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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ACT III, SCENE 6

Elizabeth knows nothing of what's happened in the room, but
she senses almost immediately that this is a test. What's going
on is not entirely clear to her, except that John's in trouble and
his fate depends on her answers to Danforth's questions. From
where we sit, it's amazing that Elizabeth doesn't see the trap.
But remember what she's been through in the last week: arrested
in the middle of the night and hauled off in chains to jail; tried
as a witch, with the girls in full cry throughout the trial;
convicted and sentenced to hang; allowed no contact with the
outside world, especially her husband. If she's exhausted and
confused, it's not surprising. And if she's reluctant to even open
her mouth, it's no wonder at all-every word she's said so far in
her own defense just set the girls to howling all the louder.

But even if she has her wits about her, her mistake is easy to
understand. She can see where Danforth's questions are headed,
but she doesn't know who talked. John may have confessed, but
isn't it far more likely that Abigail, out of sheer spite, accused
John first?

Whatever Elizabeth's reasoning, she fails the test. She tells
Danforth that her husband is no lecher. As Hale says, it's a
natural lie to tell; she thought only to save her husband's name.
But Danforth will have none of it. Proctor claimed that his wife
couldn't tell a lie; very well, Elizabeth has just cleared Abigail.
And Proctor's charge against Abigail was nothing but a last-
ditch effort to overthrow the court.



If you think for just a moment, this makes no sense at all. If
Proctor is a liar, then saying that Elizabeth cannot lie could
itself be a lie. Elizabeth also denied being a witch; Danforth
obviously thinks this is a lie, or he wouldn't have found her
guilty and sentenced her to hang. Why should he believe her
now, when she denies her husband is an adulterer?

One answer can be found near the end of the previous scene. In
a stage direction Arthur Miller describes Danforth as "Himself
engaged and entered by Abigail." This means that she has him
somehow hypnotized, and that whatever Elizabeth answers, he'll
see it as letting Abigail off the hook. If Elizabeth says, "Yes,
Abigail's a whore," it could merely be a plot by the witch and
her husband to discredit the court's chief witness against her.

There's another possibility, that Danforth's "wits have been
turned," just as Abigail threatened. If this is the case, then he
simply no longer knows what he's doing.

Don't forget that the court has based every one of its decisions
solely on the "testimony" of Abigail and the girls. If Abigail has
been lying, the court is destroyed. Danforth may be taking "any
port in the storm" to keep his world from collapsing. Proctor
cannot prove his charge, therefore the charge is false. Abigail is
vindicated, the court is saved, and the witch is dragged back to
her cell.

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