Character and action
- The atmosphere of the courtroom is extremely tense, as a number of convictions and executions and false accusations are announced.
- Proctor brings Mary Warren to convince the judges that the girls are pretending.
- The girls behave hysterically, despite Mary and Proctor continuously telling the judges that they are pretending.
- Then, Proctor confesses of adultery with Abigail and accuses her of ‘harlotry/prostitution,’ which Danforth heavily doubts. This is as; he believes that Proctor is lying, as one will not want to damage one’s pride.
- Mary Warren agrees with Proctor, but shows fear, as Abigail’s constant threatening makes her vulnerable.
- Elizabeth is called into the courtroom, due to her honest and virtuous nature, which is proclaimed by John. Proctor and Abigail are made to face their backs on her. This is to prevent her from communicating with him, so the judges can confirm if Proctor is lying or not.
- However Elizabeth lies to save Proctor from being convicted of adultery, so she repeats that Abigail has dissatisfied her, and uses an understatement – that John ‘fancied’ her.
- The judges observe no match in their statements and thus send Elizabeth away, doubting John. Hale protests against the court’s analysis of the situation and defends the Proctor’s, and is heavily against Abigail.
- Suddenly, Abigail weirdly screams up towards the ceiling and says that she sees a bird. Danforth questions her and is trying to analyse the situation, whilst Proctor and Mary still continue to protest, telling Abigail to stop the drama.
- Then, all the girls begin to mimic Abigail’s dramatic and strange behaviour, as they begin to accuse Mary of a witch.
- Danforth is convinced by it, and starts to frighten and interrogate Mary, whose anxiety and fear begins to heavily increase.
- Proctor tells her to stay firm and resilient in telling Danforth this is all a lie.
- As the girls begin to describe the actions of the bird and Danforth’s unnerving interrogation, with Parris’ mellifluous and sadistic blackmailing, Mary is extremely anxious and accuses Proctor.
- She starts accusing Proctor of ‘sending his spirit out’ and ‘dong the Devil’s work.’ She adds false description of ‘what happened to her’, just like how the other girls used to lie.
- Mary becomes over-dramatic, and we learn that fear has made her reunite with Abigail completely.
- Danforth interrogates Proctor, using emotive and religious language. Also, he insults Hale’s authority again, and wants a reaction from Proctor.
- Proctor is furious by the corruption of religious, and blasphemes by saying ‘God is dead!’ (he refers to the corruption of religion in this line). Then, he sarcastically and furiously uses exclamatory and emotive language of blasphemy, which the audience would perceive as being sarcastic. However, Danforth is convinced that he is with the Devil and commands to jail him.
- At the end of the act, Hale is utterly disgusted by the whole scene, and furiously walks out the courtroom, followed by Proctor cursing the judges again. Danforth tries to call for Hale, but he has already left.
Themes and Context
Witchcraft: This is prominent in this act, as the girls are shown to use hysterical and bizarre behaviour, to accuse witchery on other people; this may be due to fear, revenge or to gain status. When Proctor and Marry try to convince the judges that the girls are pretending, the girls use religion at their advantage to stop them from doing so. Also, witchcraft has sexism associated with it, as mainly, a greater proportion of females (e.g. Mary Warren, Elizabeth, Sarah Good etc.) are accused, compared to the male population (e.g. John Proctor).
Power: This scene emphasises, that the corruption of religion is advantageous of those who immorally desire for power. The girls dominate the court, and even the judges are convinced by their hysteria, relying on the ‘power of witchcraft.’ Also, the local hypocrites, such as Parris and Putnam, encourage false accusations to gain more power. Hale’s authority begins to decrease, as the court is ‘owned’ by the girls.
Hysteria: The girls are suppressed by the orthodoxy of Puritanism, and fear hanging if their secret of pretence is uncovered. So, they start behaving abnormally and vigorously, to convince that people in the village are using witchcraft to cause these behaviours.
Vengeance: The Puritans, contradicting their own religious principles, have carried their vengeance from Britain, which is portrayed by them using this vengeance, and justifying it through religion, by accusing people of being witches or in affiliation of the devil.
Fear: To reiterate, the suppression of women in the 16th century, and the fear of being ‘condemned’, if they behave unnaturally, has caused these girls to use immoral principles, such as pretence and lying, to save themselves.
Adultery: This seems controversial to the play, as adultery is seen sinful to the Puritans. However, the playwright uses John Proctor, committing adultery with Abigail, in this scene to show the hypocrisy of the people. Also, irony is created, as Miller shows the ‘moral’ and servile nature of wives, as Elizabeth innocently begins to save her husband and lies, despite knowing that he has deceived her.
Religion (Antichrist and Blasphemy): Miller portrays how the corruption of religion attacks the innocent and moral people, who begin to doubt its very existence. John Proctor is shown to be blasphemous towards the end, which tells the audience, that the corruption of religion can give rise to agnostic and atheistic philosophies.
Language, Structure and Effects
A climaxing structure occurs in this scene as it begins with convictions, the girls’ hysterical behaviour, Elizabeth’s innocent lying to save John, the hysteria increases and Mary condemns John and the scene ends with John confessing by using blasphemy and ‘atheistic’ ideas to express his anger against the corruption of religion. Throughout the scene, formal, biblical, archaic, exclamatory, declarative, imperative and figurative language is used, which is fine tuned with hysteria, irony, religion and the authority and seriousness that a courtroom possesses.
Proctor: ‘I have made a bell of my honour! I have rung the doom for my good name – you will believe me Mr Danforth! My wife is innocent, except she knew a whore when she saw one!’ The use metaphorical language along with exclamation marks at the end of each sentence conveys Proctor’s anger towards Danforth, which mirrors the audience’s anger towards this 16th century society. The imperative used in ‘you will believe me’ and the declaratives John uses to convey the virtuous nature of Elizabeth, shows his helplessness and fury, as the situation has escalated highly, therefore to get a basic point across, violent behaviour is necessary. Words such as ‘doom’, ‘rung’, ‘honour’ give connotations to emotive and exclamatory language, used to create an impact on the reader, about the violent reactions required to eliminate stupidity in society. Also, Proctor’s defence signifies a proud man in the 16th century, who is ready to give his life to protect his family.
Hale: ‘I beg you, stop now before another is condemned. I may shut my conscience to it no more. Private vengeance is working through this testimony! From the beginning this man has struck me true. By my oath to Heaven, I believe him now, and pray, you call back his wife before we’ – Here, ‘beg you’ connotes to Hale’s authority being slowly diminished in the village, as he is shown to be pleading. However, Miller shows his pride in imperatives in ‘stop now’ and ‘you call back his wife.’ The audience will prefer this pride as it’s rational and moral, however, it is ironical as his judgement is not being considered, as the corruption of religion has defeated him, which can be seen by ‘-‘ to indicate he is being cut off by another speaker. The use of statements and emotive language e.g. ‘no more’, ‘I believe him now’, ‘pray’, ‘struck me true’, with formality used to create emphasis and exclamation marks highlights his anger towards the situation. The phrase ‘struck me true’ is figurative and ironical, as it shows us how Hale realises how he was previously wrong, and the rationality of John has finally made him come to senses by ‘striking him.’
Abigail (stage directions): Shielding her eyes…let out a gigantic scream. – The figurative imagery at first reveals and connotes to a powerful, yet cunning and weak personality. This is as, shielding can be interpreted as the power of protection Abigail possesses, and rules the court with it. However, it can also be interpreted, that Abigail needs to shield her eyes, to stop others being aware of her motives, meaning she is a cunning woman, with a weak personality, as she fears her being exposed can make her vulnerable. Also, the ‘gigantic scream’ is emotive and descriptive language, with imagery associated along with it to depict the power of Abigail over the court. However, a ‘scream’ connotes to a reaction of danger and fear, reiterating, that Abigail/immoral people always resort to weak methods of protection.
Proctor: ‘ A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of this ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud – God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!’ – Repetition at the beginning and at the end of the text, in linked together, as both have exclamation marks and the figurative language of ‘fire’ leading up to ‘burning’ highlights the eventual downfall of society. Although the whole text can be seen as blasphemous, Miller has intended to make it blasphemous to the Puritan audience causing extreme reactions from them; however, we understand that the exclamatory emotive language, seen by the exclamation marks, signifies the fury of innocent people, when they are confronted by the corrupted religion. The imagery and connotations used in ‘boot of Lucifer’, suggests how that era has been degraded, and will fully degrade, as immorality (Lucifer) continues. The alliteration and imagery in ‘filthy face’ connotes to the degraded motives and intentions of people, which slowly impacts on everyone; when he says ‘my face and yours Danforth!’ it’s his fury and foreboding, of this corruption affecting everyone, even a minister/ a priest who may have a high position in society. The emotive and archaic language used in ‘quail’ with tenses, signifies a strenuous pain people have suffered in bringing morality, is a powerful archaic word, which can connote to a part of an inspirational speech. The imagery of ‘black hearts’ can be interpreted as the height of his anger, as he rightly points out the Puritans’ dark nature, as a result of their destructive austere/strict lifestyle, which has suppressed their emotions. The declarative ‘God damns our kind especially’, with a superlative effect, gives the historical background of how the strict and contradicting lifestyle of Puritanism was emotionless, (emotions are a core part of Christianity) caused God/nature to continually reject them, and as their false religion continued, God ‘especially’ has damned them.
Proctor: ‘You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!’ – The metaphor used, can be accepted as a symbol of literal truth, as the heaven symbolises true religion which is corrupted by the ignorance, superstition and stupidity of people, using it as an excuse for their misdeeds. ‘Raising up a whore!’ is exclamatory, and refers to Abigail; also, ‘whore’ can connote to the decline of society, which is seen in prostitution etc., and this corruption is causing it.