Determine the steps of the trial by differentiating between the authorities' actions and the attempts of the accused people to defend themselves. Note down your findings in a grid.

Expert Answers
katwood001 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I can't provide the grid for you, I can give you insight into the nature of the Salem Witch trials and how they progressed.  From that I think you will be able to use the script to develop a Grid with the various actions of the authorities.

The Salem Witch trials were developed out of the puritan beliefs of the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies.  Both of these colonies had roots in the English and the Dutch traditions of trials, but were also heavily rooted in the Bible.  These colonies were very isolated from the rest of the English holdings of the time. Massachusetts was huge. It included the current states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.  The areas south of the colony were German and Dutch, not really becoming English again until you reach Virginia.  Because of this the Puritans were extremely isolated, and to make matters worse, the original Plymouth Puritans were extremely suspicious of the Massachusetts Bay Puritans.  All of these issues came together to create one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in US History.  

Trial Process: 

Step 1- The Accusation: 

If you were accused by a neighbor of being a witch, you wouldn't find out about it until iron shackles were being put on your wrists.  Your accuser would go to the local magistrate and file a complaint against you and cite evidence of you being a witch. This might include failing crops, an animal dying, an illness in the family, arthritis, balding, or a cow not giving milk.  

The magistrate would listen to the evidence of your accuser.  If he (the judicial system of the Puritans was all male) decided there was enough compelling evidence, he would order an arrest.  You would be taken from your home, put in iron shackles, and taken to either the magistrate or to the jail.

Step 2: 

Interrogation would be your next step.  This may include a physical examination of your body looking for a "witch's teat."  This could be a mole, a birthmark, or a skin tag that when touched caused pain.  These were considered evidence that you had given the devil permission to suck on the teat.  This evidence could be used in the trial against you.  Along with the examination there would be an interrogation by local officials.  The main goal of this examination is to get you to confess.  This interrogation was public and involved a great deal of yelling and threatening statements.  Long periods without rest, food, and water.

Step 3:

If the Interrogation failed to get a confession, you would be turned over to two or more magistrates from outside of the local province.  They would listen to your story, and potential witnesses would be called to testify for you. (However, most of the time these testimonies are disregarded for lack of proof.)  Witnesses against you would also publicly accuse or if they were deemed incapacitated, their deposition could be read to the court.  

If, once this evidence was put forward, the magistrates still felt that you were guilty, you would be sent to jail to wait for your trial and potential further examination.

Step 4: 

At this point the case would be reviewed again, this time in front of a Grand Jury.  This was in the times of the Salem Witch trials the Court of Oyer and Terminer.  It was a specialized court for the colony to deal with witches.  Again there would be testimony and the depositions would be read into evidence.  The jury would then determine guilt or innocence.  

If you were found guilty, the court officials would pronounce sentence.  In the case of a witch this was usually by hanging, though there are a few notable exceptions.  The Sheriff was responsible for carrying out the sentence on the date appointed by the court.  

In this entire process recognize there is no council for the defense.  If you were truly innocent, the Puritans believed that the evidence against you would be explained away.  

Regarding Evidence: 

As mentioned above, witnesses for the accused rarely were listened to during the trial.  In general their testimony was considered circumstantial or figured to be a trick of the witch.  However, witnesses against the accused were believed based upon physical evidence such as bruises, the inability to move, hysteria, etc, but moreover Spectre Evidence was also considered valid testimony.  

Spectre Evidence basically is when an accused person says that they can see a figure, person, animal that is afflicting them.  Since they are the only ones being afflicted, they are the only ones who can see the Spectre.  This evidence went a little further.  According to the Puritan court, if an afflicted person saw a person, even if that person was in the courtroom bound in iron, it was proof that the person was guilty of being a witch.  It was the belief of the time, that in order of the Devil to take your shape, you had to give him permission.  Thus all a person had to do to prove you were a witch was to see you standing in the courtroom, point it out, and start screaming.  Some court rooms used what was called touch evidence, where the accused person was forced to touch the afflicted person.  If they immediately stopped being afflicted, it was proof that the accused person was really a witch because the touch broke the spell.  

Other evidence that could be used against you was: Poppits (dolls), books that contained information about horoscopes, herbs and ointments, and dark animals such as cats, bats, and reptiles in the individuals home.  

Knowing the steps of the trial should help you through dissecting the play and organizing the grid.  I would make the column titles the different steps in the trial that I listed above.  For the rows, I would put the character's names and write in the coordinating boxes where each point happens in the play.  Act/Scene and a few comments about the process.  Now that you know what to look for, you should be able to get through it quickly.