In act three, John Proctor gives the court officials a deposition signed by ninety-one upstanding citizens who testify that Martha, Rebecca, and Elizabeth are righteous, God-fearing women. Danforth responds by stating that each person who signed the deposition should be arrested and questioned.
Francis Nurse is astonished by Danforth's reaction and believes he has brought trouble to his innocent neighbors. Danforth proceeds to demonstrate his confidence in the court and his speech contains several examples of irony.
It is ironic that Danforth tells Francis that he has not harmed his neighbors if they are "of good conscience." Danforth's statement is completely false because innocent people "of good conscience" are being forced to confess to crimes they did not commit in order to save their lives. The innocent citizens are actually the people in the most danger. It is also ironic that the accusers, who are fraudulent, selfish, and dangerous, possess the authority to doom innocent citizens.
Danforth also praises Salem's court and states that "God's grace" is shining over the town and exposing the evil. Ironically, grace is not present in Salem and a dark cloud looms over the town as innocent people are hanged while private vengeance and hysteria control the court. Ironically, the true evil, which is represented by Abigail and her followers, has yet to be exposed at this point in the play and the corrupt nature of the court is not revealed.
The irony of Danforth's words here is that he is acting as though this case were clean-cut good versus evil when he is clearly being deceived by Abigail and her cohorts. There is no evidence for a single thing Abigail says, and yet the Puritans are so superstitious that they are willing to go along with whatever Abigail says for fear of the devil's influence. The so-called innocent victims are the perpetrators, far from being "in good conscience" as the judge claims.
Also, the innocent are the ones who suffer. They have everything to fear from this irrational court and jury, yet Danforth claims the court's judgement is sound and just. In truth, Abigail's malice and the jury's terror of outside evil rules the court. The ultimate irony is that anyone in this community would only be serving evil by standing with the court.
When he makes this speech, Danforth has just allowed Parris (whom he despises) and Hathorne (an inferior judge) to talk him into arresting all ninety-one signatories of John Proctor’s deposition for examination. It would be harmful for anyone to be arrested and forced to testify before a court, whatever the state of his or her conscience, but what we have seen of this court so far makes it clear how dangerous it will be for anyone who has anything to do with it. This is because there is no presumption of innocence. Anyone Abigail and her friends decide to accuse is liable to be found guilty.
There is further irony in Danforth’s language. He contrasts the sharp, precise time of judgment (ironically echoing Hale’s comment in act I that “The Devil is precise”) with the dusky, befuddled past. In truth, the court is as dusky and befuddled as it is possible for an enquiry to be. His talk of light is equally absurd—since the court is not bringing anything into the light, as he himself acknowledges when he says that witchcraft is, by its nature, an invisible crime which cannot be discovered by the normal processes of the law.
The elderly and devout Francis Nurse is fearful of turning the court's attention to the people who have committed to signing a deposition attesting to the good character of Rebecca, Martha, and Elizabeth. When he learns that those signers are now potentially going to be called in for questioning, he is rattled. Judge Danforth tries to assure Francis Nurse that if the people are innocent, they will have nothing to fear in their interrogations.
It is ironic that Danforth raises the question of "if they are of good conscience," because he is being deceived by Abigail and the other girls, as well as Thomas Putnam, with regard to their spurious accusations of others. If Danforth knew the truth, he would not consider the accusers "of good conscience," because he would know that they are lying. The accusers all have reasons for implicating others: Abigail wants Elizabeth to die, Ruth Putnam is working to gain land for her father, Walcott wants revenge for a perceived slight by Martha, and the girls accuse others simply to empower themselves.
Danforth's words are also ironic in the minds of the play's audience, which may well be wondering how a Puritan official can order the execution of citizens without actual evidence of wrongdoing and still think that they are acting "in good conscience."
This passage can be considered ironic becauase we, as readers and viewers of The Crucible, know the exact opposite of what Danforth is saying to be true. In fact, good people have the most to fear from the court that has been set up in Salem and someone we know to be a sinner, Abigail, has the most power of all in this court. This paradox makes Danforth's claim that evil no longer mixes itself up with good ironic as well.