The Crucible


Act Three

The play now shifts to the Salem meeting house, temporarily taken over by the court investigating the charges of witchcraft. The formal hearings are being held in the main room, which is out of view. Act Three takes place in a side or anteroom. As the curtain rises, the anteroom is empty, but the audience can hear Martha Corey being questioned by one of the presiding judges, Hathorne. The line of questioning indicates how the presumption of innocence has been completely subverted. Martha’s assertion that she is not a witch and doesn’t even know what a witch might be is used against her: If she doesn’t know what a witch is, Hathorne asks, how can she know she is not one? Then, instead of asking whether or not she has harmed the children, Hathorne instead asks why she has hurt them. With these opening questions, the playwright gives the audience a clear sense of a proceeding caught up in hysteria and utterly lacking in fairness.

Martha’s husband, Giles, cannot bear to see his wife in such an unfair fight, and calls out that he has evidence proving her innocence. He is ordered to be silent but keeps shouting, and is escorted out of the courtroom and into the anteroom by the marshal. He is followed by Francis Nurse, Reverend Hale, and Judge Hathorne, and shortly thereafter by Deputy Governor Danforth, the clerk Ezekiel Cheever, and finally Reverend Parris. Giles makes his case to Danforth, described intriguingly as a man of “humor and sophistication” but with an “exact loyalty” to the cause of the court to root out witchcraft. Giles breaks down in tears as he reflects on the fact that his innocent questioning of his wife’s reading habits has been turned against her. Reverend Hale interjects on his behalf that he has “hard evidence” and that the court should hear it. This is an early indication that Reverend Hale has adopted a more cautious stance and is displaying greater sympathy for the accused.

Giles is ushered out, and Danforth turns his attention to Frances Nurse, who claims that...

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