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Act IV, Scene 1 Summary

Early morning dawns at the Salem jail on Marshall Herrick, Sarah Good, and Tituba. Herrick is drunk, and Sarah Good and Tituba claim to be waiting for the devil to come and take them away from Salem (to Barbados, where Tituba is from). Hopkins, a guard, heralds the arrival of Deputy Governor Danforth. Herrick goes to fetch Reverend Parris, and he informs Danforth that Reverend Hale has been with the prisoners for hours. Hale is attempting to persuade those scheduled to hang today to confess to crimes they did not commit in order to save their lives.

Judge Hathorne expresses concern that Parris is praying with the prisoners too, because he "has a mad look these days." When Parris enters, he is visibly unwell. He tells Danforth that his niece Abigail has run away with Mercy Lewis and robbed him of his life's savings. He believes that they have boarded a ship and left Massachusetts. Danforth says that Parris is "a brainless man." Parris fears revolt in Salem, having heard that there was a rebellion against a witch court in the nearby town of Andover. He continues, saying that it was "another sort" of person that was hanged up until now—meaning people who were known to be immoral or unethical.

Rebecca Nurse, however, is known for her piety and morality. Parris fears that if she gets up in front of the town and prays before her execution, she will draw the sympathy of the town and incite the people to revolt. It is the same with John Proctor, who is also well-respected in the community. Parris mentions that he recently found a dagger stuck into his front door and says he is now scared to go outside at night.

Hale asks Danforth to pardon Rebecca and John, but Danforth refuses. Many people have already been executed for witchcraft and were convicted on the same sort of evidence brought against Rebecca and John. Danforth fears that if he pardons them or even postpones their hangings, it will "cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now." In other words, he does not want to undermine his own authority.