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ELIZABETH, reasonably: John, have you ever shown her somewhat of contempt? She cannot pass you in the church but you will blush-
PROCTOR: I may blush for my sin.
ELIZABETH: I think she sees another meaning in that blush.
PROCTOR: And what see you? What see you, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH, conceding: I think you be somewhat ashamed, for I am there, and she so close.
PROCTOR: When will you know me, woman? Were I stone I would have cracked for shame this seven month!
ELIZABETH: Then go and tell her she's a whore. Whatever promise she may sense-break it, John, break it.
PROCTOR, between his teeth: Good, then. I'll go. He starts for his rifle.
PROCTOR, turning on her, rifle in hand: I will curse her hotter than the oldest cinder in hell. But pray, begrudge me not my anger!
ELIZABETH: Your anger! I only ask you-
PROCTOR: Woman, am I so base? Do you truly think me base?
ELIZABETH: I never called you base.
PROCTOR: Then how do you charge me with such a promise? The promise that a stallion gives a mare I gave that girl!
ELIZABETH: Then why do you anger with me when I bid you break it?
PROCTOR: Because it speaks deceit, and I am honest! But I'll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free!
ELIZABETH, crying out: You'll tear it free-when you come to know that I will be your only wife, or no wife at all! She has an arrow in you yet, John Proctor, and you know it well! (II. 170-186)
Proctor wants to be trusted, and he believes himself honest – but he hasn’t faced up to his ultimate deceit, his unfaithfulness to his wife. Sensing this, Elizabeth doubts him, which keeps their relationship strained and awkward even seven months after his affair with Abigail ended.
HALE, quietly-it has impressed him: Proctor, let you open with me now, for I have a rumor that troubles me. It's said you hold no belief that there may even be witches in the world. Is that true, sir?
PROCTOR- he knows this is critical, and is striving against his disgust with Hale and with himself for even answering: I know not what I have said, I may have said it. I have wondered if there be witches in the world-although I cannot believe they come among us now.
HALE: Then you do not believe –
PROCTOR: I have no knowledge of it; the Bible speaks of witches, and I will not deny them.
HALE: And you, woman?
ELIZABETH: I-I cannot believe it.
HALE, shocked: You cannot!
PROCTOR: Elizabeth, you bewilder him!
ELIZABETH, to Hale: I cannot think the Devil may own a woman's soul, Mr. Hale, when she keeps an upright way, as I have. I am a good woman, I know it; and if you believe I may do only good work in the world, and yet be secretly bound to Satan, then I must tell you, sir, I do not believe it.
HALE: But, woman, you do believe there are witches in-
ELIZABETH: If you think that I am one, then I say there are none.
HALE: You surely do not fly against the Gospel, the Gospel-
PROCTOR: She believe in the Gospel, every word!
ELIZABETH: Question Abigail Williams about the Gospel, not myself!
Hale stares at her.
PROCTOR: She do not mean to doubt the Gospel, sir, you cannot think it. This be a Christian house, sir, a Christian house.
HALE: God keep you both; let the third child be quickly baptized, and go you without fail each Sunday in to Sabbath prayer; and keep a solemn, quiet way among you. (II.277-292)
At this point, the Reverend Hale is beginning to suspect that Abigail might not be trustworthy – and that the justice of the court might not be “just” if an accusation is proof of guilt – but he can’t quite bring himself to admit that Abigail is lying unless he knows John Proctor is a good and faithfully religious man. His question show that he still puts too much stock in the rumors flying around town. But it is Elizabeth who surprises them all, with her steadfast assertion that if the people who have been accused of witches are, indeed, “witches,” then she doesn’t believe witchcraft exists at all. In the culture of Salem, where no one’s beliefs can be verified, saying the proper thing is all that matters.
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 decides that the only way for justice to occur is to let go of his deception, to lay bare his deeds before the court, realizing that he will suffer and be punished because of his past sins. But it is those same past sins that have made his wife vulnerable, and so honesty is now a grave necessity.