Hysteria surrounding witchcraft

Arthur Miller uses irony very well in this scene. There is irony when Danforth makes righteous remarks, and then he asks Giles Corey for proof of his claims that George Jacobs is innocent, when he can not possibly have any proof of his guilt. The use of irony in this scene is effective because it makes the audience see how absurd the courts and trials are. A similar result is achieved by Danforth’s insistence that no innocent man should fear the court, and his constant links between fear and guilt show the audience his twisted view.

The people in the town are scared of the court because they know that anyone could be accused and found guilty with no real proof, but in Danforth’s eyes anyone who fears the court must be hiding something. Hale is now clearly trying to support Proctor, as he insists that a lawyer presents the case because he believes that Proctor will be unable to compete with the legal training of Danforth. When questioning Mary Warren, he gives her opportunities to retract what she has said. He asks her repeatedly if she was threatened by Proctor, and she says that she wasn’t.

When talking to Abigail and the girls, Danforth makes it known that he is very open to the suggestion that Mary Warren is lying, therefore he is putting the girls under very little pressure to tell the truth. During the course of the questioning, Mary Warren says that she pretended to faint and Danforth asks her to repeat it. She can not, and this puts doubt over her argument. She at the time believed in the spirits, because she was caught up in the mentality of the girls. Danforth then suggests to Abigail that the spirits she had seen were only illusions, giving her the chance to drop her charges with no repercussions.

This is the first and only time we see Danforth weaken, Abigail talks back to him, letting him know that she will not give in easily, and that might discourage him from questioning her too hard. She says ‘Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you be so mighty that the power of hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it! ‘ When Abigail takes an accusatory attitude, the dramatic focus is shifted on to her briefly. Abigail and the girls then pretend to feel an icy wind. Abigail says ‘Oh, Heavenly Father, take away this shadow!

‘ This infuriates John Proctor who angrily shouts ‘How do you call heaven! Whore! Whore! ‘ Now the act begins to build to a climax. After Proctor accuses Abigail of being a whore, there is an atmosphere of shock throughout the court. This is also the fist time in the scene that the flawed hero characteristic of John Proctor is shown. The flaw in the hero makes him much easier to relate to, and therefore it is easier for people to feel empathy with him, and the audience get more personally involved with the play. The audience can also see how his affair with Abigail has devastated him.

He is asked when it happened, to which he replies ‘On the last night of my joy, some eight months past’. This affair would destroy Abigail’s credibility, so to establish if it is true Danforth calls for Goody Proctor to be summoned. At this point in the act the pressure that has been building finally comes to a climax. Elizabeth is brought in to the court and asked why she dismissed Abigail. She says it was because she ‘… came to think he [John Proctor] fancied her’ Danforth then asks ‘To your knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery!

‘ There is a long pause while Elizabeth thinks about her answer, everyone in the audience knows that if she says that he has, then all the witchcraft charges will be dropped; there is an immense pressure and intensity to the scene. Elizabeth says no, and what follows is a chaos. Hale and Proctor plead with Danforth to see it is a natural lie to tell. Hale begins to say ‘I believe him! This girl [Abigail] has always struck me false! She has-‘ But to avoid being talked about in a bad way by Hale, she pretends to see a yellow bird. She and the girls pretend to be frightened of Mary Warren’s spirit, and they then mimic all she says.

There is again a huge intensity as Danforth believes the girls and repeatedly asks her if she has seen the devil, as the girls are screaming it is a chaotic and frantic scene, until finally the pressure gets to be too much for Mary and she returns to Abigail, and describes to the court how Proctor threatened her to sign the deposition. This brief lull in pressure in ends when Danforth shouts at Proctor; ‘You are combined with the anti-Christ, are you not? ‘ A moment later he asks ‘Will you confess yourself befouled with Hell, or do you keep that black alleigence yet? What say you? Proctor replies ‘I say – I say – God is dead!

‘ Proctor is seen to be feeling desperate and alone, and he is saying that if God were true then he would not be letting these terrible things happen. John Proctor then makes a short speech, in which he compares him and Danforth to the devil for failing to bring men out of ignorance. ‘… 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 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!

Danforth orders Proctor to be taken to jail and the last moment of the scene is Hale finally leaving the court saying ‘I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court! ‘ Audiences watching this play at the time it was written would have noticed how the play related to the McCarthy era strongly. Most things either paralleled the events of the time or portrayed Miller’s view of them. Danforth clearly represents McCarthy, as he is the main man leading the witch hunts. Abigail and the girls represent all the people who were pressured to name people they knew as communists in order to get let off their own crimes.

John Proctor represents all the people who saw the stupidity of the situation but were powerless to stand up to it, for fear of being accused. Arthur Miller was one of these people, and may have even seen himself as John Proctor. The mass hysteria of the Salem witch hunts parallels the mass hysteria of the McCarthy witch hunts. An audience watching the play at the time it was written would have been unhappy to see how easily people can get caught up in a wave of hysteria, especially as it was happening for real. The Crucible was written to mimic the events of the time, however since then the play has taken on a more universal meaning.

It shows how easily scared people are, and how fear can make people do drastic things. An excellent example of how this play is universally true is the similarities it has with the war on terrorism being fought now. In Britain, if a British citizen is arrested on terrorism charges, they can be held for up to 14 days without being charged. However, if they the accused is not a British citizen, they can be held indefinitely without being charged. This is an example of how hysteria, this time about terrorism, can cause people to take drastic measures. It is this universal truth that has brought The Crucible the fame and praise it has enjoyed.

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