In The Crucible, what does Judge Danforth represent or symbolize in the court?
Arthur Miller uses Judge Danforth to represent not only the government's complete control of America's early settlers but also to illustrate the arrogance of many of our country's leaders from Puritan times all the way through Miller's experience with McCarthyism in the 1950s.
Danforth prides himself on being the ultimate authority in the court and even states that someone is either for the court or against it--there is no road in between. In establishing this concept, he forces the settlers to side against one another, and anyone who does not wholeheartedly agree with his judgments is against him, and therefore, an enemy of the court.
Danforth also represents spiritual leadership that cannot be questioned especially by "mere commoners." He demands that Giles Corey confess the name of his informant and does so in the name of the "government and central church" (Act 3).
Danforth's arrogance is present not only in Miller's description of him in Act 3 but especially in Act 4 when he knowingly sends innocent men and women to their deaths rather than admit that he has had a part in condemning to death other innocent townspeople. The audience knows that Danforth recognizes the "victims" innocence because he has learned of Abigail's flight from Salem, seen the horrendous effects of his sentences upon the town, and ultimately realizes that John's only reason for not keeping his confession is to save his good name. Even with all this evidence, he refuses to right his own wrong, and sanctimoniously declares,
"Hang them high over the town! Who weeps for these, weeps for corruption!" (Act 4)
His statement is true, but not in the sense he intends. Those who weep for the victims of the Salem witch hunt, the Holocaust, or other witch hunts weep for those who are victims of corrupt and pompous governments and religious institutions.