Act 1 Synopsis
Reverend Parris prays beside his daughter’s bed. Ten-year-old Betty Parris has been in an unresponsive state since her father discovered her and her cousin Abigail Williams dancing in the woods. Susanna Walcott enters to say that Doctor Griggs has been unable to find a medical explanation for Betty’s condition and suggests they look for an unnatural cause. Abigail informs her uncle that their parlor is packed with townspeople who have heard rumors of witchcraft. It is being said that Betty has been bewitched. Parris berates his niece for dancing in the woods with the other girls and his slave Tituba. Tituba had been chanting unintelligible words and waving her arms above a fire while the girls danced. He also saw a dress on the ground. Had there been nudity as well? Abigail denies the idea that they had been practicing witchcraft. Her uncle is concerned about the future of his position in the parish as well as his daughter’s health. Abigail had recently been discharged from her position at Elizabeth Proctor’s and since, no other family had sought her service. Goody Proctor has insinuated that Abigail is a corrupt girl. Parris asks if she has done something to soil her name, and therefore his. Abigail is again denying wrongdoing when Ann Putnam and her husband enter. Putnam informs Parris that his daughter, Ruth, is also afflicted but her symptoms are different from Betty’s. Parris begs Thomas Putnam not to blame the situation on witchcraft (as it will threaten his position in the parish). Ann Putnam admits that she sent their daughter, Ruth, to Tituba to conjure up the spirits of her seven dead children and find out who was to blame for their deaths. Parris is horrified that his family was involved in conjuring spirits though Abigail insists it was only Tituba and Ruth. Putnam declares that a murderous witch is at work and that Parris ought to announce the discovery of witchcraft.
The Reverend refuses to do this, at least until Reverend Hale arrives to investigate further. Mercy Lewis, the Putnam’s servant girl, arrives and as soon as the adults are gone, she and Abigail begin to discuss the situation. Abigail lets her know how much has been confessed and instructs her to admit to nothing more. Another girl, Mary Warren, arrives and expresses her fear that they will be accused of witchcraft. She encourages the other girls to admit to dancing and accept a whipping. Betty cries out and screams at her cousin for having drunk a charm (blood) to kill Elizabeth Proctor. She then tries to leap from the window but is stopped. Abigail threatens the girls if they dare to speak about the events in the woods further. John Proctor enters and reprimands his servant, Mary Warren, for having left the house against his orders. She and Mercy Lewis leave and Abigail attempts to seduce Proctor into resuming their affair. He rejects her harshly.
A psalm is heard from downstairs and Betty begins to scream bringing the others running in. Rebecca Nurse advises everyone that the spectacle is all a child’s silliness and nothing more. The adults continue to squabble, moving from the children to the issues of Parris’ preaching and his pay. They then move on to issues of property and power. These are the true issues in the society. Reverend Hale arrives and the subject turns back to the children and the presence of witchcraft. Hale attempts to revive the now limp Betty while questioning Abigail. Abigail is forced into admitting further details of the night in the woods. She quickly jumps to blame Tituba and claims ignorance. Tituba is called for and is shocked when Abigail accuses her. She denies being affiliated with the Devil. Abigail continues accusing until the crowd has been worked up and calls for the execution of the slave. Tituba caves in at this point and tells the people that she is an unwilling servant to the Devil. She says that she believes one of the Devil’s other witches is afflicting the children. She is questioned further and Putnam goes as far as to suggest certain women in the town as possibly being the witch. Tituba picks up the hint and accuses the women, Goody Good and Goody Osburn, suggested by Putnam. Abigail suddenly rises and claims to also have seen those women with the Devil as well as Bridget Bishop. Betty catches on at this point and rises from her unconscious state to join her cousin in accusing several others.
Act II Synopsis
Act II opens in the house of John and Elizabeth Proctor, eight days later. They begin having dinner, their conversation is strained. It comes out that Mary Warren has gone into Salem. John Proctor had forbidden her to go and he is annoyed that Elizabeth did not stop her. She tells John that court proceedings are now under way as a result of the girls’ accusations. She tells John to go and tell the court that Abigail is orchestrating the whole affair. They argue again about his past involvement with the girl and Elizabeth’s continuing suspicion. Mary arrives home and Proctor turns his rage onto her. She responds by giving Elizabeth a poppet she made for her and then updating the Proctors on the current state of affairs in Salem. Goody Osburn has been sentenced to hang. Sarah Good escaped this fate by confessing to witchcraft. Proctor forbids Mary from returning to the court but Mary Warren insists she is doing God’s work and when threatened further, reveals that Elizabeth herself has been accused. Elizabeth realizes that it was Abigail who accused her and that she means to take her place in the Proctor household. She tells John that he must now go to Abigail, rather than the court, to stop the accusations. They argue again but John agrees to confront Abigail.
Reverend Hale arrives, he questions the Christianity of the Proctor household. Proctor admits that he does not respect Parris as a minister. Hale asks Proctor to recite the commandments. Proctor tells Hale what Abigail revealed to him about the true cause of their affliction. Hale is more taken with Elizabeth’s denial of the existence of witches than Proctor’s revelation. Giles Corey arrives, quickly followed by Francis Nurse, reporting that their wives had been arrested. Rebecca Nurse has been accused of supernaturally murdering Goody Putnam’s babies. Reverend Hale attempts to defend the witch trials in the face of this outrageous accusation. Ezekiel Cheever arrives and announces that he is now the clerk of the court and he has a warrant for Elizabeth. He says that Abigail Williams has accused her and he has been instructed to search the house for poppets (dolls). The Proctor’s hand over the only one they have, the one Mary Warren has just given Elizabeth.
Cheever discovers a needle imbedded in the poppet and becomes convinced of Elizabeth’s guilt. They learn that Abigail had suddenly clutched her stomach that evening and pulled out a two-inch needle. She claimed that Elizabeth Proctor had been her assailant. Mary Warren enters and admits she made the poppet and left the needle in it. She states that Susanna Walcott and Abigail had both seen her make it in court. Elizabeth displays her fury toward Abigail. Cheever takes this as further evidence of her guilt and insists on her arrest. Proctor turns to Hale who responds by again defending the court system. Elizabeth is taken. Proctor commands Mary Warren to accompany him to court to tell the truth about the poppet. She responds that Abigail will kill her for this and that they will only incur Abigail’s wrath by going to court. Proctor realizes then that he must reveal his relationship with Abigail to save his wife.
Act III Synopsis
Martha Corey is on trial in the Salem meetinghouse as Act III opens. Her husband bursts into court, accompanied by Francis Nurse, shouting that he has evidence of her innocence. The court refuses to hear the men and is attempting to dismiss them when Mary Warren arrives with John Proctor. They back up the men’s story that the girls are frauds. Parris desperately tries to stop their testimony. It is revealed that Elizabeth Proctor has claimed to be pregnant and when Proctor still refuses to drop his charges of fraud (His wife cannot be hung as long as she carries an innocent child), Danforth insists that he means to attack them. Proctor presents a petition that attests to the innocence of the accused women. Parris tries to discredit these people and his arguments result in warrants being drawn up for all of them to be examined. Thomas Putnam is brought in and it is revealed to him that Giles Corey has accused him of making his daughter accuse George Jacobs in order to acquire his land. Putnam denies this. Corey refuses to reveal the source of this information for fear that this person will be arrested like those who signed the petition. He is charged with contempt of court. Proctor speaks up at this point and compels Mary Warren to admit to her involvement in Abigail’s game. The children are brought in. Abigail denies Mary’s charges and stands by her accusations. Proctor continues to try to discredit Abigail and when it looks like he is going to succeed, Abigail unleashes her strongest weapon. She begins to act as though she is afflicted, and is quickly followed by the other girls. Her accusing eyes roam until finally settling on Mary Warren. Mary Warren tries to fight Abigail but the favor of the room is quickly slipping away from her. Proctor, having no options left, reveals his affair with Abigail. The men are horrified. Proctor and Abigail are instructed to turn their backs as Elizabeth Proctor is brought in. They ask her if her husband has been unfaithful. Not knowing that he has confessed and thinking of his protection, she denies it. As she is led out, Proctor tells her that he confessed it and they both realize that they are undone. Abigail and the other girls continue to act as though afflicted by Mary Warren until the girl finally cracks. She accuses Proctor of having used her for the Devil’s work and runs into the now welcoming arms of Abigail. Proctor and Giles Corey are led off to the prison. Reverend Hale realizes the dishonesty of the girls at last and quits the court in protest.
Act IV Synopsis
The final act opens that fall in the Salem jail. Several hangings are scheduled for that morning, including those of John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse. Marshal Herrick enters and shoos Sarah Good and Tituba from the room. Danforth, Hathorne, and Cheever arrive and ask why Reverend Hale has been allowed in the prison. They discover that Parris has allowed it and so they send for him. They discuss how Parris has seemed rather unstable lately. When he enters, they discover that Hale has been trying to convince Rebecca Nurse to save herself by confessing. They ask Parris why he has been troubled and it is revealed that Abigail has vanished with Mercy Lewis having taken every cent he had. Parris attempt s to convince the men to stop the hangings, realizing that it has all been taken too far. He feels that the townspeople no longer support it. The men refuse however, to even postpone the hangings as it will bring the executions that have already taken place, and therefore themselves, into question. They then speak to Elizabeth Proctor, now three months pregnant, to try to convince her to compel her husband into confessing and saving himself. She promises nothing but asks to speak to him anyway. When they are left alone, they discuss their baby and recent events. He has been tortured and has not heard anything. She tells him that Giles Corey was pressed to death. He had refused to enter a plea in order to prevent his land from being forfeited. The court piled stones upon him, the idea being that he would answer under the stress of the great weight. Instead, Corey simply called for more weight until he was finally crushed and since he could not be convicted without a plea, his sons were able to retain his land. Elizabeth tries to take the blame for Proctor’s unfaithfulness, which causes him great pain. Hathorne enters and John states that he will keep his life. The men enter and begin to take his confession. Rebecca is brought in to hear that Proctor has given in. She is horrified and is not moved from her position of innocence. Proctor says that he had never seen any of the accused women with the Devil when questioned. He states that his confession should be enough. When it comes time to sign it however, he is hesitant. The confession will be posted on the church door for everyone to see. He finally does sign it but then, unable to stand the lie, rips the confession to shreds. Danforth announces his fate. Rebecca and John are led out. Hale begs Elizabeth to plead with her husband but she will not. Proctor will die an honest man, condemned by a corrupt system.
The Crucible – Themes
- Is an important theme in this text as Abigail’s envy towards Elizabeth Proctor and her relationship with John is the main driving force behind her claims of witchcraft. She wants to take Elizabeth’s position as John’s wife
- Envy and resentment are demonstrated in the Putnams’ quarrels over land and Ann Putnam’s bitter feelings towards Rebecca Nurse and her healthy family. These feelings are converted to self-serving accusations of witchcraft
John says -“ she means to dance with me on my wife’s grave” and “it’s a whore’s vengeance”
Giles says – “the man is killing his neighbours for that land”
Mrs. Putnam says – “you think it is God’s work you should never lose a child, nor a grandchild either, and I bury all but one?”
- The witch-hunt is both caused and fuelled by fear. Of all the characters, only Rebecca Nurse and Giles Cory seem unafraid
- The hysteria is generated by the girls fear of being punished for dancing in the woods
- Fear becomes motivating force
- Fear of being accused pits neighbour against neighbour
- Parris fears he will lose his position as Salem’s minister and it leads him to join the witch-hunt
- John’s fear that his adultery will be made public means that he delays in discrediting Abigail
- Mary Warren’s fear of Abigail makes her withdraw her accusations against her and accuse John instead
- Elizabeth’s fear for her husband’s good name leads her to lie in court and destroys his evidence against Abigail
Mary – “she’ll kill me for sayin that”
Elizabeth – when she finds out she was accused she is fearful “and what of tomorrow” (trembling, fearfully)
Tituba – raises her eyes to his fearfully
Parris – tells Danforth (in fear of him) “They are sir”
- Loyalty is a theme that is illustrated in the behaviour of John Proctor towards his friends. He is tempted to withdraw his charges against Abigail and her group when he is told that his wife is pregnant and not in immediate danger.
- Elizabeth is loyal to her husband, despite his affair, and lies for him in court. Ironically, her lie destroys John’s evidence against Abigail.
- The idea that people believe that citizens are loyal to the devil in a theocratic society
- The loyalty to the court system and to God is evident as people like Danforth and Hawthorne are “doing God’s work”
- Rev. Hale appears to become loyal to the people of Salem by the end – he tries to save them from death
- Parris is not really loyal to God – appears to be more a “me” person
- Honesty and personal integrity are important themes
- The most admirable characters who retain their dignity are those who refuse to lie to save themselves or point the finger at innocent people – Rebecca Nurse (looks as a good soul should) and Elizabeth Proctor – both insist on the truth regardless of the consequences to themselves
- John is finally at peace with himself when he decides to die rather than give up good name
- Hale on the other hand who tries to convince people to die is miserable and mentally tortured
- Parris is not a person with integrity and only concerned with himself – “I have fought here for 3 long years to bend these stiff necked people to me, and now just when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character”
- Abigail tries to protect her reputation – “there be no blush about my name”
- Vengeance – the inflicting of punishment or taking of retribution for a perceived injury or wrong – is a pervasive theme in the play
- Provides an opportunity for some people to use the witchcraft hysteria as an opportunity to settle grudges (gain land – Putnams or marriage – Abigail)
- It comes to represent great power – Proctor says “Vengeance is walking Salem” (personification)
- Martha Corey selling the pig to Walcott – he accuses her of being a witch when it dies
- Several characters in the play face dilemmas of conscience – the duty to follow one’s conscience has to withstand the desire to preserve one’s good name, freedom and even life (good angel/bad devil)
- Some characters would argue (Danforth and Parris) that people’s duty is to obey the rulings of the church even if it goes against conscience.
- The conflict between conscience and obedience plunges the town of Salem into tragedy
- It only when tragedy strikes at John’s family that he starts to struggle with duty to God and his own conscience – also seen when he must decide to lie in order to save his own life
- Giles, Rebecca, Elizabeth remain strong and follow their conscience not duty
- Identity comes up a lot, especially when at the dramatic turning point when John rips up his confession because signing it will be signing his name away – his very self (the only thing a person truly has)
- A name is more than a title rather it defines who his is and is linked to respect and reputation
- Without a sense of identity he can’t live
- Parris is also concerned about his identity – reputation as is Abigail when she defends to her uncle that her name is “entirely white”
- Rebecca Nurse’s name is associated with good works – even Hale had heard of her
- We are shown courage in the behaviour of the accused – Rebecca Nurse (she tells John to “fear nothing” as another judgements awaits) and Giles Corey (“more weight”)
- John tells Elizabeth to defy the authorities and to show no tears
*** Don’t forget your mind map for EVIL as a theme – it’s a KEY THEME and the meaning of CRUCIBLE
The Crucible – Quotes
1. “ABIGAIL WILLIAMS, seventeen, enters – a strikingly beautiful girl with an endless capacity for dissembling.” (Stage Directions, Heinemann edition page 6)
(It is important to know that Abigail is beautiful, as it contributes to the audience’s understanding of why John Proctor was tempted to commit adultery with her. Her “endless capacity for dissembling” refers to the way she is a cunning and manipulative girl. Literally, dissembling means to hide real thoughts and feelings.)
2. “Let either of you breathe a word…I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.” (Abigail p15)
(This refers to the threat of violence Abigail makes to the other girls. Here, she threatens to come into their bedrooms at night and stab them while they’re sleeping. Later on in this line of Abigail’s, she talks about “reddish work”. This is incredibly intimidating.)
3. “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion every time I come near!” (Abigail p18)
4. “Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again.” (John Proctor p18)
5. “She is a cold, snivelling woman, and you bend to her!” (Abigail p19)
6. “Oh Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!” (John Proctor p46)
7. “Why – ! The girl is murder! She must be ripped out of the world!” (Elizabeth Proctor p62)
8. “We burn a hot fire here; I melts down all concealment.” (Danforth p72)
9. “Let you beware, Mr Danforth. Think you be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits?” (Abigail p87)
10. “I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery.” (Elizabeth Proctor p109)
11. “I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (John Proctor p115)
12. “He have his goodness now, God forbid I take it from him.” (Elizabeth Proctor p116)