What is the deal that Danforth tries to make with John Proctor?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The haughty and recalcitrant Judge Danforth, the presiding officer in the witch trials, wants John Proctor to give him a written and signed confession that he (Proctor) is guilty of being a witch. Proctor's confession will ensure his freedom, and he will not be executed that morning.

Judge Danforth has been pressured into making this decision. The Reverend Parris has told him that Abigail Williams, the court's chief witness, has stolen all his life savings and has left Salem with Mercy Lewis. Furthermore, the reverend also informs him that he fears for his own life and that the residents of Salem are in a rebellious mood. He supports this claim by mentioning what has happened in Andover, where the citizens have risen against the court and will not tolerate any charges of witchcraft. Reverend Hale supports Parris's contention by telling Judge Danforth about the disruption the witch trials have brought to the village: orphaned children and untended cattle are roaming the streets, while the stench of rotting crops permeates the area.

Judge Danforth, although deeply concerned, has refused appeals for a stay of execution or postponement. He finally decides that a written and signed confession by John Proctor will appease the villagers and encourage others, such as Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey, to also seek redemption and confess. To ensure that the populace knows about Proctor's admission, the signed document will be put up on the church door for all to see. It is imperative that Proctor commit to a written disclosure confirmed by his signature before sunrise, when the hangings are supposed to commence.

The judge instructs Elizabeth Proctor to be brought forth so that she may reason with her husband about admitting his guilt. Judge Danforth believes that John will soften on seeing his pregnant wife after three months of separation. He assumes that John will, therefore, more readily consider confessing. John does indeed write and sign an acknowledgment of guilt after having a dramatically painful discussion with Elizabeth.

The judge's plan falls apart, though, when, in a moment of extreme and hysterical desperation, John Proctor decides to tear up his confession. John cries out that he wants to protect his name and that the court has already taken his soul. John realizes that he can, by refusing to allow the court to use his name, retain some goodness. He will die knowing that his integrity is still intact.

Judge Danforth is overwhelmingly upset by John's response and orders that he and the others meant for execution should be hung "high over the town."

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Danforth realizes by this point that the charges of witchcraft are most likely false, and his whole credibility and that of the Church are on the line here, seeing as how people have already been hung.  So he approaches Proctor with a deal: sign a confession and he won't hang.  He'll just sit in jail for a bit.  If everyone signs a confession they can be done with this, and Danforth can go back home and he's off the hook, never having been proven wrong.

But Puritans believed that liars are damned to Hell, so Proctor refuses.  If he accepted the deal than he would have given up his name, his reputation and according to his belief he would spend eternity in Hell.  So he stayed honest, forced Danforth to hang him and kept his good name.