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HALE: I am a stranger here, as you know. And in my ignorance I find it hard to draw a clear opinion of them that come accused before the court. And so this afternoon, and now tonight, I go from house to house-I come now from Rebecca Nurse's house and-
ELIZABETH, shocked: Rebecca's charged!
HALE: God forbid such a one be charged. She is, however-mentioned somewhat.
ELIZABETH, with an attempt at a laugh: You will never believe, I hope, that Rebecca trafficked with the Devil.
HALE: Woman, it is possible.
PROCTOR, taken aback: Surely you cannot think so.
HALE: This is a strange time, Mister. No man may longer doubt the powers of the dark are gathered in monstrous attack upon this village. There is too much evidence now to deny it. You will agree, sir?
PROCTOR, evading: I- have no knowledge in that line. But it's hard to think so pious a woman be secretly a Devil's bitch after seventy year of such good prayer.
HALE: Aye. But the Devil is a wily one, you cannot deny it. II.203-211
Elizabeth and Proctor want to believe that Rebecca’s good reputation will save her, but in this time of craziness, nothing is certain.
DANFORTH: I judge nothing. Pause. He keeps watching Proctor, who tries to meet his gaze. I tell you straight, Mister-I have seen marvels in this court. I have seen people choked before my eyes by spirits; I have seen them stuck by pins and slashed by daggers. I have until this moment not the slightest reason to suspect that the children may be deceiving me. Do you understand my meaning?
PROCTOR: Excellency, does it not strike upon you that so many of these women have lived so long with such upright reputation, and-
PARRIS: Do you read the Gospel, Mr. Proctor?
PROCTOR: I read the Gospel.
PARRIS: I think not, or you should surely know that Cain were an upright man, and yet he did kill Abel.
PROCTOR: Aye, God tells us that. To Danforth: But who tells us Rebecca Nurse murdered seven babies by sending out her spirit on them? It is the children only, and this one will swear she lied to you. (III.127-132)
Proctor appeals to the women’s long-standing excellent reputations to demonstrate that there might be something fishy about the accusations against them. Though Danforth and Parris try to suggest that the Devil is disingenuous and can fool even the most righteous man, Proctor diffuses their arguments by pointing to the ones who made the accusations and to their possibly negative reputations.
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.