Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
The second act takes place in the living room in Proctor's home, eight days later. Proctor returns from the farm and talks to his wife, Elizabeth. She informs him that their maid, Mary Warren, has gone to Salem, for she has been appointed an official of the court. Elizabeth explains that the court, which is being presided over by Deputy Governor Danforth and four Boston magistrates, has been set up to try those accused of being witches. All those who do not confess are to be hanged. The girls, led by Abigail, have accused many people of witchcraft, and these people have been jailed.
Proctor says that these accusations of witchcraft are black mischief. Elizabeth tells him that he must go to Salem and tell the judges that Abigail had herself admitted to him a week ago that her accusations were a fraud. He says that he and Abigail were alone and that he, therefore, has no proof; but he promises to think it over. Elizabeth accuses him of trying to protect Abigail. He protests his innocence, but Elizabeth does not believe him.
Mary arrives and is scolded by Proctor for going to Salem when he had forbidden her to do so. Mary says that she is fed up with sitting for long hours in the court and offers to Elizabeth a "poppet," a small rag-doll she prepared there to while away the time. She informs them that thirty-nine women have been arrested. Goody Osburn is to be hanged, for she has not confessed to being a witch, while Sarah Good, who has confessed to witchcraft, is to be saved. Mary also informs them that on several occasions Goody Osburn, through her spirit, has unsuccessfully tried to choke her to death. She says that she has reported to the judge an instance of her suddenly becoming ill after she had turned Osburn away from their door when the latter had come begging for food. She also tells them the judges asked Osburn to recite the Ten Commandments, but that she could not do so.
Proctor orders her not to go to court again, but Mary refuses to obey him. Proctor raises his whip and is about to hit her for disobedience when she says that she has saved Elizabeth's life by vouchsafing for her when she was accused in the court. When Mary refuses to disclose the accuser's name, Proctor orders her to go to bed. She asserts her independence, saying that she will no longer be ordered about, but she does leave the room.
After her departure, Elizabeth tells John that she must have been accused by Abigail, who wants her dead so that she can marry John. She also reminds John about his earlier liaison with Abigail, which must have put the idea of taking Elizabeth's place in her mind. During the hot exchange that ensues, John tells his wife that he is ashamed of what happened and has no further attraction whatsoever for Abigail. Elizabeth's accusation that he must have made some promise to Abigail in bed is hotly denied by John, who maintains that he is an honest man.
Reverend Hale arrives at the Proctors and says that since he is a stranger in town, he finds it difficult to form any opinion about many of the people who have been accused or mentioned in the court. He is, therefore, visiting people in order to get to know them. He tells them that he has come from Rebecca Nurse's place and will visit some others during the night. Both Elizabeth and John are shocked that a good person like Rebecca has been mentioned in court. John defends Rebecca and says the idea of this seventy year-old woman being associated with witchcraft is unthinkable.
Hale begins questioning the Proctors about their piety. He points out Proctor's irregular church attendance and asks him why his third son has not been baptized. Proctor says he finds Parris greedy and pious, but Hale is not moved. Hale then asks him to recite the Ten Commandments. He remembers nine but must ironically be reminded of the last -- adultery -- by his wife.
Realizing that Hale's suspicion against them has not been fully removed, Elizabeth asks her husband to explain what Abigail had told him on the day Hale arrived. John is reluctant to do so, since he has no witnesses. He finally discloses, however, that Abigail had herself told him that there was no witchcraft involved. She and Betty had been shocked when suddenly confronted by Parris in the woods, and Betty had simply fainted. Hale does not believe Johnís story and says that Tituba, Sarah, and many others have confessed. John asserts that they have done so merely to save themselves from being hanged. He agrees to testify to this in court, but he feels that others may not believe him when a levelheaded minister like Hale finds it difficult to do so. Hale then asks them whether they believe in witches. John gives an evasive reply, but Elizabeth clearly asserts that she does not believe in witches, shocking Hale.