In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, what is Judge Danforth's background?
Early in Act III of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, the audience is introduced to the character of Deputy Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Danforth. Miller provides the following brief description to accompany this character:
Enter Deputy Governor Danforth and, behind him, Ezekiel Cheever and Parris. On his appearance, silence falls. Danforth is a grave man in his sixties, of some humor and sophistication that does not, however, interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause.
Judge Danforth is very much a 'by the book' jurist, meticulous in his fealty to the rules that govern the court. Responding to fellow justice Hale's attempt at defending the motivations of the litigious elderly farmer Giles Corey, who has pointed the finger of guilt at his own wife, Danforth rebuts the other judge:
"Then let him submit his evidence in proper affidavit. You are certainly aware of our procedure here, Mr. Hale."
Miller, who scrupulously researched the subject of his play to the extent possible (little documentation existed from the notorious 1692 Salem witch trials), has clearly intended the character of Judge Danforth to represent both integrity and rigidity in his reading of the law and in his manner. Further insights into the character are provided as the trial progresses and additional witnesses are called to testify. In the following exchange between Danforth and Francis Nurse
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?
Francis: Excellency, I never thought to say it to such a weighty judge, but you are deceived.
Again, details regarding Danforth's background are provided incrementally throughout the trial. From the above exchange, we can surmise that Danforth is a jurist of some repute and renown who has a history of condemning those found guilty before him of the most extreme punishments. Despite the research Miller conducted in preparation for writing The Crucible, however, the real-life Judge Thomas Danforth was believed to have been considerably more liberal in his outlook and demeanor, including with regard to the Salem trials. Specific to Miller's play, though, the judge's background is established in these passages.