When Proctor forgets the adultery commandment, it is an example of irony. What is the purpose of the irony in this scene from The Crucible?

When John Proctor forgets the adultery commandment, it is an example of situational and dramatic irony. One would expect John to remember the commandment, given his previous affair. Reverend Hale is unaware of his relationship with Abigail. The purpose of the irony is to emphasize the significance of John's transgression and underscore the theme of secret sins, which is prevalent throughout the play. The irony also provides further insight into John and Elizabeth's strained relationship.

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In act two, Reverend Hale carries out his own investigation and visits Proctor's home. John and Elizabeth Proctor are forced to prove their faith and good standing by answering several of Reverend Hale's inquiries. After John admits that he will not have Reverend Parris baptize his children, Reverend Hale asks him to recite the Ten Commandments. Ironically, the only commandment that John misses concerns adultery. This is an example of situational irony because one would expect John to know the commandment involving adultery given his previous affair with Abigail Williams.

John Proctor's act of adultery is the cause of his constant guilt and strained marriage. He was also arguing with Elizabeth about Abigail moments before Reverend Hale entered his home, and the audience would expect that the topic of adultery is at the front of John's mind when he is questioned by Reverend Hale. This is also an example of dramatic irony because Reverend Hale is unaware of John's affair with Abigail Williams. He finds it concerning that John needs to be reminded about a commandment but does not suspect that John broke the commandment.

Miller's use of irony emphasizes the significance of John's sin, causes more strife between his wife Elizabeth, and underscores the theme of secret sins, which is prevalent throughout the play and common in the Puritan town. The irony of John forgetting the adultery commandment also provides further insight into his marriage. He is used to suppressing the troubling thought and determined to move past his sin. Despite John's attempts to forget his affair, Elizabeth cannot move on and his transgression remains fresh in her mind. The fact that Elizabeth recalls the commandment is significant and indicates that she will not forgive her husband anytime soon.

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