The drama The Crucible by Arthur Miller was based on historical events: the Salem witch trials in summer of 1692. The Salem witch hysteria began in the spring of that year.
A woman slave and some young girls began to exhibit strange behavior. After examinations by a medical doctor stated that there was no physical cause for their behavior, the Puritans believed that the children were under the influence of Satan.
Who was John Hale historically?
Historically, Reverend John Hale was minister of the Beverly church in Beverly, Massachusetts. In 1692, John Hale was 56 years old. Asked to come to Salem by Reverend Parris, Hale was an expert on witchcraft. As a Puritan minister, Reverend Hale’s reputation notes him as one of the preeminent ministers in Massachusetts. He was devout in his ministry and highly educated in the Puritan doctrine.
According to his own writings, Hale was the only person other than Parris to actually see the Salem girls perform their acts of hysteria. Initially, Hale believed that the girls were under the influence of Satan and witchery ; later, he changed his mind and found the charges against the Salem citizens were fraudulent. After Hale’s death, his treatise on the trials and their falsity were published.
The Literary John Hale
In the drama by Miller, Hale’s purpose was to interview Salem citizens to determine their devotion to the church and their understanding of the Biblical teachings. Using dramatic license, Miller presents Hale as a young, enthusiastic minister.
As a minister, Hale was not interested in punishing the people accused of witchcraft. Rather, he believed that his purpose was to diagnose witchcraft; then, he could provide a cure to remove or convert the afflicted citizens. His intentions were good. In the beginning, Hale thought the trials served a good purpose.
His initial meeting with Proctor at his home proved disconcerting. Proctor was asked to name the Ten Commandments. When Proctor stated them, he left out one: Thou shalt not commit adultery. Ironically, this is the one that Proctor broke with Abigail Williams.
It was not until John Proctor’s conviction, a good man who made a bad decision, but denounced the girl Abigail Williams for faking her bewitching.
After the pronouncement that Proctor was to be hanged, Hale denounced the court and separated himself from it.
Hale: This is not witchcraft! These girls are frauds! You condemn an honest man! I denounce these proceedings! I quit this court!
On the day of Proctor’s execution, Hale returns to Salem to try to get Proctor to sign the false confession so that he would live. Hale again confronts one of the judges: “It is a lie!—they are innocent!”
As Proctor and the others to be hanged walk to the gallows, Hale begs for Proctor’s wife to beg him to sign the false confession.
Hale: What profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? Shall the worms declare his truth? Go to him, take his shame away.
Proctor’s wife refuses. The innocent John Proctor and 19 others are hanged.