The Crucible


Act Four

In the play’s final act, the action takes place several months later in a Salem jail housing those who have been found guilty of witchcraft. A number have already been executed, and others—most notably John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse—are due to be hung in the morning. Reverend Parris is now a broken man. Though he never comes out and expresses regret for his part in the witch-hunt, the vengeful crusader of the previous act is gone, replaced by a sad and mournful man trying in his own way to display kindness toward those who have been condemned to die. Reverend Hale, though he previously denounced the court and has been banned from the premises, has been brought to the prison by Reverend Parris. The prisoners listen to and respect Hale, and there seems to be some hope that he might convince one or more of them to confess and thereby save their lives.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the hysteria of the witch-hunt is slowly but surely coming undone, even if it is not in time to save those awaiting execution. Another town in the area, Andover, has refused to participate in the search for witches. Parris admits to local dissatisfaction, as well. The cows of those who have for months been in jail roam the town, as do abandoned orphans, and untended crops lay rotting—all vivid symbols of a society in disarray. Finally, Abigail and one of the other accusers have disappeared, apparently after stealing money from Reverend Parris.

There is a great deal of anxiety about the upcoming hangings. Unlike some of the first people to hang, John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are respected and liked by many in the community. Reverend Hale is unable to get them to confess, and Reverend Parris urges a postponement. Nevertheless, Deputy Governor Danforth feels that he cannot show any weakening in his resolve, and refuses to budge.

Danforth does agree to allow Elizabeth Proctor (now six months pregnant) a few moments with her husband in a last-minute effort to convince him to confess. There is a range of motives among the characters here. Reverend Hale...

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