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It is an interesting question that posits that Deputy Governor Danforth, acting as the presiding judge in the witch trials at the center of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, should be the voice of reason and even of liberalism. Danforth is a rigid, by-the-book jurist whose demeanor leaves little room for interpretation. He is not intrinsically evil, but he is a man of his times and believes fervently in the righteousness of the proceedings. He is not disposed to displays of compassion that indicate he places justice above the bureaucratic rituals of the court, as evident in the following scene in which Giles Corey is testifying regarding his allegations of witchcraft directed against his wife:
Giles, through helpless sobs: It is my third wife, sir; I never had no wife that be so taken with books, and I thought to find the cause of it, d’y’see, but it were no witch I blamed her for. He is openly weeping. I have broke charity with the woman, I have broke charity with her. He covers his face, ashamed. Dan-forth is respectfully silent.
Hale: Excellency, he claims hard evidence for his wife’s defense. I think that in all justice you must -
Danforth: Then let him submit his evidence in proper affidavit. You are certainly aware of our procedure here, Mr. Hale. To Herrick: Clear this room.
Even when others, most prominently Reverend Hale, begin to reconsider the chain of events now set in motion, and begin to question the validity of the allegations of witchcraft now encompassing more and more of the town’s women, Danforth remains resolute. When Francis Nurse, one of the more rational of the townfolk, attempts to interject in defense of his wife, he is abruptly and threateningly interrupted:
Francis: Excellency, we have proof for your eyes; God forbid you shut them to it. The girls, sir, the girls are frauds.
Danforth: What’s that?
Francis: We have proof of it, sir. They are all deceiving you.
Danforth is shocked, but studying Francis.
Hathorne: This is contempt, sir, contempt!
Danforth: Peace, Judge Hathorne. Do you know who I am, Mr. Nurse?
Francis: I surely do, sir, and I think you must be a wise judge to be what you are.
Danforth: And do you know that near to four hundred are in the jails from Marblehead to Lynn, and upon my signature?
Francis: I -
Danforth: And seventy-two condemned to hang by that signature?
Danforth presents himself as a voice of reason, but he is anything but. He is committed to the prosecution of the guilty and will not allow anything or anybody to stand in his way. If he is perceived as too merciful, it is only in his occasionally rational demeanor. It is certainly not in his single-minded pursuit of an exceptionally warped version of justice.
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