Act II, Scene 1 Summary
Act II opens at John and Elizabeth Proctor's house eight days after the conclusion of Act I. Before Elizabeth enters the room, John tastes the stew cooking in the fireplace. He seems to think it needs something, as he adds some salt and tastes again. When he hears his wife's footsteps coming down the stairs, he quickly swings the pot back onto the fire. Elizabeth tells him that it is rabbit stew, and he compliments her on how well-seasoned it is. He tells her that he "mean[s] to please [her]." There is a strong undercurrent of tension and awkwardness in their interaction, and she passively "receives" his kiss rather than returning it.
Elizabeth tells John that the young woman they have hired to help around the house, Mary Warren, has gone to Salem today—despite the fact that John forbade her to leave. John calls Mary Warren a mouse, but Elizabeth claims that Mary has changed now. When Elizabeth tried to stop her from leaving the house, Mary raised up her chin and proudly said, "I must go to Salem, Goody Proctor; I am an official of the court!" Elizabeth tells John that there really is a new court that is now dispensing justice in Salem.
Fourteen people have been jailed on charges of witchcraft, and Deputy Governor Danforth, the leader of the court, has promised that people will hang if they refuse to confess. Elizabeth tells John that Abigail, the leader of the accusers, now possesses great power in town and in the court itself. For this reason, Elizabeth feels that John must go and confess what Abigail admitted to him—that the girls were only playing, or "sporting." However, John is hesitant because he and Abigail were alone when she said this.
Elizabeth did not realize that John and Abigail were alone, and her reaction to this knowledge makes it clear that she still distrusts him after his affair with Abigail seven months prior. Angrily, John accuses Elizabeth of being uncharitable and unforgiving. She declares that he only feels badly because he knows himself to be in the wrong: "I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you."