In act 4 of The Crucible, Reverend Hale returns to Salem to try to convince convicted people to lie and falsely confess to witchcraft in order to avoid execution. In act 1, he was summoned to Salem to cleanse the community of evil. During the second and third acts, he realizes that his process is based on vengeful lies and false accusations; the trials devolve into a vindictive witch hunt pitting neighbors against each other and destroying the town’s social fabric.
After storming out of the courtroom at the end of act 3, Hale reappears in an attempt to quell the chaos he created. He wants to save the remaining accused. First, Hale pleas for their pardoning. He entreats Judge Danforth,
You must pardon them. They will not budge.
When Danforth refuses to pardon them (especially since twelve other people were already hanged), Hale tries another approach that appeals to the judge’s vanity:
Excellency, if you postpone a week and publish to the town that you are striving for their confessions, that speak mercy on your part, not faltering.
When Danforth refuses to budge, Hale emphasizes that the society of Salem is falling apart with so many people in prison due to accusations of witchcraft, which could directly backfire on Danforth:
Excellency, there are orphans wandering from house to house; abandoned cattle bellow on the highroads, the stink of rotting crops hangs everywhere, and no man knows when the harlot’s cry will end his life—and you wonder yet if rebellion’s spoke? Better you should marvel how they do not burn your province!
When none of his entreaties move Danforth, Hale admits the reason for his return to Salem:
I come to do the Devil’s work. I come to counsel Christians they should belie themselves … There is blood on my head! Can you not see the blood on my head!!
Ironically, the reverend wants the condemned prisoners to lie and falsely confess to witchcraft in order to save themselves from death. He feels remorse for initially fomenting hysteria that led to destruction and death. In order to soothe his guilty conscience, he now advises others to choose life over truth. He pleads with Elizabeth to tell her husband, John, to confess:
Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own. I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up. Beware, Goody Proctor—cleave to no faith when faith brings blood. It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice. Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it. I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie. Quail not before God’s judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.