At the Salem meeting house, which is used as the General Court, Martha Corey pleads her innocence to Judge Hathorne. Giles interrupts the prosecution exclaiming that Thomas Putnam is accusing anyone who has large tract of land so that he can purchase it for himself when the owner is imprisoned. Extremely displeased with Giles’s disrespect for court proceedings, Hathorne orders his arrest; Giles yells he has proof. This causes excitement and chatter in the courtroom.
Hathorne, Deputy Governor Danforth, Hale and Parris meet with Giles and Francis in the anteroom to deal with the controversy. Giles explains that he only questioned why his wife read so many books, not to insinuate her as a witch. Danforth dismisses Giles’s ‘proof’ since only ‘evidence in proper affidavit’ [pg 79] are be accepted. Francis asserts that the girls are frauds who manipulate the court, but this only offends Danforth due to his confidence in personally bringing justice to Salem by sentencing seventy-two people.
Proctor enters the anteroom with Mary who is close to fainting. Mary weakly admits that all the girls have fabricated their stories. Bewildered at this confession, Danforth warns Proctor that if he officially carries through with this allegation, it will ‘burn a hot fire’. [pg 81] Proctor is aware of this, and contends that he is here to save his innocent wife by unveiling the truth. Parris attempts to mislead Danforth into believing that Proctor’s true intentions are to ‘overthrow the court,’ and have nothing to do with justice. Cheever obliged as an official of the court, notifies Danforth that Proctor ripped the warrant for Elizabeth, and has been absent from church. Hale supports Proctor by stating that one cannot judge a man based on such details.
Danforth reveals to Proctor that Elizabeth is pregnant. He proposes that she will live to deliver her baby if Proctor drops his charges. Although this is tempting, knowing that Giles and Francis are in an identical situation as himself, he refuses the compromise. He shows Danforth a testament of ninety-one signatures attesting to the good nature of Rebecca, Martha and Elizabeth. Danforth demands that all ninety-one people be summoned, however a frustrated Francis maintains that he promised those people that their signatures would do them no harm. Danforth orders the arrest of all ninety-one people who signed the document.
Horrified at Danforth’s reaction, the men move on to their next objection. Proctor hands Danforth a document written by Giles, contending that Putnam purposely denounced George Jacobs so that he could take Jacob’s land. Along with it is a witness’s signature. Danforth orders Putnam to come out from the court. Upon questioning, Putnam bluntly denies Giles’s allegation. Danforth asks Giles for the name of the man who witnessed Putnam saying that he had been ‘given a fair gift of land.’ [pg 87] Knowing that the witness would be sent to jail, Giles refuses. Danforth orders for Giles arrest for contempt of the court. Hale protests Danforth’s actions, highlighting that people are too scared to stand up for the innocent because they will most likely be incarcerated as well. Danforth believes that is nonsense, since those people should have no fear if they are indeed, ‘uncorrupted.’ [pg 88]
Proctor presents a disposition on Mary’s behalf. On Hale’s behest, Danforth reads the document. Signed by Mary, it states that she lied in court. Parris interjects again in an attempt to undermine Proctor’s purpose, yet Danforth demands Parris’s silence and orders Cheever to summon the girls. Susanna Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Betty Parris and Abigail enter. Danforth asks Abigail whether or not she has been lying and as expected, Abigail says she has not. Proctor informs Danforth about Abigail dancing in the woods. Danforth, unaware of this fact, incredulously asks if this is true. Hale says it is, since Parris told him so the first night he arrived in Salem. Reluctantly, Parris mumbles that she did dance.
Danforth returns his attention to Mary, and once again asks her if her accusations of people choking her and causing her to faint was fabricated. A frightened Mary replies that it ‘were a pretence.’ [pg 94] Hathorne asks if she can faint now, in order to demonstrate her deception. Mary claims that she cannot, since she isn’t in the right time and place to do so. Danforth, clearly unsure of who is the manipulator, suggests to Abigail that perhaps ‘the spirits you have seen are illusion only, some deception that may cross your mind.’ [pg 96] Abigail angrily retorts that she has ‘done my duty pointing out the Devil’s people – and this is my reward?’
Suddenly, Abigail looks around and wraps her arms around herself, claiming that a cold wind has come. The other girls follow in suit, all crying that they’re freezing cold. They yell and scream at Mary to stop her spirit from harming them. Desperately, Mary cries for them to stop pretending. Proctor, disgusted at Abigail’s pretences attacks her, yelling that she is a whore. He reveals to Danforth his affair with Abigail explaining why Abigail has reason to murder his wife. Danforth, still uncertain asks Abigail if this is true. She refuses to reply and instead, tries to flee the room but is stopped by Herrick. Danforth orders to bring Elizabeth in for questioning and instructs everyone to be silent. Proctor and Abigail are told to turn their backs away from the entrance. Herrick brings Elizabeth in. Danforth asks her why she released Abigail from her service. Elizabeth, glancing at Proctor’s back is unsure of what to say. Danforth asks her whether or not Abigail and her husband had an affair. Elizabeth hesitantly denies the incident. The room evolves into chaos. Proctor yells to Elizabeth that he has revealed the truth however the damage is done. Mary starts to hysterically yell that Proctor forced her every night to sign the Devil’s document. She runs to the other girls and together, they enter a state of hysteria. Proctor, overwhelmed with anger cries that he hears Lucifer. Danforth, bewildered and disturbed, orders both Proctor and Giles to be imprisoned. Hale in the midst of the screaming, condemns the proceedings and yells that he quits the court.
Encountering Conflict Analysis
Salem has reached a point where the distinction between innocent and guilty is obscure. Even those who are clearly innocent, for example Rebecca Nurse, are labeled guilty. The mass prosecutions over such a short period of time has left the citizens and even authorities of the court in a state of confusion as to who has in fact, committed an offence. Danforth, as the head of the court is expected to who possess good judgment even at the face of conflict. Ironically, his judgment is easily clouded by the hysteria encapsulating the town. Even though Abigail is an essential part of the trials, when Proctor asserts that she is a fraud who is manipulating the court to pursue her own motives, Danforth’s following interrogation of Abigail demonstrates his uncertainty of the truth. It is clear he is in a state of ambiguity since he attempts to obtain the truth from Proctor, Abigail and Mary. This state of doubt only perpetrates the conflict further, since denial and revile is the only form of protection under Salem’s theocracy.
Contrastingly, Hale’s growing coherence propels him to aid those suffering from the pain and loss they have endured during the trials. When Danforth dismisses Giles’s testimony, Hale objects in an attempt to explain why Giles refuses to name his informant. Although snubbed by Danforth, Hale later insists that Danforth listen to Proctor. At the start of the play, Hale was quick to condemn civilians to incarceration, however he now ‘dares not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it.’ [pg 89] The new reason and clarity in his vision demonstrates how conflict has altered his perspective. When Proctor is arrested for condemning himself, ‘I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face!’, [pg 105] Out of shame of the terror he has helped to create, Hale’s animosity towards the court is evident as he quits the court.
While Hale intends to repair the damage he has inflicted, Abigail’s clarity drives her to exploit the town. Her unscrupulous construction of Mary’s supernatural ‘bird’ demonstrates her ability to take advantage of people’s frenzied state; knowing that the court will believe her because she is just a child. Her cunning ability to easily convince Danforth that the girls are victims of the situation highlights her callousness towards the distress she has created throughout Salem.
During the conflict, others apart from Abigail also behave in their best interest. While there are hints that Danforth can see through his unfounded sentences, he is unwilling to acknowledge his mistake by trusting the girls. In order to maintain authority, Danforth continues with his barbaric court proceedings since he recognizes that admitting a failure on behalf of the court will cause a substantial backlash. His desperation in protecting the court and himself is shown when he questions Proctor on his religious devotion in order to find some excuse to dismiss Proctor’s objection to court proceedings. Parris likewise, is still concerned about his reputation in Salem amidst the conflict. His attempts to undermine Proctor’s evidence demonstrate his interest in defending the theocracy.