In Arthur Miller’s allegory about the anti-communist hysteria that was sweeping the United States during the 1950s, The Crucible, Reverend Hale is summoned to Salem because of his reputation for being knowledgeable about witchcraft and for the legend that he actually encountered a witch at one point in his career. As Miller’s play opens, the town’s reverend, Parris, is frantically trying to understand his daughter Betty’s medical condition – she is unconscious – following his discovery of Betty, his niece Abigail and his housemaid Tituba dancing naked in the woods while the West Caribbean Tituba appeared to practicing some form of voodoo. The town physician has been summoned and departs unable to diagnose Betty’s condition. The scene is depicted as follows:
Parris, eagerly: What does the doctor say, child?
Susanna, craning around Parris to get a look at Betty: He bid me come and tell you, reverend sir, that he cannot discover no medicine for it in his books.
Parris: Then he must search on.
Susanna: Aye, sir, he have been searchin’ his books since he left you, sir. But he bid me tell you, that you might look to un-natural things for the cause of it.
Parris, his eyes going wide: No - no. There be no unnatural cause here. Tell him I have sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly, and Mr. Hale will surely confirm that. Let him look to medicine and put out all thought of unnatural causes here. There be none.
Parris is determined to prevent the spread of any rumor indicating that the girls have been practicing witchcraft, as the punishment for him would be professional disgrace and the punishment for his daughter and niece even worse. As Parris discusses Betty’s condition with Ann Putnam, whose husband will emerge as the most vile of creatures as The Crucible progresses, and his decision to send for Reverend Hale, Parris’s ability to play-down the notion of sorcery begins to fade:
Parris, with dwindling conviction now: A precaution only. He [Hale] has much experience in all demonic-arts, and I -
Mrs. Putnam: He has indeed; and found a witch in Beverly last year, and let you remember that.
As the character of Reverend Hale prepares to enter, Miller’s stage directions provide both a physical description of Hale and a lengthy history and context in which this character will engage the others:
“. . .he had himself encountered a witch in his parish not long before. That woman, however, turned into a mere pest under his searching scrutiny, and the child she had allegedly been afflicting recovered her normal behavior after Hale had given her his kindness and a few days of rest in his own house. However, that experience never raised a doubt in his mind as to the reality of the under-world or the existence of Lucifer’s many-faced lieutenants.”
Miller’s directions in The Crucible exceed the norm for the average play. His intent, however, was to establish an atmosphere on the stage, and in the theater, in which the play’s parallels to the political witch-hunt raging across America would be clearly evoked. References to Hale’s having once encountered an actual witch, and the background information the playwright provided on that alleged encounter, serves to emphasize the absence of a solid foundation upon which the witch hunts – both in his play and in his country – were built. By the time Hale understands the lies deceit at the core of Salem's hysteria, it is too late to affect the outcome, and he knows that he had contributed to the injustices that befell the town's people.