In The Crucible, Danforth gives the premise for judging a witch. Summarize his guidelines. I am working on a study guide for my summer reading and I have been stuck on this question for a while. I...

In The Crucible, Danforth gives the premise for judging a witch. Summarize his guidelines.

I am working on a study guide for my summer reading and I have been stuck on this question for a while. I would really appreciate the help. Thank you.


Expert Answers
andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arthur Miller describes judge Danforth as follows:

Danforth is a grave man in his sixties, of some humor and sophistication that does not, however, interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause.

The importance of this statement is that the governor is stubborn and would, like a rock, cling to what he believes is right. Nothing would sway him from his position once he has made up his mind. It is this attitude which informs his opinion of what a witch is and how it should be identified.

He believes firstly, that the children, by their very nature, are innocent. As he says, 'the voice of heaven is speaking through these children.' He furthermore states that, 'I have until this moment not the slightest reason to suspect that the children may be deceiving me.' He foolishly contends that they cannot bear any malice and, therefore, are reliable witnesses. So, if they identify someone as a witch, there can be no doubt that such a person can, indeed, not be otherwise. This is the first proof of which he speaks about.

Secondly, he states, in court, that a witch can only be identified by its victims and the witch will not implicate him or herself. Therefore, by that very fact, it should be pertinently clear that such a person should be nothing other than one who is conspiring with the devil. Furthermore, it is the governor's indefatigable belief that such a witch can only identify itself through a confession. There is no other way. For him, there is no purpose for a lawyer for there is nothing more to prove. The evidence is unquestionable.  

Judge Danforth relies wholly on what he perceives, as he states:

I tell you straight, Mister - I have seen marvels in this court. I have seen people choked before my eyes by spirits; I have seen them stuck by pins and slashed by daggers. Do you 'understand my meaning?

He is saying here that what is seen as signs of witchcraft must be believed, for what else could it be? It is for this reason that he is easily persuaded by Abigail and the other girls' convincing act when Mary is about to testify to the truth. He is foolishly gullible in this regard and one can correctly assume that he is driven so much by his overblown ego that he would never admit that he is wrong.

Added to this, judge Danforth makes it clear that:

... a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. 

He has assumed a dictatorial stance and will not allow his authority to be questioned. Challenging and questioning his command, by its very nature, implicates you as one who conspires with the devil.

It is also evident from the text that the following acts, in Danforth's mind, immediately condemns one as a witch:

  • working on the Sabbath (Sundays)
  • not attending church
  • dancing
  • laughing during prayer 
  • the refusal to confess to being a witch
  • appearing in spirit form
  • tormenting others in such form
  • assuming a different shape
  • flying
  • keeping poppets

Furthermore, the judge also easily condemns others to incarceration when they refuse to name witnesses, as he does with John Proctor and Giles Corey. In the end, one is forced to lie about an allegiance to Satan if one is to be spared and, if one holds a prominent position in Salem, the confession should be written and signed.

In the end, John Proctor rebels against this injunction and tears up his confession in order to save his name. He would rather die knowing that he has left a legacy which is respected than stoop to Danforth's tyranny. In the process he regains his goodness and innocently goes to the gallows with his honor intact.

amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act III of The Crucible, Danforth tells Proctor that the state believes Heaven is speaking through the girls. Also in this Act, Danforth claims that no lawyers will be necessary. Danforth believes that in most court proceedings, witnesses will be called to defend the accused. However, when it comes to witchcraft, Danforth is illogical. He claims the only two people who can adequately testify in the matter are the witch and the victim because it is an "invisible crime." He says: 

Now, we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims--and they do testify, the children certainly do testify. As for the witches, none will deny that we are most eager for all their confessions. (Act III)

Other than asserting his authority to change his mind (or listen to reason) Danforth has made it impossible to defend the accused witches. In fact, he only expects denial or confession from those accused of witchcraft; he does not mention the possibility that they may be innocent.

The only hope for the accused is for the accusers to admit their pretense (that they'd lied). Mary Warren attempts to do so but  there is a miscommunication between Elizabeth and John, leading Danforth to reaffirm his belief in Abigail's accusations. Needless to say, Danforth is determined to prosecute because to retract accusations at this point will be detrimental to the reputation of the court (and himself). 

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question