The Crucible – Act 3 – some observations

It is the Crucible scene where characters are ‘heated’ (interrogated) and their true natures come out.

For example Giles changes from a rather foolish man, ‘I am thirty three times in court …and always plaintiff too’ (probably as Proctor suggests because he’s too deaf to hear what people say and as happened to Proctor himself seeks damages off them for slander) with his rather childish need to be the centre of attention when Hale arrives so he mentions his wife’s habit of reading books – finally realises his sin and discovers his true heroism in not exposing his source (see Putnam below);

John Proctor’s dilemma is that he ends up having to choose between getting his wife back and denouncing Abigail and exposing the sham of these trials. Heroically he chooses the latter but it is too late;

Hale discovers his doubts about the trial process, again too late to affect it;

Elizabeth discovers she loves her husband and lies for him;

Parris shows his true colours in his attempt to subvert justice.

Parris is desperately trying to get the court to focus on ‘Proctor’s guilt’ only by doing so can he retain his status and power as minister, if Proctor should be believed the court’s power would be undermined and his position lost. He would be turned out of the village.

Hathorne is on Parris’ side in not wanting closer scrutiny of the trial method; he is a local judge who wants the prestige of this trial to further his career. ‘You are not a Boston judge yet,’ cries Giles.

Martha Corey’s cross-examination reveals the essential flaw ‘How can you know you are not a witch if you don’t know what one is?’

Danforth has too much at stake (400 jailed cross the county on his say so) to allow the proceedings to falter, yet is careful to be seen to be ‘fair’ in hearing evidence so that he can’t afterwards be accused of injustice.

Danforth’s summary of the case is that if Heaven speaks through the children anyone who contradicts them is denying heaven and committing blasphemy. (His wrong assumption is obviously in presuming the girls are telling the truth and not realising they could have their own agenda here.)

Though Putnam has the smallest part in Act 3 we learn that he is really the instigator of much of the factional wrangling in the town, when Giles declares, ‘Thomas Putnam is reaching out for land,’ and that he has an anonymous source who heard Putnam telling his daughter to cry witch on George Jacobs for the promise of a gift of land.

Danforth’s ‘we burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment’ is sadly ironic as we wonder if it is ‘burning’ the right people. But when his confidence is shaken by Mary Warren’s confession and he goes so far as to suggest doubt about Abigail’s story, her verbal attack on him makes him shy away from further questioning.

Proctor discovers his conscience is clean and changes from full of anger and self-hate for what he has done to his wife, to dignified and ultimately heroic, but Abigail’s, to him, obvious fakery, makes him more and more furious until he physically attacks her. He cannot believe he gave up his good name only to have her pour scorn on it.

Proctor‘s point is valid: the only guarantee of the truth of the girls’ words is the girl’s words.

We see the gross injustice that the 91 signatories to Giles’s deposition are to be arrested and questioned.

Hale changes – he becomes less convinced of the righteousness of the proceedings, he is impressed by Proctor’s behaviour and tries to get the evidence heard; he is smartly reprimanded by Danforth and ends up quitting the court in disgust – BUT earlier he has himself signed Rebecca Nurse’s death warrant, whose character he had earlier commended.

Proctor‘s comment about the five-legged dragon in his house should have drawn a laugh but these people’s fanaticism is too deeply entrenched.

Danforth plays into Abigail’s hands by questioning Mary Warren in front of her enabling her to wrest back control of the trial. Finally we discover who holds the power, Abigail not the court officers.

Hysteria is the key word for the end of this scene and Miller is at great pains to convince the audience of the power of hysteria to sway rational minds. (After all this is what was happening in America in the 50s)

In this Act the tragedy of John and Elizabeth is played out. The crucible as it were is brought to the boiling point. John is forced to admit his adultery; Elizabeth lies to save him and Abigail triumphs though she loses what she so desperately sought: the love and possession of John.

However the trauma of this Act also brings John and Elizabeth to rediscover their love for each other and to show that love and truth are the truly important things.

Trial scenes on stage are usually dramatic in their mixture of formality and tension, characters and truths slowly revealed, with the additional tension as to whether judge and / or jury will respond in the same way as the audience. Here the tension is greater because neither Abigail nor Proctor are allowed to look at Elizabeth who hold their fate in her hands.

If you are doing the whole of Act 3 the next section from p100-105 takes the scene in a new direction, different but no less dramatic. We see the full force of Abigail’s ruthless personality at work as she manipulates the girls to see things, to escalate the fear and tension and whip up the hysteria literally to fever pitch. Mary Warren is her intended victim as she piles on the pressure to win her back. The seemingly unconscious mimicry of Mary Warren’s comments relentlessly undermine her confidence until her fear of Abigail and the other girls proves greater than her fear of God and hell and she collapses. By the time Proctor gets to her side to persuade her to repeat the real story it is too late and she accuses him of being ‘ the devil’s man.’ Danforth is probably delighted to be let off the hook and seizes on it as exoneration of his methods. Conveniently ignoring Mary’s telling: ‘Abby, Abby, I’ll never hurt you more.’

Now that John is accused events move to their denouement. The play has been heading here all the time.

Don’t forget that you need also to comment on Arthur Miller himself and the way he was brought to trial and what he realised about the trial methods and the parallels to those in Salem 250 year earlier.


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