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PROCTOR, with difficulty: I-I have no witness and cannot prove it except my word be taken. But I know the children's sickness had naught to do with witchcraft.
Hale, stopped, struck: Naught to do-?
PROCTOR: Mr. Parris discovered them sportin' in the woods. They were startled and took sick.
HALE: Who told you this?
PROCTOR, hesitates, then: Abigail Williams.
HALE, his eyes wide: Abigail Williams told you it had naught to do with witchcraft!
PROCTOR: She told me the day you came, sir.
HALE, suspiciously: Why-why did you keep this?
PROCTOR: I never knew until tonight that the world is gone daft with this nonsense.
HALE: Nonsense! Mister, I have myself examined Tituba, Sarah Good, and numerous others that have confessed to dealing with the Devil. They have confessed it.
PROCTOR: And why not, if they must hang for denyin' it? There are them that will swear to anything before they'll hang; have you never thought of that?
HALE: I have. I-I have indeed. It is his own suspicion, but he resists it. He glances at Elizabeth, then at John. And you- would you testify to this in court?
PROCTOR: I-had not reckoned with goin' into court. But if I must I will.
HALE: Do you falter here?
PROCTOR: I falter nothing, but I may wonder if my story will be credited in such a court. I do wonder on it, when such a steady-minded minister as you will suspicion such a woman that never lied, and cannot, and the world knows she cannot! I may falter somewhat, Mister; I am no fool. (II.258-276)
The Reverend Hale and John Proctor connect on this level, at least – their recognition that the justice of the court is not “just” if an accusation is equal proof of guilt and if the only way you can avoid punishment is by confessing. But Hale has a hard time believing that someone would confess to something they did not do. He’s either a complete fool or he’s lying to himself.
HALE: Proctor, if she is innocent, the court-
PROCTOR If she is innocent! Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God's fingers? I'll tell you what's walking Salem-vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant's vengeance! I'll not give my wife to vengeance! (II.389-390)
Proctor points out the fundamental problem with the witchcraft trial scheme: the assumption that the accusers, a minister and a child, are innocent. And more importantly, he points out that the accusations have a personal objective – they are not unbiased.
PROCTOR, moving menacingly toward her: You will tell the court how that poppet come here and who stuck the needle in.
MARY WARREN: She'll kill me for sayin' that! Proctor continues toward her. Abby'll charge lechery on you, Mr. Proctor!
PROCTOR, halting: She's told you!
MARY WARREN: I have known it, sir. She'll ruin you with it, I know she will.
PROCTOR, hesitating, and with deep hatred of himself: Good. Then her saintliness is done with. Mary backs from him. We will slide together into our pit; you will tell the court what you know.
MARY WARREN, in terror: I cannot, they'll turn on me –
Proctor strides and catches her, and she is repeating, "I cannot, I cannot!"
PROCTOR: My wife will never die for me! I will bring your guts into your mouth but that goodness will not die for me!
MARY WARREN, struggling to escape him: I cannot do it, I cannot!
PROCTOR, grasping her by the throat as though he would strangle her: Make your peace with it! Now Hell and Heaven grapple on our backs, and all our old pretense is ripped away-make your peace! He throws her to the floor, where she sobs, "I cannot, I cannot.. " And now, half to himself, staring, and turning to the open door: Peace. It is a providence, and no great change; we are only what we always were, but naked now. He walks as though toward a great horror, facing the open sky. Aye, naked! And the wind, God's icy wind, will blow! (II.427-436)
Proctor appears to be almost relieved that his adultery with Abigail has been revealed to Mary Warren. Now he has even less hesitation about insisting on justice in the court – and expects to lay bare his mistakes so that his wife and her good name may be cleared. The thought of his wife dying is unthinkable for Proctor, especially now that he is beginning to appreciate the value of her honesty.