In The Crucible, reread the opening section of Act Four (until Elizabeth and Proctor are alone), and cite the text to identify what has changed in the town.

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There have been quite a few changes to the people and the situation in the town since the arrests and hangings.

We learn that Reverend Hale, who had been a respected official of the court and a prime witness, has been barred from the proceedings. Judge Danforth says:

That man have no authority to enter here, Marshal.

He changes his opinion later when he hears that the reverend is encouraging the most stubborn of the accused such as Rebecca Nurse, for example, to confess.

We also discover that Reverend Parris is anxious, overwhelmed and distraught. He had previously been arrogant and insistent on having the accused punished. He has now, however, become a pitiful character. Judge Hathorne comments about him:

I think, sometimes, the man has a mad look these days. 

Furthermore, the stage directions describe him as "gaunt, frightened, and sweating in his greatcoat."

It also becomes apparent that because so many have been arrested, livestock has not been attended to, and the animals are roaming the streets of the village. This adds to the confusion which has now become a contentious issue. Cheever tells Judge Danforth: 

There be so many cows wanderin’ the highroads, now their masters are in the jails, and much disagreement who they will belong to now.

It appears that this confusion is partly responsible for Reverend Parris' distraught state for Mr. Cheever mentions that "contention make him weep."

It becomes evident that Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis have left Salem. Reverend Parris reports the following:

Excellency, I think they be aboard a ship. My daughter tells me how she heard them speaking of ships last week, and tonight I discover my - my strongbox is broke into.

Abigail has stolen all his money (31 pounds), and he is penniless. Furthermore, Reverend Parris fears for his life. He tells Judge Danforth:

Tonight, when I open my door to leave my house - a dagger clattered to the ground...You cannot hang this sort. There is danger for me. I dare not step outside at night!

The previously arrogant and vindictive Reverend Parris has now been reduced to a whimpering, terrified wreck who will do anything to save himself from retribution. Instead of now gleefully demanding summary punishment, he beseeches Judge Danforth to postpone the hangings. The judge, however, stubbornly refuses.

It is also apparent that rebellion is afoot. The previously docile and respectful citizens of Salem are not as obedient and acquiescent as they had been in the past. Reverend Hale tells Judge Danforth:

Excellency, there are orphans wandering from house to house; abandoned cattle bellow on the highroads, the stink of rotting crops hangs everywhere, and no man knows when the harlots’ cry will end his life - and you wonder yet if rebellion’s spoke? Better you should marvel how they do not burn your province!

The utter confusion and disarray in the village are exemplified by the fact that children, whose parents have been either incarcerated or hanged, have nowhere to go, and that untended crops have been left to rot. The mood in Salem is, therefore, volatile.

Reverend Hale's attitude has become sarcastic and critical. He does not trust the court's integrity and believes the proceedings are a farce. When Judge Danforth asks him about his purpose at the court, he cries out:

Why, it is all simple. I come to do the Devil’s work. I come to counsel Christians they should belie themselves... There is blood on my head! Can you not see the blood on my head!!  

This from a man who initially firmly believed that he had come to do God's work and rid the village of Lucifer's malice. He now believes that he has come to counsel the accused to lie and is convinced that they are innocent.

Judge Danforth's attitude has, at this juncture, has also softened somewhat. His initial attempts at convincing Elizabeth to ask John to testify has forced him into adopting a gentler approach. He tells her:

Goody Proctor, you are not summoned here for disputation. Be there no wifely tenderness within you? He will die with the sunrise. Your husband. Do you understand it?... What say you? Will you contend with him?

When she refuses to reply, he, true to form, assumes an accusatory tone which means that his whole approach was, in fact, only a ruse. He says:

Are you stone? I tell you true, woman, had I no other proof of your unnatural life, your dry eyes now would be sufficient evidence that you delivered up your soul to Hell! A very ape would weep at such calamity! Have the devil dried up any tear of pity in you?... Take her out. It profit nothing she should speak to him! 

When Elizabeth finally agrees to speak with John, he is summoned, and the two are left alone to converse.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Parris has changed dramatically from the brash and righteous man he was earlier in the play.  Judge Hathorne describes him as having "a mad look these days," and thinks that "it is not well the village sees him so unsteady."  The town's spiritual leader thus seems broken now.

Further, Cheever says that cows are "wanderin' the highroads, now their masters are in the jails [...]."  Hale soon confirms that "there are orphans wandering from house to house [...], the stink of rotting crops hangs everywhere, and no man knows when the harlots' cry will end his life [...]."  Sadness and tragedy seems to pervade Salem now where righteousness and zealotry ruled earlier in the play.  All agree, even Parris, that riots in the town now seem very possible.  Where people once feverishly supported the trials, it has become more and more likely that they will rebel against the court.

Moreover, Parris says that "it were another sort that hanged till now."  In other words, the people hanged early on were those with tarnished reputations, outcasts in the community.  Those scheduled to hang today have spotless reputations and are considered to be pillars of the community.  He emphasizes the fact that so few people came to see the excommunication of Proctor and believes that "this speaks a discontent" in the village.