In act 3 of The Crucible, when Mary Warren says she pretended to faint in court, what is she asked to do?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 3, John Proctor forces Mary Warren to travel into Salem with him and confess the truth about the proceedings by telling the court officials that Abigail Williams and the girls are frauds. Mary Warren reluctantly follows John Proctor into Salem and testifies that she was lying during the witch trials. When Mary testifies that she only pretended to faint during the proceedings, Hathorne demands that Mary faint in front of them to prove that she is telling the truth. Mary is stunned by Hathorne's instructions and Parris demands that she pretend to faint. Mary Warren is under extreme pressure to perform and cannot reenact her feelings during the previous proceedings when she convincingly pretended to faint.

Essentially, Mary Warren is being asked to pretend to see spirits, reenact her hysterical experiences, and faint in front of a highly critical audience. Given Mary Warren's weak, timid personality, she is unable to recreate her feelings of excitement and struggles to explain how hysteria influenced her actions during the proceedings. Mary Warren cannot faint and tells Danforth,

I—I cannot tell how, but I did. I—I heard the other girls screaming, and you, Your Honor, you seemed to believe them, and I—It were only sport in the beginning, sir, but then the whole world cried spirits, spirits, and I—I promise you, Mr. Danforth, I only thought I saw them but I did not (107).

Overall, Danforth, Hathorne, and Parris instruct Mary Warren to reenact her behavior during the witch trials by pretending faint, which is something Mary cannot do. Danforth then questions Abigail about Mary's weighty testimony and she completely denies the accusations. Abigail and the other girls then begin pretending that Mary Warren's spirit is about to attack them as hysteria fills the room.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 31, 2019
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 3 of The Crucible, John Proctor brings Mary Warren before the court to strengthen his case by admitting that she merely pretended to faint and see spirits during previous hearings. The judges, Hathorne and Danforth, are predictably reluctant to believe her, and ask her to pretend to faint now as she did then. The Reverend Parris makes the same request and it is he who is the most insistent of the three, saying when Mary asserts that she never saw any spirits:

Then see no spirits now, and prove to us that you can faint by your own will, as you claim.

Mary cannot faint as the judges and Parris ask her to, and is unable to explain why she cannot (hardly surprising as she is neither very articulate nor very intelligent). Even John Proctor, alarmed by the turn events are taking, asks if she could not manage to pretend. It seems clear that Mary is a weak personality who was able to pretend to faint when she was following Abigail's lead, and when she was confident that everyone believed the performance. To be asked to demonstrate her own mendacity in this way, in front of such a highly critical audience, is a different thing entirely and her nerve fails. Soon afterwards, Mary conclusively demonstrates her weakness and the power Abigail is able to exercise over her when she changes her story under pressure from Abigail and the other girls.

Although it is clear that Mary was telling the truth when she said that she merely pretended to faint, then reverts to lying again, it is equally clear that she does not much care about the difference between truth and falsehood. She says what others compel her to say, attempting always to take the line of least resistance.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 31, 2019
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At this point in the play, Mary Warren is trying to insist that all of the girls that are accusing people of being witches are faking it.  She tells the judges that "it were all pretense," and tries to convince them that they all just got carried away because they were originally afraid of getting in trouble over being caught in the woods dancing and doing other things.  So, judge Hathorne and Parris step up, saying that they had seen her faint away before them in court, before their very eyes, and that when they touched her in her faint, she "were icy cold."  They ask her how this was possible, and when she says that she was pretending, they are incredulous, and don't really believe her.  At this point, they want her to prove that she can pretend, just like she does in court.  They ask her to faint, right there and then.

Mary, put under a severe amount of pressure, with the judges and all of the girls (whom she is accusing of lying) watching her, has to try to pretend to faint.  While this might seem simple, the pressure gets to her, and she can't do it.  The judges are exultant, thinking that they have just proved her a liar--if she can pretend in court and can't now, then she MUST have been bewitched in the court, right?  Mary insists that she "has no feeling for it now," and tries to explain the concept of mass hysteria.  She says that in the courtroom, all of the girls were screaming, going into hysterics, and that the judges believed them, and she just got caught up in the drama, and that is what heightened her emotions and enabled her to faint there.  Anyone who has been caught up in the crowd at a concert, or screamed in a movie theater because everyone else screamed can relate to the poor Mary and her predicament.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial