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DANFORTH: Then you tell me that you sat in my court, callously lying, when you knew that people would hang by your evidence? She does not answer. Answer me!
MARY WARREN, almost inaudibly: I did, sir.
DANFORTH: How were you instructed in your life? Do you not know that God damns all liars? She cannot speak. Or is it now that you lie?
MARY WARREN: No, sir-I am with God now.
DANFORTH: You are with God now.
MARY WARREN: Aye, sir.
DANFORTH, containing himself: I will tell you this-you are either lying now, or you were lying in the court, and in either case you have committed perjury and you will go to jail for it. You cannot lightly say you lied, Mary. Do you know that?
MARY WARREN: I cannot lie no more. I am with God, I am with God.
DANFORTH: These will be sufficient. Sit you down, children. Silently they sit. Your friend, Mary Warren, has given us a deposition. In which she swears that she never saw familiar spirits, apparitions, nor any manifest of the Devil. She claims as well that none of you have not seen these things either. Slight pause. Now, children, this is a court of law. The law, based upon the Bible, and the Bible, writ by Almighty God, forbid the practice of witchcraft, and describe death as the penalty thereof. But likewise, children, the law and Bible damn all bearers of false witness. Slight pause. Now then. It does not escape me that this deposition may be devised to blind us; it may well be that Mary Warren has been conquered by Satan, who sends her here to distract our sacred purpose. If so, her neck will break for it. But if she speak true, I bid you now drop your guile and confess your pretense, for a quick confession will go easier with you. Pause. Abigail Williams, rise. Abigail slowly rises. Is there any truth in this?
ABIGAIL: No, sir.
DANFORTH, thinks, glances at Mary, then back to Abigail: Children, a very augur bit will now be turned into your souls until your honesty is proved. Will either of you change your positions now, or do you force me to hard questioning?
ABIGAIL: I have naught to change, sir. She lies. (III.256-263;266-269)
Mary asserts that she is telling the truth, but without Abigail’s confirmation, it is one person’s word against another. The Court has assumed all along that the girls are telling the truth, and it has too much invested now to take only one girl’s word against all the others. Having disregarded reputation as a means of deciding who is telling the truth, the court has completely lost its direction. Notice how Danforth almost seems to think he has supernatural powers to make Abigail and the other girls tell the truth, by putting a metaphoric “augur bit” of drill, into their souls. In reality, he has no power whatsoever to make them be honest.
DANFORTH: Your husband-did he indeed turn from you?
ELIZABETH, in agony: My husband-is a goodly man, sir.
DANFORTH: Then he did not turn from you.
ELIZABETH, starting to glance at Proctor: He-
DANFORTH, reaches out and holds her face, then: Look at me! To your own knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery? In a crisis of indecision she cannot speak. Answer my question! Is your husband a lecher!
ELIZABETH, faintly: No, sir.
DANFORTH: Remove her!
PROCTOR: Elizabeth, tell the truth!
DANFORTH: She has spoken. Remove her!
PROCTOR, crying out: Elizabeth, I have confessed it!
ELIZABETH: Oh, God! The door closes behind her.
PROCTOR: She only thought to save my name! (III.415-426)
The one moment in Elizabeth’s life when telling the truth would save her life, she lies to save her husband’s reputation. Is this an act of love and courage, or has she gotten her priorities mixed up? Proctor bears some of the blame for her telling a lie. He has failed to appreciate or praise her honesty in the past, so it’s easy to understand why she would cave at this moment, dealing with a personal subject in front of so many people.
DANFORTH: Mr. Proctor. When the Devil came to you did you see Rebecca Nurse in his company? Proctor is silent. Come, man, take courage – did you ever see her with the Devil?
PROCTOR, almost inaudibly: No.
Danforth, now sensing trouble, glances at John and goes to the table, and picks up a sheet – the list of condemned.
DANFORTH: Did you ever see her sister, Mary Easty, with the Devil?
PROCTOR: No, I did not.
DANFORTH, his eyes narrow on Proctor: Did you ever see Martha Corey with the Devil?
PROCTOR: I did not.
DANFORTH, realizing, slowly putting the sheet down: Did you ever see anyone with the Devil?
PROCTOR: I did not.
DANFORTH: Proctor, you mistake me. I am not empowered to trade your life for a lie. You have most certainly seen some person with the Devil. Proctor is silent. Mr. Proctor, a score of people have already testified they saw this woman with the Devil.
PROCTOR: Then it is proved. Why must I say it?
DANFORTH: Why "must" you say it! Why, you should rejoice to say it if your soul is truly purged of any love for Hell!
PROCTOR: They think to go like saints. I like not to spoil their names.
DANFORTH, inquiring, incredulous: Mr. Proctor, do you think they go like saints?
PROCTOR, evading: This woman never thought she done the Devil’s work.
DANFORTH: Look you, sir. I think you mistake your duty here. It matters nothing what she thought….
PROCTOR: I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. Crying out, with hatred: I have no tongue for it.
Proctor is willing to lie about himself to save his life – but he is not willing to lie about his friends, publicly or otherwise, and so he goes to his death. Just so we know that Proctor’s decision is really a principled one, Miller has Danforth point out that people like Rebecca Nurse are doomed no matter what, having been accused by other people. So, in this sense, it doesn’t matter if Proctor adds one more voice to the chorus – her death wouldn’t be directly on his hands. But it would be such an outrageous and malicious lie that he simply doesn’t have the “tongue” do say it.