The setting is the vestry room of the Salem church, which has been turned into the courtroom.
Though we don’t see them, we hear Judge Hathorne in the courtroom, questioning Martha Corey, who denies being a witch.
Then we hear the voice of Giles, Martha’s husband, saying he has evidence for the court, and Deputy Governor Danforth’s voice telling the excited townspeople to keep their seats.
Giles speaks and says that Thomas Putnam’s greed for land is fueling these lies. Danforth tells the Marshal to remove the man, and Giles wants to know why the court won’t hear his evidence.
Herrick carries Giles into the vestry room, and now we are privy to the scene.
Reverend Hale tries to calm Giles down, and then Judge Hathorne enters. The narrator describes Hathorne as a big, remorseless man in his sixties.
Hathorne confronts Giles about storming into his courtroom, then Deputy Governor Danforth, Ezekiel Cheever, and the Reverend Parris enter.
Giles tries to plead with them, saying they are telling lies about his wife.
Danforth takes it as disrespect for the court.
Giles begins to weep, and says he only said she was reading books and now she’s being condemned as a witch.
Hale intervenes and says that Giles claims hard evidence and perhaps they might –
Danforth interrupts and says he can present his evidence but in the proper legal channels. Marshal Herrick pushes Giles Corey out of the vestry.
Francis Nurse suddenly interjects to say that “we” are desperate – they’ve been coming for three days and can’t be heard. (The narrative does not tell us when Francis Nurse entered the scene, but perhaps the vestry is filled with people.) We learn that Rebecca was condemned earlier that morning.
Danforth again says that the men should write their plea and “in due time” he will attend to it, but Francis interrupts to claim that the girls are frauds and are deceiving everyone. Danforth is shocked, and perhaps a little offended. Seventy-two people have been condemned to hang, four hundred in the jails – by his signature, he says.
Giles Corey returns, with Mary Warren and Proctor.
Proctor says that Mary would like to speak with the Deputy Governor. Giles says she has been “striving with her soul” all week and would like to tell the truth.
Parris tells Danforth to beware of Proctor – he is “mischief.”
When Danforth bids Mary to speak, and she is silent, Proctor declares for her that she never saw spirits. She has even signed a deposition, though Danforth says he will not accept a deposition.
Parris claims that they’ve come to overthrow the court.
Danforth asks Proctor if he knows that the entire premise of the court is that God is speaking through the children. And Proctor says he knows that is true.
So Danforth begins questioning Mary, and she says the whole thing was pretense, and it was pretense with the other girls, too.
So Danforth asks Proctor what his purpose is for this, and he says he hopes to free his wife.
Proctor denies wishing to overthrow the court, though he hesitates before saying so.
Then Cheever speaks up to say that Proctor damned the court and ripped the warrant, and Hale affirms the truth of this. Proctor claims it was a bout of temper, and Danforth continues questioning him – has he ever seen the Devil? Is he a Gospel Christian? Why does he miss church? (He must have heard this from Parris)? Proctor answers that he loves God, but he does not love Parris. Then, since Cheever says he sometimes plows on Sunday, Proctor has to admit that he does sometimes plow on Sunday. Giles says other Christians sometimes plow on Sundays, and Hale again sticks up for Proctor.
Then we learn that Elizabeth Proctor is pregnant, though they can find no sign of it. Proctor says his wife never lies, so if she says she is pregnant then indeed she is. So Danforth says he will keep her another month and if she begins to show signs, they will keep her another year until she delivers the baby. Will Proctor now drop the charge?
Proctor says he can’t and again Parris argues that he’s come to overthrow the court.
Danforth sends Herrick back into the court to declare recess for one hour.
When Herrick leaves, he asks Proctor for the deposition.
Proctor hands him a testament first – signed by people who give their good opinion of Rebecca, Elizabeth, and Martha.
Parris is sarcastic, but Danforth reads on. There are 91 names on the list.
Parris says they should be summoned for questioning, but Francis, angry, says he gave his word that no harm would come to them for signing the paper.
Parris says it’s an attack on the court.
Hale asks him if every defense is an attack on the court.
Parris says in response that all innocent people are happy for the courts.
Hathorne says they should be examined and Danforth reluctantly gives in. Francis is horrified.
Giles Corey gives his deposition, and Danforth remarks that it is drawn up as if by someone with a legal background. Giles says he’s been in court 33 times, always the plaintiff. At this moment, Mr. Putnam enters. He claims it’s a lie that he had his daughter accuse George Jacobs. Giles responds, “A fart on Thomas Putnam, that is what I say to that!”
Unfortunately, when Danforth asks for proof that Putnam has accused Jacobs to get his property, Giles cannot give the name of the honest man who heard Putnam say it. There is too much fear of the court to come forward openly.
Danforth wants to hold him in contempt for withholding the name, and at the urging of Parris, Hathorne and Danforth claim that an honest man would definitely come forward.
But then Hale points out that they cannot ignore it any longer – people are afraid of the court. Danforth suggests that means therefore that people are guilty.
Hale repeats what he said, that accusation does not equal guilt. Danforth continues to insist that an “uncorrupted man” should not fear the court. He tells Giles that he is under arrest for contempt.
Giles lunges towards Putnam, but Proctor holds him back.
They return to the subject of Mary, who now claims she never saw Satan and that her friends are lying.
Mr. Hale steps up and asks Danforth to please pay attention now to Proctor, because he believes this goes to the heart of the matter.
Danforth argues that there is a problem. In a regular crime, you call up witnesses, but witchcraft is a hidden crime. How do you call up witnesses? We have to rely on the victims, he says, and the children, as victims, have spoken.
So they begin to question Mary Warren. They want to know if Mr. Proctor has threatened her to get her statement, and she says no.
Then Danforth wants to know if she sat in his court, lying, when she knew people would die for what she said. She says she did, but she is with God now.
As she sobs, Abigail, Susanna Walcott, Mercy Lewis, and Betty Parris enter.
Danforth lets them know what is going on, and asks Abigail to rise and tell him if there is any truth to this story.
Abigail rises and says no, there is no truth to it.
Danforth looks from Mary to Abigail and asks if one of them will change their position. But neither will.
So Danforth asks Abigail about the poppet that Mary says she sewed right in front of her. Abigail says it is a lie, that Goody Proctor always kept poppets.
Proctor claims that is a lie. Cheever backs him up. Parris wants to know if poppets could have been hidden where nobody saw them.
Proctor, angry now, says there could have been a dragon with five legs in his house but no one has seen that, either.
Danforth asks Proctor if he really is charging Abigail Williams with intent to murder his wife. Abigail, a child?
Then Proctor confesses. He says Abigail is no child. He says she has twice laughed during church. Parris defends her, saying she was under Tituba’s power at the time. Proctor instructs Mary to tell them how they used to dance in the woods. Mary glances from Danforth to Abigail and is clearly intimidated.
Proctor, impatient, points out that Parris himself caught them.
Danforth is surprised and turns to Parris, who confesses that he did.
Hathorne begins to question Mary, and Mary admits that when she appeared to choke and faint, claiming that the spirits had come to harm her, it was all pretense.
Hathorne says if this is true, she can pretend now. And it turns out that Mary can’t faint on command right now – not because she’s lying but she lacks the hysteria and group psychology that allowed her to do it. As she tries to find out why, she explains how she thought she saw spirits but did not.
Danforth is getting worried. He turns to Abigail, asking her to search her heart and see if she, too, has been deceived.
Abigail is offended. Then, suddenly, she looks up at the air, frightened, and she begins to shiver with the cold and then she looks at Mary Warren. Then Mercy Lewis and Susanna Walcott also begin to say they’re freezing, and it’s clear they are suggesting that Mary Warren is the one making them feel this.
Danforth turns to Mary Warren and asks, angrily, if she is bewitching the girls. She starts to run away but Proctor catches her.
Then he grabs Abigail by the hair and pulls her to her feet. He begins yelling at her, saying that she’s a whore.
When the men tell him to stop, Proctor says he knows she’s a whore because he has “known” her, that is, he’s had sex with her. And he says they must believe him because a man will not throw away his own reputation.
Danforth turns to Abigail to ask if she denies this. But she does not. And Proctor continues that his wife’s only crime was knowing a whore when she saw one.
Danforth calls to have Elizabeth Proctor brought out. Then he turns to Proctor and asks again if his wife is an honest woman and will not lie. Proctor confirms this and says she has never lied in her life. And Danforth turns to Abigail and tells her that if Elizabeth confirms this, then God had better have mercy on her soul.
When Danforth brings Elizabeth out, he makes Proctor and Abigail stand with their backs to Elizabeth. Then he asks her why Elizabeth dismissed Abigail.
Elizabeth says only that she dissatisfied her, and Danforth asks her again why.
She says she thought she saw her husband fancying Abigail while she was sick, but she doesn’t want to condemn her husband, so she refuses to say that her husband is a lecher.
When directly asked, “Is your husband a lecher!” Elizabeth says faintly, “No, sir.”
Danforth tells them to remove her, and Proctor calls out, saying that he had already confessed the truth.
When she is gone, he tells the court that she only meant to save his name.
Reverend Hale stands up for him, saying it is a natural lie to tell, but Danforth says her statement proves that Proctor is a liar.
Hale points to Abigail and says she has always seemed like a liar to him.
At this, Abigail begins to scream at the ceiling. Then she cries out for something she sees to leave.
The other girls join her, Mercy pointing out that “it” is on the beam.
The girls claim to see a yellow bird, and Abigail begins to talk to it as if it is Mary, and Mary wants to tear her face.
Mary protests, but Abigail continues, until Mary begins to plead with the girls to stop.
They mimic whatever she says until Danforth orders Mary to “withdraw your spirit back out of them.”
Proctor tells Danforth to give him a whip and he’ll stop it. The girls continue to mimic Mary as she screams at them to stop it.
Danforth asks Mary where she got her power, and Mary says she has no power. But she is beginning to weaken.
Abigail continues, despite protests from Hale and Proctor.
Finally, Mary begins to join them, screaming at Proctor not to touch her, and claiming he’s the Devil’s man. Now the girls begin to praise God and welcome her back in to their circle.
Mary begins to accuse Proctor, saying he came at her day and night to sign the Devil’s book. She says Proctor threatened to murder her if she didn’t go to clear Elizabeth’s name. She yells that she loves God and tells Abigail that she’ll never hurt her any more.
Hale continues to protest but Danforth says he’ll have nothing to do with Hale anymore, and he asks Proctor if he’s going to confess.
But Proctor confesses that he thinks God is dead.
Then he says a fire is burning and yes, he sees the Devil’s face – it is his face, and Danforth’s face, it is the face of everybody who is afraid to “bring men out of ignorance.”
Danforth calls for the Marshal to take him and Corey to the jail.
Hale denounces the proceedings and storms out of court.