For the special court that is convened for the witchcraft trials, Judge Hathorne and Deputy Governor Danforth come to Salem. As outsiders and powerful men who are used to commanding authority, they expect that the Salem townspeople will defer to them and that they will be in charge during the courtroom proceedings. Instead, they find a badly handled situation that grows more chaotic every day, with teenage girls apparently running the show and almost a hundred townspeople rejecting the validity of the claims. Reverend Parris is heavily invested in the outcome, as he originally heard the girls and brought the charges. Now that things have snowballed, he sees his reputation as bound up in a (to him) successful outcome of hangings or burnings and wants nothing to jeopardize that.
Things come to a head in Act III, as Rev. Parris realizes his grasp has really slipped. Francis Nurse and others come to tell the court that “the girls are fraud,” and Dep. Gov. Danforth struggles with the idea that Mary Warren and the others “never saw no spirits.” As Danforth tries to question Mary and then John Proctor, Rev. Parris keeps bursting in, described by Miller as “sweating” and “nervous” and shouts of these developments: “This is a clear attack upon the court!” Mr. Hale asks, “Is every defense an attack upon the court?”
After John Proctor speaks reasonably, the situation gets further out of hand with Giles Corey’s accusations. Danforth realizes he has a much more difficult problem on his hands. The entire enterprise of the accusations relies solely on the victims’ testimony because “we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted?” He tries to dismiss the need for the accused, if innocent, to have lawyers. As he decides whether to read Mary’s deposition, Parris bursts in once more, stating his desire to question her. At this point, Danforth hits his limit.
Danforth - his first real outburst, in which his contempt for Parris is clear: Mr. Parris, I bid you be silent!
By the end of Act III, after Mary and Abigail have accused each other of lying, it finally comes out that Parris was the one who first saw the girls dancing—a fact of which Danforth had been ignorant. As Parris frantically tries to blame John Proctor for having a grudge and keeps insisting he did not see the girls “naked,” Danforth grows increasingly incredulous, wondering if he has been duped into tainting his office for Parris’s benefit.