money-grubbing, vindictive man. The narrator also finds it interesting that his daughter led the crying-out when – but here the narrator stops, although by now it’s clear that some of Thomas Putnam’s interests, perhaps financial, were at stake.
Putnam insists to the Rev. Parris that there are evil spirits at work here. And Mrs. Putnam chimes in that she has had seven babies die. She admits she sent her daughter Ruth to Tituba, who knows how to speak to the dead, to find out who or what murdered her babies.
Rev. Parris asks Abigail if that’s what they were up to when he caught them – conjuring spirits. Abigail says Tituba and Ruth were, but she was not. Rev. Parris begins to fret about how “they” (his enemies in the village) will use this against him.
Mercy Lewis, the Putnams’ servant, enters. She reports that Ruth Putnam has been sneezing so violently that she might lose her mind.
Mr. Putnam urges the Reverend to speak out against witchcraft, but Parris is afraid to speak too soon.
Mrs. Putnam leaves, followed by Parris and Mr. Putnam.
Left alone, Abigail and Mercy discuss Ruth’s sickness, and Mercy replies that Ruth has been walking like a dead person. Mercy suggests that Abigail try beating Betty to see if that gets her to wake up. Abigail tells Mercy that she can tell them that they danced and that they already know that Tituba conjured Ruth’s sisters to come out of the grave; plus, she adds, the Rev. Parris saw Mercy naked. Mercy is freaked out by this.
Mary Warren, another seventeen-year-old girl, enters – reporting that the whole town is talking about witchcraft!
Mercy accuses Mary of wanting to tell people about their strange nighttime activities, and Mary says they have to tell because “witchery” is a hanging offense.
Abigail wakes Betty up, who whimpers, gets off the bed, and cries for her mother. Abigail tells her that her mother is dead, and Betty says she’ll fly to get to her mother. She raises the window and starts to climb out before Abigail pulls her back.
Betty reminds Abigail that she drank blood to kill John Proctor’s wife, and Abigail hits her. Betty starts to cry for her mother.
Abigail talks to the others, getting their stories straight: they danced and Tituba conjured Ruth’s dead sisters, but that’s it. If they say anything, she threatens to come to them at night and do something they won’t forget.
John Proctor enters. The narrator desribes Proctor as a man in his thirties who hated hypocrites. He is a sinner, not only by the standard of the time, but in his own book. He thinks he’s a fraud.
Mary Warren tells him that she plans to leave. Proctor reminds her that he forbade her to leave the house in the first place. He tells her to get on home, so she leaves. Then Mercy leaves, and Abigail stares at Proctor. She begins to flirt with him and Proctor asks what the stories about witchcraft are about.
Abigail tells her that they were dancing in the woods, her uncle scared them, and Betty just “took fright.”
Proctor smiles at the mischief and tells her she’s going to get herself in some real trouble.
He tries to leave but Abigail stops him and asks him for a soft word. He tells her that’s done with and she begs him for his attention, the kind he gave her in the past. She claims she knows he still wants her.
Proctor explains again that he’s done with that. She needs to let it go. Abigail gets angry and says his wife is “blackening” her name. All she wants, she says, is John Proctor. He loved her and he still loves her, she says, and runs toward him as he starts to leave.
They hear a hymn coming from outside, and Betty whines, putting her hands over her ears. It scares Proctor. Reverend Parris rushes in, hearing Betty’s wailing. Mrs. Putnam enters, and then Thomas Putnam and Mercy Lewis. They discuss how she “can’t bear to hear the Lord’s name.”
Rebecca Nurse enters, and then Giles Corey. Both are older members of the community. Giles says he has heard that Betty can fly.
Everybody is quiet as Rebecca walks across the room and stands over Betty, who slowly stops her whimpering.
The narrator describes Rebecca Nurse as the wife of Francis Nurse, who was highly respected within the town. Rebecca, likewise, was once highly respected. But there were those who resented the wealth they had, and the land they owned. The narrator suggests that the only way she could have been accused of being a witch was revenge – and it was Thomas Putnam who wanted revenge, because the Nurse clan prevented a certain Reverend Bayley from being the town minister, and Putnam had promoted Bayley.
Rebecca suggests that the entire problem, with both Betty and Ruth, is childish pranks. Proctor concurs. Parris suggests that some people think it’s the work of the Devil, and Proctor suggests that as the minister, he make a public statement to prove them wrong. Then Putnam says there are children dying and Proctor says he sees no children dying.
Rebecca says the minister should send the Reverend Hale back. His presence is divisive. The Putnams ask how she explains all their dead children if not by evil spirits, and Rebecca says she doesn’t know.
Everyone falls to arguing. We learn that many people don’t want to come to church because Mr. Parris is always preaching about hellfire and damnation. Parris suggests that the problem is not the children but others who aren’t fulfilling their obligations to him as minister, and their financial obligations in particular. Parris feels that he’s in poverty, and that the Devil is likely responsible.
Proctor says he’s the first minister to ever demand the deed to the minister’s house. Parris explains that he wants a “mark of confidence” in him as their minister. He wants to be there a good long while. He says that people should either be obedient or burn in hell. Proctor says he’s sick of hearing about hell. Rev. Parris suggests that Proctor tell his followers that they are not Quakers (who don’t speak of hell). Proctor wonders what Parris means by his followers. Parris says he knows there is a “faction and a party” in the church against him. Rebecca urges Proctor to make peace with the minister.
Giles is surprised and impressed by the minister’s forthrightness.
Soon enough, another argument erupts, this time between Proctor and Putnam. Proctor has bought land from the Nurses that Putnam considers rightfully his.
Rev. Hale enters.
The narrator tells us that Mr. Hale is almost forty. He is a “specialist” in witchcraft. He sees himself as educated, superior to the common folk, and highly knowledgeable in the ways of the Devil. He was certain there were people in Salem worshiping the Devil – probably Tituba, and the children who played sorcery games with her.
Coming into the room, Mr. Hale is carrying half-a-dozen heavy books. Parris takes them off his hands and remarks how heavy they are. Hale says they are “weighted with authority.” Hale acknowledges Rebecca and says everybody knows about her good deeds as far as Beverly, his town. Parris introduces the Putnams, who let Hale know that their child is sick, too. Hale asks Giles and Proctor if their children are also afflicted, and they say no. Proctor says he’s going to leave, but Giles has a question he wants to ask Hale. Proctor leaves, telling Hale he’s heard he’s a sensible man, and he hopes that Hale brings some sense back to Salem.
Parris asks him to look at Betty, and lets him know that she tries to fly. Then Putnam chimes in that she can’t bear to hear the Lord’s name, a sure sign of witchcraft.
Hale tells them not to be hasty. They proceed to recount the story of how Parris found the girls dancing in the forest secretly with Tituba, who knows the science of conjuring spirits.
Mrs. Putnam lets him know that seven of her children died in childbirth. Hale says he will do what he can to find out if the Devil has come, no matter what it takes.
At this time, Rebecca excuses herself, saying she’s too old for this.
Giles then wants to know what Mr. Hale makes of a woman who reads strange books. Then he admits he’s talking about his wife, who hides her books. It makes him uncomfortable and has even stopped him from praying.
The narrator breaks in now to speak up for Mr. Giles, who is in his early eighties. He was always in trouble, the narrator says, and never bothered about church until his last few years. The narrator remarks that perhaps his wife’s reading has stopped his prayers but he hadn’t known his prayers for very long so it is not a surprise.
Hale remarks that this is strange, and says they’ll discuss it.
He gets Betty to sit up and watches her carefully. He addresses her but she does not move or speak. Parris tries to get her to speak, and Hale continues his questions. When she remains limp, he asks Abigail what kind of dancing they were doing in the forest.
Abigail claims it was only “common” dancing, but Parris interjects that he saw a kettle. Abigail explains that was soup. Hale wants to know if Parris saw anything living in the kettle, a spider or frog, and Parris (scared) says he saw something moving. Abigail says a little frog jumped in, and Hale is shocked.
Then it all comes out: Tituba called on the Devil, but she spoke in “Barbados” – a reference to her slave background – so Abigail could not understand her. She tries to shake Betty to wake her up.
Hale persists, wanting to know if Abigail or Betty drank from the kettle.
Mrs. Putnam brings Tituba up to explain herself. As soon as Tituba appears, Abigail accuses her of making her drink blood.
Tituba seems shocked and tells Hale that she doesn’t “truck with no Devil!”
Abigail goes on accusing, saying that Tituba sends her spirit to her in church and makes her laugh during prayer. Parris confirms this is true. Abigail says she’ll wake up, completely naked, and she hears Tituba laughing in her sleep.
Tituba denies everything, and when Hale tells her to wake Betty up, Tituba says she has no power over the child. Putnam says Tituba must be hanged and Tituba falls to her knees, terrified, and says she always tells the Devil she doesn’t want to work for him. She thinks somebody else is witching the children – the Devil has a lot of people working for him.
Hale leads Tituba through a confession of loving God and wanting to be a good Christian woman. Tituba blesses the Lord. She confesses that when the Devil came to her, he usually came with a woman, but she could not see who it was.
As they continue questioning her, she admits that there were four that came with the Devil. Parris wants to know their names – but Tituba instead says that the Devil was trying to get her to kill him, Parris.
She says that Goody Good was one of the women who worked for the Devil, as was Goody Osburn.
Mrs. Putnam begins to confirm that she knew this all along.
Abigail begins to cry out that she danced for the Devil, but now she wants to go back to Jesus. She saw Sarah Good with the Devil, she says. She saw Goody Osburn with the Devil. She saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil.
Now Betty begins to pick up the chant, and says she saw George Jacobs and Goody Howe with the Devil.
Hale and Parris are ecstatic that Betty seems to have been set free from the Devil, while the girls go on naming names. Goody Sibber, Alice Barrow, Goody Hawkins, Goody Bibber, Goody Booth….