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ACT SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The first act takes place in a bedroom in Reverend Parris' home in the spring of 1692. On the previous night, Reverend Parris caught Tituba (his slave), Betty (his daughter), Abigail Williams (his niece), and a few other girls dancing around a fire in the forest. When he scolded Betty, she fainted.
As the play opens on the next midday, Betty has not yet regained consciousness. Worried and suspecting witchcraft, Parris prays for his daughter's recovery. When Tituba comes to inquire about Betty, he drives her away. Just then, Abigail enters and tells him that Susanna Walcott has brought a message from Dr. Griggs. Susanna is called in, and she tells Parris that Dr. Griggs can find no medicine for Betty's illness in his books and suspects some unnatural cause for her illness.
On Susanna's departure, Abigail tells Parris about the rumors in Salem alleging the practice of witchcraft. He asks Abigail whether they were practicing witchcraft the previous night. She denies it vehemently and says that they were merely dancing to the tunes of some Barbados songs sung by Tituba. He asserts that he saw a dress on the ground and one of the girls running naked, which Abigail also denies. Parris also questions Abigail about her own reputation in town and the cause of her discharge from service at the Proctors' house. She says that Goody (a Puritan form of address for women) Proctor hated her and drove her like a slave. On further questioning by Parris, she flares up.
Ann Putnam and her husband, Thomas, arrive. Mrs. Putnam alleges that it is rumored that Reverend Parris' daughter Betty has been seen flying. She also informs Parris that, like Betty, their daughter Ruth has taken ill after last night's episode. She is sure that witchcraft is the cause. Parris confirms that he, too, suspects witchcraft and has invited Reverend Hale from nearby Beverly, an expert in such matters, to deal with the problem.
Ann admits that she sent Ruth to engage Tituba, who knows how to speak to the dead, to raise the spirits of her seven dead children, all of whom had died in infancy. She had hoped to discover who had killed them and what was now causing Ruth to fall sick so frequently and act so strangely. Upon hearing this, Parris turns to Abigail and once again accuses her of practicing witchcraft. She maintains that only Tituba and Ruth were engaged in doing so. Mercy Lewis, the Putnams' servant, enters to say that Ruth is slightly better.
Putnam prevails upon Parris to come down and pray with the assembled villagers to allay their fears. When Parris leaves with the Putnams, Abigail and Mercy discuss the events of the previous night and what they should admit about them. Mary Warren, another young girl who was also there, enters and says that the whole village is discussing what occurred and suspecting them to be witches.
Just then, Betty whimpers and calls for her dead mother. On waking up, she accuses Abigail of drinking blood the previous night in a ritual to kill Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail intimates that she has terrible powers and threatens all three with punishment if they speak of the night's events. If questioned, they are to say that they had merely danced and that it was only Tituba who had practiced witchcraft as she tried to conjure Goody Putnam's dead children. Betty collapses once again on hearing Abigail's dreadful threats.
John Proctor enters. He scolds Mary, his servant, for disobeying his order not to leave home and orders her to return there immediately. Mary and Mercy leave. Proctor questions Abigail about the previous night. She attempts to seduce him, reminding him of their adulterous liaison while she worked at his house and suggesting that he still longs for and loves her. He claims that he has no desire for her and wishes to pretend that it never happened, though he admits that he has, on occasion, stood outside her window. She accuses him of weakness in giving in to his wife and allowing her to spread false rumors about her.