The Magistrate Sits In Your Heart

In The Crucible, what does Elizabeth mean when she says to John, "The magistrate which sits on your heart judges you"?

In The Crucible, what Elizabeth means by this is that she's not the one judging John. In actual fact, it's John who's judging himself. It's the "magistrate" in his heart, his firm sense of what's right and wrong, that's passing judgment, not her.

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Elizabeth's quote means that she is not the one judging John, because he is being tortured by his own conscience. As a self-proclaimed Christian, John feels extremely guilty for cheating on his wife with Abigail Williams and struggles with the shame of committing lechery. He holds himself to extremely high standards and considers himself a hypocrite, which is something he despises. In Salem's Puritan society, adultery is a serious sin which could cause irreparable damage to a person's reputation and jeopardize their chances of attaining everlasting life. John feels the weight of his guilt on a daily basis and transfers his negative feelings to Elizabeth by blaming her for his shame, remorse, and regret.

Although Elizabeth still struggles to forget what has happened and to trust John, she does not overtly remind John of his sin and is more bewildered by his affair. When Elizabeth suggests that John is unwilling to testify against Abigail Williams because he still has feelings for her, he becomes defensive and criticizes her judgmental personality. Elizabeth's only response is that the "magistrate sits in [John's] heart that judges [him]." Overall, the metaphorical magistrate sitting in John's heart is his guilty conscience. John recognizes that he has made a serious mistake and feels like a hypocrite for concealing his sin. It is John who is judging himself and not Elizabeth.

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In Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, John Proctor knows he has done wrong by his affair with Abigail Williams, yet he is still trying to blame others for his own actions. He becomes angry with his wife, Elizabeth, claiming that she is judging him and that she needs to learn charity. Instead of accusing him, he says, she should look for the good in him.

Elizabeth counters, “I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you.” In other words, John's conscience is judging him, and it is yelling, “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” John knows exactly what he has done wrong, but he is trying hard to excuse himself and blame Elizabeth. Yet it isn't working, and Elizabeth knows it. John's conscience, that little judge inside of him, is poking at him, and John does not want to acknowledge it.

On another level, Elizabeth may also be referring to God, for he is the one who places people's consciences within their hearts and programs them to know right from wrong, no matter how hard they try to deny it. Some Christian saints and scholars have called the conscience “the little voice of God within.” John is hearing that little voice loud and clear, but he would much rather not, so he begins yelling at Elizabeth to try to drown it out. Of course, he fails.

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In very basic terms, Elizabeth is simply saying that she's not the one judging John; it's John himself who's doing that. It's the little magistrate or judge inside his heart who's sitting in judgment on John's actions, not Elizabeth.

In psychoanalytical terms, we might say that John is being tormented by his guilt complexes. Among other things, this is a sure sign that he has a conscience, something that can't really be said for a lot of characters in The Crucible, most notably the wicked Abigail Williams. And because John has a conscience, he's incredibly hard on himself, constantly judging his actions by his own high standards and inevitably falling well short. That “magistrate” inside his heart sure has a lot to answer for.

Instead of chiding Elizabeth for supposedly judging him, John needs to take a good hard look at himself. He needs to realize that Elizabeth is far from being judgmental, even though she has every right to be so after she found out that John was fooling around with Abigail Williams. At worst, Elizabeth regards her cheating husband as bewildered, as not quite knowing what he wants in life. But she still loves him and, crucially, does not judge him.

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This quote occurs in Act II, while John and Elizabeth Proctor are revisiting the matter of John's infidelity with Abigail Williams. Earlier in the play, John was alone with Abigail for a brief moment, which rouses Elizabeth's preexisting suspicions. This leads John and Elizabeth into a thorough focus on what has happened before, and John grows upset with Elizabeth, saying, "I"ll plead my honesty no more, Elizabeth." Elizabeth attempts to reason with him, at which time he claims that he is upset with himself for confessing his infidelity in the first place, telling her she isn't God, and also saying, "Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not." At this moment Elizabeth responds with the line in question, saying, "I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John - [with a smile] - only somewhat bewildered."

By this Elizabeth means that she is not judging John for his actions. She recognizes the act as a moment of bewilderment, and believes him to still love her. The quote regarding the magistrate means that the judgement of John is not coming from any outside force. Rather, John is the one judging himself. It is his heart that is the hardest on him. It is his conscience that is making it so difficult for him to move forward.

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Arthur Miller’s “Crucible” should be read in the context of Protestant Christianity, in which the Church on earth is understood as flawed and sinful. In the sinful human Church of Salem, local politics and human fallibility (adultery, greed, bearing false witness) distort the justice of human magistrates. But as well as fallible human judges, there exists a true infallible judge, Jesus, who in Augustinian theology appears as the teacher, who renders true judgements not corrupted by human veniality. It is this inner magistrate in John’s heart to whom Elizabeth refers.

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