The play opens in Salem, Massachusetts, 1692, with the Reverend Samuel Parris praying over the bed of his daughter Betty. Abigail, his niece, enters with news from the Doctor that there is no explanation for Betty's inertia and disturbed state of mind. As their conversation progresses and he questions her, it is revealed that Betty has fallen into this state after her father found her in the woods dancing around a fire with Abigail, Tituba (Parris's slave from the island of Barbados), and other young women from the town. Parris warns Abigail that her reputation is already under suspicion as she has been dismissed from the service of Goody Proctor and has not been hired since. With the arrival of Goody Putnam, it is further revealed that her daughter Ruth is in a similar condition and that she was dancing in an attempt to communicate with her dead sisters.
Parris leaves to lead the recital of a psalm. Abigail reveals to Mercy, the Putnams' servant, that Mercy was seen naked. When Mary Warren, the Proctors' servant arrives, she suggests that they tell the truth and just be whipped for dancing, rather than risk being hanged for witchcraft. Betty wakes and tries to fly out of the window and then accuses Abigail of having drunk blood to make Goody Proctor die. Abigail warns them not to say any more.
When the farmer John Proctor arrives, Abigail's flirtation with him (which he resists) suggests that she has been sexually involved with him in the past. She tells him that it is all pretense and that Betty is just scared. Meanwhile, a psalm can be heard from below and at the phrase "going up to Jesus," Betty cries out. Parris and the others rush into the room, interpreting Betty's outburst as a sign that witchcraft is at work in the young woman. Rebecca Nurse, a wise old woman, comforts Betty. Parris has sent for Reverend Hale, who has past experience with witchcraft; Hale arrives with his many books. Tituba is questioned, and after a considerable amount of...
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