There are many instances of desperation from the beginning of Act Two. The characters' desperation adds to the drama and tension of the play as a whole and indicates their distress and feelings of hopelessness against the authority of the court and the accusations of others.
Although the Act commences in a reasonably convivial mood where John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth, are making small talk, it quickly changes when we read of John's desperate attempts to make Elizabeth happy:
Proctor, with a grin: I mean to please you, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth - it is hard to say: I know it, John.
He gets up, goes to her, kisses her. She receives it. With a certain disappointment, he returns to the table.
There exists an obvious tension between the two, born from John's earlier illicit affair with Abigail Williams, their erstwhile maidservant, who had since been dismissed. The tension increases when Elizabeth raises the issue of John going to town. Elizabeth is desperate that he should go to denounce Abigail for she fears that the girl wishes to harm her.
Elizabeth: I think you must go to Salem, John. He turns to her. I think so. You must tell them it is a fraud.
When Mary Warren, their new maid, returns from court and reports about the events there, Elizabeth becomes even more desperate. John is upset that she had gone to town and at one point threatens to whip her. Mary then tells the couple that she had saved Elizabeth's life, for she had been accused of witchcraft. Once Mary has gone to bed, Elizabeth declares her suspicion that it could only be Abigail who implicated her. She desperately demands that John goes to court to speak to Abigail:
John, with so many in the jail, more than Cheever's help is needed now, I think. Would you favor me with this? Go to Abigail.
Elizabeth believes that Abigail thinks that she still has John's affection and that she would use the witch trials to get rid of her and take her place.
It is her dearest hope, John, I know it. There be a thousand names; why does she call mine? There be a certain danger in calling such a name - I am no Goody Good that sleeps in ditches, nor Osburn, drunk and half-witted. She'd dare not call out such a farmer's wife but there be monstrous profit in it. She thinks to take my place, John.
John, however, seems to be quite reluctant to do as his wife requests and accuses her of being too suspicious and unforgiving. In desperation Elizabeth eventually cries out:
You'll tear it free - when you come to know that I will be your only wife, or no wife at all! She has an arrow in you yet, John Proctor, and you know it well!
She is clearly in despair and wants John to tear himself free of his guilt about his affair and release himself from Abigail. In her anguish, she threatens that she will leave him if he does not do so.
After Reverend Hale's arrival, Elizabeth's desperation is once again obvious, for she tells John to inform him about Abigail's deceit just when the Reverend is about to depart:
Elizabeth, with a note of desperation: I think you must tell him, John.
Hale: What's that?
Elizabeth, restraining a call: Will you tell him?
More desperation is displayed with the arrival of Giles Corey, who expresses dismay that his wife has been arrested on a charge of witchcraft. He is clearly desperate and feels responsible for her arrest after having previously made a careless remark about her reading books and he not being able to pray when she did. Francis Nurse also enters and utters the same about his wife, Rebecca:
Giles: They take my wife...
Proctor, to Francis: Rebecca's in the jail?
Francis: Aye, Cheever come and take her in his wagon.
The men are very obviously distraught. Rebecca, for example, has been arrested for murder and they appeal to Reverend Hale to intervene.
Francis, going to Hale: Reverend Hale! Can you not speak to the Deputy Governor? I'm sure he mistakes these people -
Hale: Pray calm yourself, Mr. Nurse.
Francis: My wife is the very brick and mortar of the church, Mr.. Hale - indicating Giles - and Martha Corey, there cannot be a woman closer yet to God than Martha.
The tension heightens ever further with the arrival of Ezekiel Cheever and Marshall Herrick. They procure a warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. Evidence has been found that she practices witchcraft by using a doll. Abigail Williams had supposedly been harmed by Elizabeth's witchery when a needle was found protruding from her stomach. Abigail claimed that she had seen a doll in Elizabeth's possession. The two men are there to find the doll.
When the doll is discovered, the officers want to arrest Elizabeth even after Mary Warren confesses that it was her poppet and that she had given it to Elizabeth as a gift. A needle is found protruding from the doll's belly, which to them is irrefutable evidence of Elizabeth's evil, although Mary again admits that she herself had placed it there for safe keeping.
Elizabeth hears of Abigail's accusation and cries out:
'The girl is murder. She must be ripped out of the world!
To Cheever, this is irrefutable proof that Elizabeth wants to harm Abigail. John realises the severity of the situation and, in desperation, snatches the warrant from Cheever's hands and tears it up. He demands that thy leave.
Reverend Hale tries to calm John down, but he is clearly overwhelmed and shouts at him:
Get y'gone with them! You are a broken minister.
In his desperate need to save his wife, John demands to know whether the reverend will allow them to take his wife away. Reverend Hale states that the court is fair and just and that he has to abide by its commands. Proctor, even more desperate, passionately cries out:
Pontius Pilate! God will not let you wash your hands of this!
Elizabeth then calmly tells John that she has to go. He finally accedes and Elizabeth is arrested.
A final act of desperation in the Act is displayed by both John and Mary Warren, when John asks her if she will testify about Abigail's manipulation. John is desperate to prove Elizabeth's innocence and wants Mary to accompany him to court the next day. Mary is clearly terrified of Abigail and the other girls, and cries out:
I cannot, they'll turn on me -
She desperately cries out repeatedly that she cannot testify, but John is adamant that she must:
Proctor, grasping her by the throat as though he would strangle her: Make your peace with it! Now Hell and Heaven grapple on our backs, and all our old pretense is ripped away - make your peace! He throws her to the floor, where she sobs, "I cannot, I cannot...And now, half to himself, staring, and turning to the open door: Peace. It is a providence, and no great change; we are only what we always were, but naked now. He walks as though toward a great horror, facing the open sky. We are naked! And the wind, God's icy wind, will blow!
The scene closes with Mary sobbing desperately: 'I cannot, I cannot, I cannot.'