The Crucible Summary
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Sit up straight, stop dancing, and put on your best black outfit, Shmoopers. You're about to get your Puritan on.
Act I of The Crucible opens with Salem’s minister, the Reverend Parris, watching over his sick daughter Betty and wondering what is wrong with her. We soon learn that the entire town is buzzing with rumors that Betty is sick because of... witchcraft.
Rev. Parris had seen both Betty and his niece, Abigail, dancing in the forest with his slave, Tituba, the night before. That evening in the forest, he also saw a cauldron (and a frog leaping into it). When first questioned, Abigail denies that she or Betty have been involved in witchcraft, but she admits that they were dancing in the forest with Tituba. Abigail lives in the Parris household because her own parents are dead. She used to live at the home of John and Elizabeth Proctor, but they asked her to leave for some mysterious reason.
When another couple, Thomas and Ann Putnam, arrives at the Parris household, they admit that they actually consulted Tituba, hoping she could conjure up the spirits of their seven dead children. They wanted to find out why all seven died so soon after childbirth. To Reverend Parris’s horror, the Putnams emphatically state that his slave Tituba consorts with the dead. The Putnams’s only living daughter, Ruth, is now struck by a similar ailment as Betty Parris, and this obviously has the Putnams up in arms.
When the minister and the Putnams are out of the room, Abigail threatens to harm the three other young girls in the room if they speak a word about what they did in the forest with Tituba.
John Proctor comes to see what is wrong with Betty. He confronts Abigail, who says that Betty is just pretending to be ill or possessed by evil spirits. As Proctor and Abigail have this conversation, it becomes clear that the two of them had an affair... while Abigail worked in the Proctor household and Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, was ill. Ouch. Abigail tries to flirt with Proctor, but he firmly tells her that their relationship is over. Abigail blames Elizabeth for his behavior, and tells him that they will be together again someday.
Reverend Parris and the Putnams return, and soon the Reverend Hale arrives at the Parris home. Hale is a famed witch expert from a nearby town. Suddenly, in front of Reverend Hale, Abigail changes her story and begins to suggest that Tituba did indeed call on the Devil. Tituba, surprised at this accusation, vehemently denies it. But when Rev. Hale and Rev. Parris interrogate Tituba, she confesses (under pressure) to witchcraft and names several other women as “witches” in the village, including Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. While Tituba and Abigail are accusing women in the town, several other young girls, including Mary Warren (who now works in John Proctor’s household) follow Abigail’s lead and begin accusing other women as well.
Act II opens in the Proctors’s kitchen. Proctor and his wife Elizabeth mourn that their own household helper, Mary Warren, is caught up in the frenzy of accusations. Elizabeth is afraid. They know that Abigail is behind these accusations, and Elizabeth urges Proctor to go to town and reveal that Abigail basically said it was all a hoax. Elizabeth makes an allusion to the affair Proctor had with Abigail, and catches him in a lie—he told her he was not alone with Abigail at the Parris home, but in fact he was. Proctor, irritable and defensive, complains that Elizabeth still doesn’t trust him and never will again, even though he has been a good husband for the last seven months since Abigail left. (Oh, wow. Seven months. Give John Proctor a gold star, eh?)
Young Mary Warren returns to the Proctors’s house, exhausted from her day assisting in the trials. Proctor reprimands her for being away all day—after all, he declares, Mary is paid to help Elizabeth in the household and has been shirking all of her duties. Mary states that her work in the courts is of great significance and (with an increased air of importance) insists that she no longer should be ordered around by John Proctor. In a lighter moment, Mary gives Elizabeth a poppet (doll) that she stitched during the day—but, after heightened tension between Mary and Proctor, Mary claims she saved Elizabeth’s life because Elizabeth’s name came up in the trials that day.
When Mary goes to bed, Elizabeth says she has known from the beginning that her name would come up. She tells Proctor that he needs to set things straight with Abigail. He committed adultery with her, and having sex with a woman, Elizabeth says, is tantamount to giving that woman “a promise”—an implicit promise that the two lovers will be together permanently some day. Elizabeth says Proctor must break this promise deliberately. Proctor becomes angry and again accuses his wife of never forgiving him for his indiscretions.
At this inopportune moment, Reverend Hale arrives. He is going around investigating the people whose names have turned up in the trial. Several other figures from the court show up. They are looking for proof of Elizabeth’s guilt, and inquire about any poppets in the house. Elizabeth says she has no poppets other than the one that Mary gave her that very day. Upon inspection, Mary’s doll is shown to have a needle stuck in its center. As it turns out, earlier that day, Abigail Williams claimed to have been mysteriously stuck with a needle, and accused Elizabeth Proctor of being the culprit. Though Mary does identify the doll as hers, the men cart Elizabeth Proctor off to jail anyway, against the angry protests of Proctor.
Act III opens in the courtroom, where Salem citizens Giles Corey, Francis Nurse, and John Proctor have come to try to interrupt the proceedings. All three have had their wives taken away on accusations of witchcraft. Giles Corey says that some of the accusations have been made so that greedy townspeople can get their hands on the property of those accused. Francis Nurse has brought a signed declaration of the good character of Goody (Mrs.) Corey, Goody Nurse, and Goody Proctor. Ninety-one people have signed it.
In addition, John Proctor brings his household girl, Mary Warren, to confess that she never saw the Devil and she and the other girls have been pretending all this time. When Abigail Williams and the other girls are brought out and confronted with this, they turn on Mary Warren, accusing her of witchcraft. The tension in the courtroom peaks. Proctor tries to put an end to the hysteria by admitting the truth: that he committed adultery with Abigail Williams, who is a liar and an adulteress—and this proves that she cannot be trusted.
Abigail denies the accusation of adultery. To uncover the real story, he decides to bring out Proctor’s wife Elizabeth from jail. Since Proctor insists that his wife Elizabeth will not lie, then her confirmation, or denial, of the adultery will set the record straight—and prove Abigail Williams’s credibility (or lack thereof).
Before publicly asking Elizabeth about the adultery, Danforth orders both Proctor and Abigail to turn around, so their facial expressions are not visible to Elizabeth. Because Elizabeth does not want to condemn her husband, she lies and says he is not a lecher. Upon this unfortunate turn of events, Danforth proceeds with the hearings, claiming the adultery to be untrue. Danforth sends Elizabeth back to prison as Proctor cries out, “I have confessed it!”
Reverend Hale, shaken, tells Danforth that he believes John Proctor, and asserts that he has always distrusted Abigail Williams. At this, Abigail lets out a “weird, wild, chilling cry” and claims to see a yellow bird on a beam on the ceiling, shrieking that it is Mary Warren threatening her with witchcraft. Eventually, after a creepy scene with the girls following Abigail’s lead of pretend-entrancement, Mary Warren breaks down and joins them once again. Hysterical, Mary lies and says that John Proctor has been after her night and day and made her sign the Devil’s book. Proctor is arrested and taken to jail. Reverend Hale, mortified, denounces the court and walks out.
Act IV opens in a Salem jail cell. It is the day when Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor are to be hanged. Both have resisted confessing up to that point, but Rev. Hale—previously unseen at the court since Proctor’s arrest—is trying to encourage their confession. Even though he knows their confession would be a lie, he wants to save their lives. Rev. Parris is also trying to get them to confess, but that’s because he wants to save his own life: since the trials began, Parris has received some not-so-subtle threats on his life. To make matters worse, Abigail has fled, taking all of Parris’s money with her.
Since Proctor went to jail, over one hundred people have restored their lives by “confessing” to witchcraft, but the town is in shambles. There are orphans, cows wandering all over the place, and people bickering over who gets whose property.
Judge Hathorne and Danforth call upon Elizabeth, still imprisoned, to talk to her husband to see if she can get him to confess. When Elizabeth finally agrees to speak with Proctor (who has been in the dungeon, separated from the other accused), the married couple finally gets a few private moments alone in the courthouse. In these warm exchanges, Elizabeth says she will not judge what Proctor decides to do, and affirms that she believes he is a good man. While Elizabeth will not judge Proctor, she herself cannot confess to witchcraft, as it would be a lie.
Proctor asks for Elizabeth’s forgiveness, and she says he needs to forgive himself. Elizabeth also says she realizes she had been a “cold wife,” which might have driven him to sleep with Abigail. She asks him for forgiveness and says she has never known such goodness in all her life as his. At first, this gives Proctor the determination to live, and he confesses verbally to Danforth and Hathorne.
But Proctor cannot bring himself to sign the “confession.” Knowing that the confession will be pinned to the church door, for his sons and other community members to see, is too much for Proctor to bear. Moreover, he will not incriminate anyone else in the town as a witch. He believes it should be enough to confess verbally and to only incriminate himself. When the court refuses this, Proctor, deeply emotional, tears up the written confession and crumples it. Shocked, Rev. Hale and Rev. Parris plead with Elizabeth to talk sense into her husband, but she realizes that this is, at last, his moment of redemption: “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!” And so he goes to his death. The curtain falls as we hear the drum beat just before John Proctor is hanged.
- The scene opens in Reverend Parris’s house, in a small upstairs bedroom, in the year 1692. The narrator describes Reverend Parris as a suspicious man in his mid-forties, one who often imagines that the world is against him.
- The narrator describes Salem as a new town with a strict Puritan way of life, its outlook on the rest of the world one of “parochial snobbery”—in other words, small-town small-mindedness.
- The town saw itself as persecuted, a legacy of the persecution Puritans faced in the Old World (Europe). Because the Puritans sought a community, they managed to survive.
- But by 1692 much that was good about the Puritans, the narrator suggests, has been lost to history. The Salem Witch Trials were an opportunity for neighbors to vent against neighbors, to publicly air long-standing jealousy, to accuse those they disliked. And all while sounding righteous and religious!
- The first scene opens as Tituba, the Rev. Parris’s slave, enters the bedroom. Reverend Parris is weeping and praying over his daughter Betty’s bed. They exchange brief words, as Tituba asks if Betty is getting better, but the Reverend tells her to get out of his sight. The door opens and seventeen-year-old Abigail Williams, the Reverend’s niece, announces the arrival of Susanna Walcott.
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- Susanna tells the Reverend that Doctor Griggs can find no cure for Betty’s sickness. He thinks there might be an “unnatural cause” to the illness, but Reverend Parris denies this possibility.
- Abigail and the Reverend tell Susanna to go home but not to spread these kinds of rumors in the village.
- Abigail and the Reverend Parris discuss the rumors of witchcraft in the village—and the minister confronts Abigail about how he found girls dancing in the forest. He says she has put his position in the church in jeopardy, as he has many enemies.
- Abigail protests that what they did was all in fun and they were never naked, but the minister says she has still created problems. Then he wonders what the people in the village say about Abigail, especially since Goody (Mrs.) Proctor fired her. Abigail claims that Goody Proctor is a “lying, cold, sniveling woman” who just wanted a slave.
- Mrs. Ann Putnam enters and wants to know “how high” Betty flew, indicating the kind of rumors going around.
- Thomas Putnam enters and the Reverend learns that their daughter, Ruth, is sick too. Mrs. Putnam believes it is the Devil’s sickness. Parris admits he has called for Reverend Hale, a renowned witch-hunter, from the neighboring town of Beverly, but only as a precaution.
- The narrator breaks in to describe Thomas Putnam as a money-grubbing, vindictive man. The narrator also finds it interesting that his daughter led the crying-out when—but here the narrator stops, although by now it’s clear that some of Thomas Putnam’s interests, perhaps financial, were at stake.
- Putnam insists to the Rev. Parris that there are evil spirits at work here. And Mrs. Putnam chimes in that she has had seven babies die. She admits she sent Ruth to Tituba, who knows how to speak to the dead, to find out who or what murdered her babies.
- Rev. Parris asks Abigail if that’s what they were up to when he caught them—conjuring spirits. Abigail says Tituba and Ruth were, but she was not. Rev. Parris begins to fret about how “they” (his enemies in the village) will use this against him.
- Mercy Lewis, the Putnams’s servant, enters. She reports that Ruth Putnam has been sneezing so violently that she might lose her mind.
- Mr. Putnam urges the Reverend to speak out against witchcraft, but Parris is afraid to speak too soon.
- Mrs. Putnam leaves, followed by Parris and Mr. Putnam.
- Left alone, Abigail and Mercy discuss Ruth’s sickness, and Mercy replies that Ruth has been walking like a dead person. Mercy suggests that Abigail try beating Betty to see if that gets her to wake up.
- Abigail tells Mercy that she can tell them that they danced and that they already know that Tituba conjured Ruth’s sisters to come out of the grave; plus, she adds, the Rev. Parris saw Mercy naked. Mercy is freaked out by this.
- Mary Warren, another seventeen-year-old girl, enters—reporting that the whole town is talking about witchcraft!
- Mercy accuses Mary of wanting to tell people about their strange nighttime activities, and Mary says they have to tell because “witchery” is a hanging offense.
- Abigail wakes Betty up, who whimpers, gets off the bed, and cries for her mother. Abigail tells her that her mother is dead, and Betty says she’ll fly to get to her mother. She raises the window and starts to climb out before Abigail pulls her back.
- Betty reminds Abigail that she drank blood to kill John Proctor’s wife, and Abigail hits her. Betty starts to cry for her mother.
- Abigail talks to the others, getting their stories straight: they danced and Tituba conjured Ruth’s dead sisters, but that’s it. If they say anything, she threatens to come to them at night and do something they won’t forget.
- John Proctor enters. The narrator describes Proctor as a man in his thirties who hates hypocrites. He is a sinner—not only by the standard of the time, but in his own book too. He thinks he’s a fraud.
- Mary Warren tells him that she plans to leave. Proctor reminds her that he forbade her to leave the house in the first place. He tells her to get on home, so she leaves. Then Mercy leaves, and Abigail stares at Proctor. She begins to flirt with him and Proctor asks what the stories about witchcraft are about.
- Abigail tells him that they were dancing in the woods, her uncle scared them, and Betty just “took fright.”
- Proctor smiles at the mischief and tells her she’s going to get herself in some real trouble.
- He tries to leave but Abigail stops him and asks him for a soft word. He tells her that’s done with and she begs him for his attention, the kind he gave her in the past. She claims she knows he still wants her.
- Proctor explains again that he’s done with that. She needs to let it go. Abigail gets angry and says his wife is “blackening” her name. All she wants, she says, is John Proctor. He loved her and he still loves her, she says, and runs toward him as he starts to leave.
- They hear a hymn coming from outside, and Betty whines, putting her hands over her ears. It scares Proctor. Reverend Parris rushes in, hearing Betty’s wailing. Mrs. Putnam enters, and then Thomas Putnam and Mercy Lewis. They discuss how she “can’t bear to hear the Lord’s name.”
- Rebecca Nurse enters, and then Giles Corey. Both are older members of the community. Giles says he has heard that Betty can fly.
- Everybody is quiet as Rebecca walks across the room and stands over Betty, who slowly stops her whimpering.
- The narrator describes Rebecca Nurse as the wife of Francis Nurse, who was highly respected within the town. Rebecca, likewise, was once highly respected. But there were those who resented the wealth they had and the land they owned.
- The narrator suggests that the only way she could have been accused of being a witch was revenge—and it was Thomas Putnam who wanted revenge, because the Nurse clan prevented a certain Reverend Bayley from being the town minister, and Putnam had promoted Bayley.
- Rebecca suggests that the entire problem, with both Betty and Ruth, is childish pranks. Proctor concurs. Parris suggests that some people think it’s the work of the Devil, and Proctor suggests that as the minister, he make a public statement to prove them wrong. Then Putnam says there are children dying and Proctor says he sees no children dying.
- Rebecca says the minister should send the Reverend Hale back. His presence is divisive. The Putnams ask how she explains all their dead children if not by evil spirits, and Rebecca says she doesn’t know.
- Everyone falls to arguing. We learn that many people don’t want to come to church because Rev. Parris is always preaching about hellfire and damnation. Parris suggests that the problem is not the children but others who aren’t fulfilling their obligations to him as minister, and their financial obligations in particular. Parris feels that he’s in poverty, and that the Devil is likely responsible.
- Proctor says he’s the first minister to ever demand the deed to the minister’s house. Parris explains that he wants a “mark of confidence” in him as their minister. He wants to be there a good long while. He says that people should either be obedient or burn in hell. Proctor says he’s sick of hearing about hell. Rev. Parris suggests that Proctor tell his followers that they are not Quakers (who don’t speak of hell). Proctor wonders what Parris means by his followers. Parris says he knows there is a “faction and a party” in the church against him. Rebecca urges Proctor to make peace with the minister.
- Giles is surprised and impressed by the minister’s forthrightness.
- Soon enough, another argument erupts, this time between Proctor and Putnam. Proctor has bought land from the Nurses that Putnam considers rightfully his.
- Rev. Hale enters.
- The narrator tells us that Rev. Hale is almost forty. He is a “specialist” in witchcraft. He sees himself as educated, superior to the common folk, and highly knowledgeable in the ways of the Devil. He was certain there were people in Salem worshiping the Devil—probably Tituba and the children who played sorcery games with her.
- Coming into the room, Hale is carrying half a dozen heavy books. Parris takes them off his hands and remarks how heavy they are. Hale says they are “weighted with authority.” Hale acknowledges Rebecca and says everybody knows about her good deeds as far as Beverly, his town. Parris introduces the Putnams, who let Hale know that their child is sick, too. Hale asks Giles and Proctor if their children are also afflicted, and they say no. Proctor says he’s going to leave, but Giles has a question he wants to ask Hale. Proctor leaves, telling Hale he’s heard he’s a sensible man and he hopes that Hale brings some sense back to Salem.
- Parris asks him to look at Betty, and lets him know that she tries to fly. Then Putnam chimes in that she can’t bear to hear the Lord’s name, a sure sign of witchcraft.
- Hale tells them not to be hasty. They proceed to recount the story of how Parris found the girls dancing in the forest secretly with Tituba, who knows the science of conjuring spirits.
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- Mrs. Putnam lets him know that seven of her children died in childbirth. Hale says he will do what he can to find out if the Devil has come, no matter what it takes.
- At this time, Rebecca excuses herself, saying she’s too old for this.
- Giles then wants to know what Rev. Hale makes of a woman who reads strange books. Then he admits he’s talking about his wife, who hides her books. It makes him uncomfortable and has even stopped him from praying.
- The narrator breaks in now to speak up for Mr. Giles, who is in his early eighties. He was always in trouble, the narrator says, and never bothered about church until his last few years. The narrator remarks that perhaps his wife’s reading has stopped his prayers but he hadn’t known his prayers for very long so it is not a surprise.
- Hale remarks that this is strange, and says they’ll discuss it.
- He gets Betty to sit up and watches her carefully. He addresses her but she does not move or speak. Parris tries to get her to speak, and Hale continues his questions. When she remains limp, he asks Abigail what kind of dancing they were doing in the forest.
- Abigail claims it was only “common” dancing, but Parris interjects that he saw a kettle. Abigail explains that was soup. Hale wants to know if Parris saw anything living in the kettle, a spider or frog, and Parris (scared) says he saw something moving. Abigail says a little frog jumped in, and Hale is shocked.
- Then it all comes out: Tituba called on the Devil, but she spoke in “Barbados”—a reference to her slave background—so Abigail could not understand her. She tries to shake Betty to wake her up.
- Hale persists, wanting to know if Abigail or Betty drank from the kettle.
- Mrs. Putnam brings Tituba up to explain herself. As soon as Tituba appears, Abigail accuses her of making her drink blood.
- Tituba seems shocked and tells Hale that she doesn’t “truck with no Devil!”
- Abigail goes on accusing, saying that Tituba sends her spirit to her in church and makes her laugh during prayer. Parris confirms this is true. Abigail says she’ll wake up, completely naked, and she hears Tituba laughing in her sleep.
- Tituba denies everything, and when Hale tells her to wake Betty up, Tituba says she has no power over the child. Putnam says Tituba must be hanged and Tituba falls to her knees, terrified, and says she always tells the Devil she doesn’t want to work for him. She thinks somebody else is bewitching the children—the Devil has a lot of people working for him.
- Hale leads Tituba through a confession of loving God and wanting to be a good Christian woman. Tituba blesses the Lord. She confesses that when the Devil came to her, he usually came with a woman, but she could not see who it was.
- As they continue questioning her, she admits that there were four that came with the Devil. Parris wants to know their names—but Tituba instead says that the Devil was trying to get her to kill him, Parris.
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- She says that Goody Good was one of the women who worked for the Devil, as was Goody Osburn.
- Mrs. Putnam begins to confirm that she knew this all along.
- Abigail begins to cry out that she danced for the Devil, but now she wants to go back to Jesus. She saw Sarah Good with the Devil, she says. She saw Goody Osburn with the Devil. She saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil.
- Now Betty begins to pick up the chant, and says she saw George Jacobs and Goody Howe with the Devil.
- Hale and Parris are ecstatic that Betty seems to have been set free from the Devil, while the girls go on naming names. Goody Sibber, Alice Barrow, Goody Hawkins, Goody Bibber, Goody Booth….
- And the curtain falls.
- The setting is the Proctor’s house, in the common room (or the living room, as we call it today).
- Elizabeth and Proctor discuss farm business items, while Proctor eats. He tells her he wants to please her, but when he tries to kiss her, she simply “receives it.” He’s disappointed and returns to eat. They continue discussing everyday things, until Proctor suggests that she seems sad.
- Elizabeth admits that she is worried that he had gone to Salem that day. Proctor says no, he did not go, and she says that Mary Warren had gone.
- Proctor wants to know why, when he had forbidden her to leave the farm, but Elizabeth says she could not stop her. She is now part of the court in Salem, an “official,” and there are fourteen people in jail because of the witch trials. Abigail is leading the entire group of accusing girls.
- Elizabeth suggests that Proctor must go to Salem and tell them it is a fraud. Ezekiel Cheever is the person to tell, and to let them know what Abigail told him last week, that she knew it was not witchcraft.
- Proctor says he’ll think about it. He just knows that if she’s considered a saint now, his word might not be enough. And they were alone when she mentioned it.
- Elizabeth asks Proctor to confirm whether Abigail and he were alone together. Proctor admits that for a minute they were, but then the others came.
- Then, Elizabeth realizes, he must have lied to her the first time he told the story.
- Irritated, he says he won’t have her suspicion anymore. She tells him he should try not to earn it, then.
- They continue on this conversation. It becomes clear that Proctor wants her to forget Abigail as he has. He feels she doubts him every minute of the day.
- Elizabeth says she doesn’t judge him, only the “magistrate sits in your heart” judges him.
- As they argue, Mary Warren enters.
- When Proctor grabs her by the wrist, she cries out that she’s sick—the proceedings have worn her out—and she hopes Proctor won’t hurt her.
- He asks her how the proceedings went and in response Mary goes to Elizabeth and gives her a small rag doll, called a “poppet.” She says she spent many hours making it earlier that day in court and hopes she’ll enjoy it.
- Elizabeth thanks her.
- Mary says she’s tired and needs to sleep, but that she’ll clean the house in the morning. Proctor stops her to ask if it’s true that fourteen women have been arrested. Mary says there are now thirty-nine women. She begins to weep.
- And Sarah Good, Mary continues, confessed that she made a compact with Lucifer to torment Christians.
- Proctor expresses his doubt and Mary says that she somehow managed to almost choke her and the other girls in court, by sending her spirit out. Apparently, Sarah Good has tried to kill her many times before but until that day, Mary herself didn’t know it.
- The proof of Sarah Good’s witchery? She was unable to say her ten commandments. And so she was condemned.
- Proctor says she will not go to court again, and Mary says she must. Proctor suggests this is no proper work (i.e., hanging women) and Mary says they will not hang a woman if she confesses.
- They try to convince her not to go again. Then Mary claims to have saved Elizabeth’s life today.
- Elizabeth hasn’t been accused, only mentioned, but Mary said she had never seen Elizabeth send her spirit out. Elizabeth wants to know who accused her and Mary says she cannot tell, by law.
- Mary goes to bed, and Proctor and Elizabeth stay where they are, horrified. Elizabeth says she has known all week this would happen, that “she” (Abigail) wants Elizabeth dead.
- Proctor says he will talk to Cheever, and Elizabeth says he needs to talk to Abigail. She says that he made promises with his body, in bed, and he needs to let Abigail know that this promise can never be fulfilled.
- Proctor is angry, claiming that he gave no promise—no more promise than a “stallion gives a mare”—and he believes Elizabeth will never forgive him for this one mistake.
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- As they argue, Reverend Hale appears in the door. He says he is there to see for himself what is going on.
- He has just come from Rebecca Nurse’s house—she was also mentioned at court, like Elizabeth. He thinks it is possible that Rebecca Nurse has had dealings with the Devil, but he is clearly uneasy.
- The Proctors both think it is impossible.
- Hale says he wants to question them both, and he proceeds to question why Mr. Proctor has missed so much church in the last seventeen months.
- Proctor says his wife has been sick this winter. He could come alone, he admits, but he does not like the minister. He believes the minister is materialistic and greedy.
- Hale then wants to know why only two of their three children are baptized. Proctor says he has no interest in Reverend Parris baptizing his child.
- Hale asks them both if they know the Ten Commandments, and then requires Proctor to recite them. Proctor cites nearly all—but fails to remember one, of which Elizabeth reminds him: the commandment against adultery.
- Proctor reassures Hale that between the two of them (Proctor and Elizabeth), they know all ten. He tells Hale that forgetting one commandment is a small fault; and Hale replies by saying that no crack in a fortress is small.
- Before Hale goes, Proctor tells him that Abigail Williams told him that the children’s sickness had nothing to do with witches.
- Hale is suspicious and wants to know why Proctor kept this information for so long.
- Proctor says that until today, he didn’t know the world had gone mad.
- Hale gets defensive and says that people have confessed.
- Proctor says anybody will confess if it prevents them from getting hanged—and Hale admits he has thought of that.
- Hale wants to know if Proctor will testify in court and Proctor, reluctant, says he will. Hale then questions him about whether he believes in witches, and Proctor says he has questioned it… then Elizabeth says she cannot believe in witches, not if he thinks she is a witch.
- She thinks Hale should question Abigail Williams about the Gospel, not herself; she believes every word of it.
- Proctor can see where this is going, and he begins to defend his wife.
- At that moment, Giles Corey appears. He says they have taken his wife.
- Then Francis Nurse enters and Giles says they’ve also taken Rebecca. Francis wants to know if Reverend Hale can’t speak to the Deputy Governor because it seems like the world has gone mad. It’s absurd to think that his wife could be a murderer—she’s been charged with killing the Putnams’s babies.
- Hale is now clearly troubled. But he reminds the men that until Lucifer fell from heaven, he was a beautiful angel.
- Giles Corey angrily says he wondered about his wife reading books—but he never said she was a witch!
- Then Giles explains that Walcott, who bought a pig from them and then came back for the money when the pig died, has claimed that his wife Martha Corey has bewitched him so he can’t keep a pig alive for more than four weeks.
- Ezekiel Cheever, the constable, enters. Everybody is silent, shocked. He is there, he says, on business of the court. Marshal Herrick also enters, but he looks ashamed. They are there to get Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail Williams charged her.
- Proctor wants to know what proof he has, and Cheever says he’s supposed to look for a poppet that his wife may have. She says she hasn’t kept poppets since she was a little girl. But they all look around and there’s the poppet, the one Mary Warren brought, on the mantel.
- Elizabeth goes to get it and says this is Mary’s. They want to know what a poppet signifies.
- But Cheever doesn’t explain.
- Proctor tells his wife to go get Mary, but Cheever says he can’t let Elizabeth out of his sight. Proctor pushes his hand away and tells his wife to go get Mary.
- Hale wants to know what a poppet means, and Cheever starts to explain, while lifting the poppet’s skirt. Then he notices that it has a long needle stuck in it.
- Cheever calls Herrick to him. He then tells Proctor that the Williams girl fell to the floor at dinner this evening, and when the Reverend Parris went to her, he drew out a needle stuck deep in her belly. When he asked how she was stabbed, she said it was Elizabeth Proctor’s “familiar spirit” that did it.
- Proctor denies that this is proof, but Cheever insists that it is. When Mary and Elizabeth return, Proctor demands that she explain how the poppet got into the house.
- Mary says it is hers, and even says she stuck the needle in herself, but she meant no harm. Hale wants to know if some spirit might be forcing her to say this, but she says she’s herself.
- Then she says they should ask Susanna or Abigail, both of whom saw her making it.
- Hale tells Mary that she is charging Abigail with murder—because if Abigail is faking it, then she is trying to get Elizabeth Proctor killed.
- Proctor rips up the arrest warrant, despite protests. He tells them all to get out of his house.
- Hale protests that if she is innocent, the court—
- But here, Proctor points out that Abigail and Parris may not be innocent.
- Elizabeth says she’ll go, and Herrick says he has nine men outside.
- Indeed, she says, she will go.
- Proctor promises his wife that he’ll bring her home soon, and Elizabeth goes out the door, followed by Herrick and Cheever.
- Mary Warren starts to weep, and Giles Corey starts taunting Hale, saying that it is all a fraud and yet he is silent.
- When Herrick and Cheever leave with Elizabeth, Proctor tells Hale to get out of his sight. Hale says he will testify in her favor, but he doesn’t know if she is guilty or innocent.
- Hale urges Proctor to think about causes. He prays that God will open up their eyes.
- Then he leaves.
- Proctor, Francis, and Giles are left alone, shaken. They wonder if all is lost. When the latter two leave, Mary Warren says that they’ll probably let her come home.
- Proctor replies that she is going with him to the courthouse, and she’ll testify exactly how the poppet came to the house and who stuck the needle in.
- Mary resists, saying “she’ll” kill Mary for that, and that Abigail will charge Proctor with lechery.
- Proctor realizes this is a good thing. Abigail's “saintliness” is over and done with.
- Proctor is even more determined to expose the truth and insists that Mary will help him.
- Proctor and Mary head outside and toward the town, Mary sobs “I cannot, I cannot, I cannot…” as they walk away.
- The curtain falls.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
- The setting is the vestry room of the Salem church, which has been turned into a 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 he has hard evidence and perhaps they might—
- Danforth interrupts and says he can present his evidence but through 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 and four hundred are 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 a 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 up the arrest warrant, and Hale affirms the truth of this. Proctor claims it was a fit of temper, and Danforth continues questioning him—has he ever seen the Devil? Is he a Gospel Christian? Why does he miss church?
- 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 ninety-one 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 seems like it was drawn up by someone with a legal background. Giles says he’s been in court thirty-three 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 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 toward 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.
- Rev. 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 lied in his court, 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 because 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 begins to shiver with the cold. 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 for no reason.
- 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 point, 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 into 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.
- The curtain falls.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
- Setting: a Salem jail cell
- Herrick comes in, drunk, and nudges Sarah Good to wake her up. Tituba also wakes up. Herrick tells the two of them to get out of there. He asks where they’re going and Tituba says they’re going to Barbados.
- When they hear a cow bellowing, Tituba says it is “the majesty” and calls out for it to take her home.
- The Deputy Governor arrives. Danforth and Hathorne enter, followed by Cheever. They want to know when Hale arrived and what he was doing here.
- Herrick says that he sits and prays with those who are going to hang.
- Danforth says that man has no right to be here, so why does Herrick let him in?
- Herrick says that Parris has commanded it. Danforth wants to know if he’s drunk, and Herrick lies, saying no, it’s just cold in there.
- Angry, knowing Herrick is lying, Danforth commands that he fetch Parris, then comments on how it stinks like liquor.
- When Herrick leaves, Hathorne and Danforth talk about the Hale and Parris situation. They find it strange that Parris is also praying with Hale, and Hathorne wonders if Parris has started to go crazy.
- Cheever speaks up and says it’s the cows. So many owners are in jail that their cows are wandering around all over the place, and everybody is arguing about who they belong to now. Parris has been trying to resolve the disputes.
- Parris walks in and greets Danforth and Hathorne. Danforth immediately tells him that he shouldn’t let Hale in to see the prisoners, but Parris says that Hale has been urging Rebecca Nurse to confess and save her life.
- Then Parris admits that his niece Abigail has disappeared with Mercy Lewis. He thinks they’ve boarded a ship and escaped the area. Abigail even broke into his strongbox and took all his money.
- Parris thinks the rebellion in Andover, where they threw out the witchcraft court (a rebellion Danforth says is over) is what has caused Abigail to flee.
- Then Parris starts standing up for those who are left to hang. He says some of those who hanged earlier were bad sorts—they drank their family to ruin, or they lived in sin for some years before marrying—but Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor are good people. Hathorne responds that she is condemned as a witch, and Parris suggests that they postpone the hangings for some time. Danforth denies the request but does say that he will work until dawn with those who might still be brought to God.
- Then Parris says that his life is in danger, as he has received threats. If Danforth continues by hanging these folks….
- Reverend Hale enters, looking sorrowful and tired and confrontational.
- He asks Danforth to pardon those who have yet to be punished, but Danforth says he can’t do that since others have already been hanged for the same crime.
- They turn their conversation to Proctor, and Danforth wonders if he might change his mind and confess if he sees his wife, who is now very pregnant. Parris thinks it’s possible, while Hale urges Danforth again to postpone. He suggests that if he doesn’t, he will urge people to rebel.
- Why are you here, Danforth wants to know. Hale responds that he’s here to do the Devil’s work—to urge Christians to lie.
- Herrick enters with Elizabeth. Hale urges her to speak with her husband, to compel him to confess so he can live. He says he made mistakes in the past and he will count himself a murderer if Proctor hangs.
- Then Danforth joins in the urging, though with a different purpose—he thinks Proctor is guilty. He asks Elizabeth if she is a stone. Her husband is going to hang in the morning—doesn’t she want him to live?
- Elizabeth says she would like to see him, but she doesn’t promise to convince him of anything.
- John Proctor now enters, a changed man—bearded, dirty. He and Elizabeth look at each other with deep sorrow and emotion.
- Hale asks Danforth to give them some privacy, and so the men file out, though it takes Parris a little longer—he needs to receive an “icy stare” from Proctor before he gets the point.
- At first, Elizabeth and Proctor discuss the child that is yet to be born, and who is taking care of the other children. Elizabeth says many have confessed, a hundred or more, but Rebecca refuses to confess.
- Giles Corey was tortured to death when huge stones were put on his chest to try to make him confess. He refused to confess, but he also refused to deny the charge; doing so would have meant he could not have passed his farm on to his sons.
- Proctor says he has been thinking he would confess, and he wants to know what she would think of this. She says she would not judge him. He says he is not a good man, and if he goes to the hanging without confessing, he is saying he is a good man.
- He wants Elizabeth’s forgiveness. She says it is not hers to give.
- He asks again. She says he needs to forgive himself, but she almost sobs as she says it.
- Then Elizabeth says she knows he’s a good man. She says it takes a cold wife to turn a man into a lecher. He is taking her sins upon himself, she says. She believes that she didn’t love herself, so she couldn’t accept his love.
- Hathorne enters and asks Proctor what he would say. Dawn is breaking. Proctor says he wants his life, and Hathorne leaves, saying that Proctor is going to confess.
- Proctor turns to his wife and asks her if what he has done is evil, and she sobs, saying she will not judge.
- Hathorne, Danforth, Cheever, Parris, and Hale enter, praising God and saying that Proctor must sign his confession. But at that, Proctor balks. He does not want to write his confession out. He will confess verbally but he will not sign.
- Proctor is in the middle of making his verbal confession when Rebecca Nurse enters. She is shocked and dismayed to hear him confess.
- Danforth asks Proctor if he ever saw any of the others with the Devil, but Proctor denies ever seeing any of them with the Devil.
- Then Danforth says he cannot accept the confession, as it is a lie. Others have already said they saw these people, including Rebecca Nurse, with the Devil.
- If that is true, Proctor counters, then why does he need Proctor to also say it?
- Hale steps in and asks Danforth to accept Proctor’s confession. It is enough, he says, that he is convicting himself.
- Danforth accepts the confession, but Proctor still won’t sign. And Danforth won’t be satisfied without a signature. So Proctor signs, but then he won’t give the signed confession back to Danforth.
- When Danforth protests, Proctor says that God sees his sins and that is enough. He says he has three children and he cannot teach them what is right and good if he sells his friends out.
- Danforth suggests it is no different if he says Proctor said something or if Proctor signs it, but Proctor says that’s not true. This is his name, the only name he has; he has given Danforth his soul, but he won’t give him his name.
- And so Danforth says the document is a lie, and he can’t accept it.
- Proctor tears the paper and crumples it. Danforth calls for the Marshal, while Parris and Hale plead with Proctor to change his mind.
- But Proctor says he will go to his death with at least some goodness in him.
- As Elizabeth bursts into tears, he tells her not to cry because that gives them pleasure.
- Rebecca counsels him not to be afraid because “another judgment waits us all.”
- Danforth and Herrick leave. Rebecca starts to faint, and Proctor catches her. She apologizes, saying she has had no breakfast.
- Herrick takes the two of them out. Parris urges Elizabeth to go to her husband while there’s still time. They hear the burst of drums.
- Hale, also, pleads with her to go talk to her husband, to convince him not to give up his life for nothing.
- But Elizabeth says she cannot take his goodness from him, now that he has it.
- The drums crash and Hale “weeps in frantic prayer,” while the sunrise lights up Elizabeth’s face.
- The curtain falls.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)