Act 1 of The Crucible
The play opens with the Reverend Parris kneeling in prayer at his daughter’s bedside. Parris is a paranoid martinet, which wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t a minister. Being a minister in Salem in 1620 was a pretty big deal. When I think of Parris (something which I do frequently by the way), I think of a student council president who thinks because she’s student council president that she can boss everyone around in the whole school, and when she leaves the room, everybody makes fun of her, except for the time she somehow convinced the principal to put softer toilet paper in the school restrooms, making her the most popular girl in school on Cafeteria Taco Day.
So good old Reverend Parris, hated by most Salemites, is concerned, not because his daughter appears to be near death, but because there are rumors she was involved in a little naked dancing out in the woods. In modern times, naked dancing in the woods is considered a party. In 1620, it was considered witchcraft. If you’re the minister, and most people hate you, and your daughter (as well as your nasty niece) is caught dancing in the woods, you worry.
The good reverend calls for the Reverend John Hale of Beverly, famous for his knowledge of catching witches. Meanwhile Parris’ niece, Abigail Williams, the town wretch, denies having anything to do with witchcraft, a good idea, by the way, since the penalty for witchcraft is hanging.
The Putnams enter Parris’ house. They’re the exact type of people you don’t want entering the house when witchcraft rumors abound. They’re probably not the people you ever want entering your house. They report that their daughter, Ruth, suffers from the same ailment as Betty. They’re convinced it’s witchcraft.
Parris and the Putnams leave. Mary Warren, a fellow woods dancer, informs the girls that they are suspected of witchcraft. We also discover that Abigail drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor. Abigail threatens to kill anyone who mentions that little drinking a charm to kill Goody Proctor incident.
John Proctor enters the dwelling and yells at his servant, Mary Warren, who was not supposed to leave the house. He knows the girls are being foolish. The girls leave, except for Abigail, who tells Proctor she waits for him at night. Abigail used to be the Proctor’s servant until Mrs. Proctor discovered her husband had a sexual encounter with her out in the barn. In Salem, having an affair with the boss’s husband got you fired quickly. Proctor emphatically asserts the affair is over, even if he still has kind feelings for her.
Meanwhile, Parris leads the townspeople in a hymn downstairs, at which time Betty decides to start screaming and covering her ears. A bunch of people run in, including Rebecca Nurse, who calms the girl down. Bickering ensues. There’s a lot of bickering in this town. Proctor tells Parris he shouldn’t have called Reverend Hale, fearing it would only cause more discord; Parris warns Proctor to obey his authority; Parris and Giles Corey argue about firewood, yea, firewood, because when your 10-year old daughter is near death, there’s nothing more important than firewood; the Putnams just like arguing, so they join in. They particularly don’t like Francis Nurse or John Proctor.
Reverend Hale arrives. Nothing like bringing in an expert on witchcraft to flame the fires of paranoia. Reverend Hale thinks he’s pretty smart with all his books and theories on witchery. Hale listens to the story about the girls dancing in the woods, about the death of seven Putnam children, and about frogs jumping into kettles. Attention then turns to the Parris’ slave, Tituba, who is counseled by Hale to open herself to God. Tituba confesses and accuses two of the town’s outcasts of being witches. Abigail, not wasting an opportunity to avoid being hanged, starts shouting names of witches along with Betty.
Act II opens with John and Elizabeth Proctor discussing the goings-on in Salem. Some time has passed since the end of Act I and we discover that 14 people have been arrested for witchcraft. Those who confess to witchcraft are released; those who do not confess are killed. Whomever the girls accuse of witchcraft are arrested. John mentions that he knows the girls are lying, having learned from Abigail, that same Abigail he got it on with out in the barn.
Elizabeth urges John to testify. John claims nobody will believe him because they were alone when she said it. Elizabeth is not pleased that John has been alone with a girl with whom he had an adulterous affairs. John gets dirty looks for the remainder of the evening. Mary Warren returns and gives Elizabeth a doll.
Reverend Hale arrives and questions the Proctor family. John tells Hale that the dancing had nothing to do with witchcraft. He’s shocked. The town marshall shows up to arrest Elizabeth. Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey have already been arrested. Cheever finds Mary’s doll above the fireplace. It has a needle stuck in its belly. Abigail had abdominal pains during dinner and claimed Elizabeth was bewitching her. In most societies, this would be considered lunacy. In Salem it’s considered enough evidence to give someone the death penalty. Reverend Hale begins to doubt the trials.
Mary Warren is afraid to testify for fear of the other girls.
Act III begins in court. Giles Corey claims to have evidence that Putnam is lying. Proctor says he has a witness who will testify the girls are lying. Anyone with common sense would know the girls are lying. Judge Danforth has no common sense. Giles Corey submits an affidavit signed by 91 townspeople vouching for the character of those arrested. Danforth sends out warrants to bring them in for questioning.
Corey then claims to know someone who overheard Thomas Putnam telling Ruth Putnam to accuse Mr. Jacobs so they can take his land. Giles refuses to reveal who the witness is and is arrested for contempt. Danforth sends for the girls. Mary testifies against them.
Proctor leaps toward Abigail and calls her names, confessing their affair. Danforth calls for Elizabeth to confirm Proctor’s accusation. Elizabeth does not condemn her husband and the witch trials resume. As Danforth considers what to do, the girls pretend that Mary Warren has sent her spirit out to torture them. Mary wilts. She accuses John Proctor of witchcraft (I’m guessing she gets fired from the Proctor’s servant job).
Months have passed. Salem is in disarray. Hales has resigned from the court and has returned to Salem in an effort to save lives. Parris begs Danforth to let the prisoners go for fear of rebellion. Danforth refuses. Abigail and the other girls have run away and stolen Parris’ money.
Danforth hopes Elizabeth can convince John to confess. It would give the proceedings legitimacy (as much legitimacy that hanging innocent citizens for witchcraft can have). John finds out that over a hundred people have confessed, but that Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey will not. We learn that Giles Corey was pressed to death with concrete blocks for not entering a plea.
Proctor decides to confess. The court brings Rebecca Nurse to witness it (ouch!). Proctor confesses but refuses to accuse anyone else. Proctor is reluctant to sign the confession, feeling his admission is enough. Danforth won’t accept it (I would like to take this moment to emphasize what a complete jackass Judge Danforth is.). Proctor explains why he won’t sign it in an extremely loud voice. He rips up the confession. Hale and Parris beg Elizabeth to make him confess. She recognizes that her husband finally does what is right and lets him be.
A few years later, those responsible for the trials realize they may have gotten a little carried away. Parris is voted out of office; Abigail becomes a prostitute in Boston; and Elizabeth re-marries (I’m guessing, after what happened to her first husband, that the new husband does not bang a servant in the barn.).
This post is part of the series: The Crucible Study Guide
If you’re a witch you probably don’t want to read this study guide. You’ll be hanged soon.