Married to John Procter, Elizabeth is an honest and strongly religious, but weak minded woman. John’s affair further damages her confidence and destroys her self respect – leaving her still relying on the husband who betrayed her. This can be seen in the way she searches for assurance from John in the stage direction, “Elizabeth tries to glance at Proctor” when she doesn’t know what to say. The directions also say “not knowing what to say, sensing a situation, wetting her lips to stall for time”. This builds up suspense as the audience have no idea whether she will lie – against her religion and nature, or tell the truth. She is a very unpredictable character who the audience have no real insight into because she is so quiet, building the tension as the scene goes on.
The character of Abigail is very different to that of Elizabeth. Her self-confidence and confrontational nature means she can overpower even adult judges who cross her path, as a teenager. An example of this in the courtroom is when she steps up to Danforth and says “What look do you give me? I’ll not have such looks!” The stage directions then say “Danforth cannot speak”, Abigail has succeeded in dumfounding the man who holds her destiny, and gaining the upper hand. Abigail is also the driving force behind the play. She bears most of the responsibility for the girls meeting with Tituba in the woods, and once Parris discovers them, she attempts to conceal her behaviour because it will reveal her affair with Proctor if she confesses to casting a spell on Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail lies to conceal her affair, and to prevent charges of witchcraft.
In order to avoid severe punishment for casting spells and adultery-not to mention attempted murder when she plots Elizabeth’s death-Abigail shifts the focus away from herself by accusing others of witchcraft. This desperate act of self-preservation soon becomes Abigail’s avenue of power, shown through the description “eyes with fire”. She uses her constant control to further power her selfish schemes with lies deceit and melodrama, and also the belief that she, not Elizabeth, is the centre of John’s existence. At the end of the scene, when she senses her levels of control may be decreasing, she acts her way out of the situation – “Abigail, with a weird, wild, chilling cry, screams up to the ceiling”. The authority continues to switch characters with Abigail’s ability to drag it back from seemingly impossible states using her personality, leaving the audience unsure to what will happen next.
The contrast between Elizabeth and Abigail is very effective – Abigail represents the suppressed emotions choked by the Puritan way of life, being released. Her desire for John was acted upon and she seduced him even though it constituted as a sin. Elizabeth however, is the virtuous Puritan and John Proctor chose to love/lust women with completely opposing identities. Elizabeth is gentle, quiet, honest, deeply religious and with quite a bland personality whilst Abigail is selfish and confident without any morals to hold her back. Ironically Elizabeth is being accused of witchcraft even though the audience know Abigail is the one with evil intentions.
Her willingness to discard the social restrictions set by Puritan life sets her apart form the other characters, but eventually becomes her downfall, as while saving herself she condemns Proctor and is forced to flee the village. Between Elizabeth and Abigail, there is a classic contrast between weak and strong, and good and bad – asking the audience whether good will triumph over adversities. The apparent injustice frustrates the audience who naturally want to see “good” as the victor.
The author, Arthur Miller, uses a range of techniques to create tension. One of these is the use of punctuation in the characters’ speech. With the most effective being dashes to show hesitation. This is used especially when Mary Warren is speaking, “I – I cannot tell”. The audience can see that she is actually quite an unstable witness and doubt whether she can convince the judges, and the longer she takes, the more the audience is kept in suspense. Exclamation is also used when Mary is defending herself; she exclaims “It’s not a trick!” This demonstrates the seriousness of the case and her desperation at the fact she seems to be fighting a loosing battle
Another technique Miller uses to raise tension is the introduction and removal of characters on stage. The gaps between give enough time for drama to build up as the audience reflect on the scene. The introduction of many different characters also shows the sheer scale of the issue in the community and the fact that so many people are involved, with lives in danger – depicting the importance of what eventually happens in this scene. The arrival, in particular, of Elizabeth on stage is delayed while John and Abigail take time to turn away. At this time Danforth says “Turn your back, turn your back”, this repetition demonstrates Danforth trying to re-gain the control and authority as Abigail manifests her attitude.
The anger also makes the scene far more dramatic as it begins to reach the climax. The stage directions, making sure the characters cannot communicate, are also very effective in raising tension because Elizabeth has no way of knowing what John said previously. The audience have no idea what she will say – only that the entire play rests on it as Proctor has repeatedly stated that his wife will never lie – “In her life sir, she have never lied”. This means there is absolutely no room for Elizabeth to say anything other than the truth.
The audience is constantly reminded of the religious and theocratic themes to the play by links to the Ten Commandments. Both adultery and lying are clearly stated as sin in the Ten Commandments, by which Puritans stick to very closely. This makes it clear how serious the crimes are because the bible states so, and that John Proctor’s crime, or crimes depending on whether he is falsely found to be lying, could jeopardise the trial – leaving everything resting on what Elizabeth says.
This section is hugely significant to the whole play; it is the turning point from which the lives of many characters hinge on. All of the main characters are involved, in the same courtroom, bringing together the contrasting personalities and battles. It is where John reveals his terrible secret, Elizabeth lies to save him, Reverend Parris and Abigail both act to save themselves and the balance between success and failure for each person constantly flickers. With only one sane person that can hold any objective view, Hale – who is totally outnumbered, the scene is sure to lead to a drastic outcome, keeping the audience guessing all the time.
This scene also takes the audience on a metaphorical roller coaster with the highest peak of tension where Elizabeth is about to give her answer. The moment she finally responds releases all the tension, revealing the tragic outcome. Along the way Arthur Miller successfully uses language, stage directions, themes, contrasting characters and even the title to create and build tension, keeping the audience involved all the time. Miller’s play also fulfilled its purpose of making a point about the event it runs against from the 1950s- showing how something so stupid – like false accusations, can cause so much damage and ruin so may lives. It also demonstrates how one person can take it upon themselves to right what is happening, but that with a ruling body so set upon their own views – it may still end in tragedy.