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Although all the judges during the witches' trial in Salem have equal stature, Judge Danforth stands out as the most powerful. He is the one who comes across as the most intelligent but also the harshest. He is also the highest authority, since he is governor of the state. Judge Danforth takes pride in his achievements and has a no-nonsense approach. He displays
... an exact loyalty to his position and cause.
It is this which makes him truly fearsome and feared. He is intolerant and dismissive of whatever he believes to be attempts to either mislead the court or disrupt proceedings. He has the capacity to turn around whatever others may deem good and condemn them as dishonest. He uses clever argument and ties up the well-meaning witnesses in damning rhetoric.
Judge Danforth sees only black and white, for him there are no grey areas. It is this intolerance that leads to witnesses such as Giles Corey, already ridden with guilt for having had his wife condemned because of what he said, being held to ransom for refusing to name witnesses. This refusal gives the judge an opportunity to condemn their testimony as lies. It is clear that the judge deems himself everyone else's superior and they should bow to his will or face his wrath if they dare oppose him.
The same fate befalls John Proctor in his attempt to convince the court that Abigail Williams is a liar. He confesses to his lechery and swears that his wife, Elizabeth, would tell the truth about her reason for dismissing Abigail. However, Elizabeth, who John has sworn would never lie, does so, thinking that she is protecting her husband. Her lie leads to his condemnation.
It is tragically ironic that an individual of such authority and power is so easily mislead and convinced by a group of deceitful, pernicious young girls, led by Abigail Williams. The good judge is clearly impressed by their over-the-top dramatics, and he refuses to listen to reason. He ignores Reverend Hale's advice and is not even moved when the good reverend withdraws from the proceedings out of disgust.
Judge Danforth seeks proof from all the witnesses, but accepts that what the girls are seeing and hearing as definite proof that the devil is at work in Salem, even though he himself does not see anything. The judge's arrogance precludes him from accepting and acknowledging that he had been wrong. Instead, he condemns more innocent people to death.
Reverend Samuel Parris is paranoid and fearful that his parishioners are out to oust him. He therefore acts as lay prosecutor in court, constantly making comments and condemning the testimony of witnesses who speak out against the condemnation of those who are innocent of any evil. He does this to protect himself, fearful that a finger might be pointed his way. He has much to fear, since it was his niece and daughter whom he had caught dancing in the forest.
Because of Reverend Parris' interest in, and involvement with, proceedings of the court, judge Danforth tolerates him. He provides some kind of insight, in terms of what judge Danforth seeks, and also supports his intolerance and harsh judgements. Judge Danforth does however, lose his patience with the reverend for his insistent meddling in the court's affairs. He, for example, shouts at him when the reverend intervenes at the moment Proctor hands the judge Mary Warren's deposition. He shows his contempt for Parris by saying:
Mr Parris, I bid you be silent!
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