Key Plot Points
Witchcraft Arises in Salem Village (Act 1): The play opens in the attic of Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village. His daughter, Betty, is in a comatose state. The night before, Parris had found Betty, his niece Abigail, his slave Tituba, and a group of other local girls dancing in the woods. Parris is bewildered by the dancing and worries that Betty’s involvement will reflect poorly on him in the eyes of his parishioners. Talk of witchcraft has spread, and much of village has gathered outside Parris’s home. Abigail enters, and Parris asks her whether the previous night’s dancing involved any witchcraft; she denies it.
Thomas and Ann Putnam, a wealthy local couple, enter and inquire about Betty’s condition. They ask, too, about Parris’s hiring of a demonologist. Parris shares that he has called upon Reverend John Hale, an expert in witchcraft from the town of Beverly. Parris and the Putnams discuss the possibility that there is a broader curse afoot in Salem. Mrs. Putnam is eager to attribute the deaths of seven of her children to witchcraft. The three leave, and Mercy and Mary, two of the other girls who danced, arrive. It is revealed that the girls were attempting to conjure spirits with the help of Tituba. After Betty wakens in a panic, Abigail convinces the girls to report that they were simply dancing in the woods the night before.
John Proctor, a local farmer, arrives and orders Mary, his servant, to return home. Proctor and Abigail discuss the reports of witchcraft, and Abigail explains that she and the other girls were merely dancing. As they talk, it becomes clear that Abigail is infatuated with Proctor and that the two of them had an affair while she was serving in his household seven months earlier. Abigail still maintains feelings for him. He underscores that the affair is over and rebukes her when she disparages his wife, Elizabeth.
Parris, the Putnams, and local elders Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey enter. Nurse tries to reason with the others, insisting that witchcraft is highly unlikely; Proctor shares her perspective. Reverend Hale arrives and begins to investigate, examining Betty. Guided by his questioning, the group fills him in on the previous night’s events. Abigail claims Tituba fed her blood; Tituba counters that Abigail requested her help with a curse. As the room heats up in a frenzy, Tituba succumbs to accusations of witchcraft and, guided by the others, accuses local women Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn of bewitching her. Abigail, in an effort to conceal her attempt to curse Elizabeth Proctor, joins Tituba and in a pretended fit accuses Good and Osburn as well. Betty wakens and mimics Abigail, and the two of them fitfully cast out more names.
Names are Named (Act 2): The second act takes place in the Proctor home. John and Elizabeth discuss the recent accusations, which have claimed forty people and riven Salem. John is torn by his knowledge that the accusations are false; Abigail admitted this truth to him, but only in private. Furthermore, their romantic past jeopardizes John’s leverage. When John discusses this with Elizabeth, she is surprised to hear that John and Abigail were alone together; she is aware of the affair and reminds John of his impropriety. Mary Warren arrives, having been at court and thus, to John’s frustration, shirking her household duties. Mary claims that her role as witness is important and that she must continue to attend court. She then gives Elizabeth a “poppet,” or doll, she constructed while sitting at court and goes to bed.
Reverend Hale arrives, also having been at court. He reports that Elizabeth Proctor’s name has been mentioned in court and that he has come to interview her. Hale cites the Proctors’ infrequent church attendance as a cause for concern. John mentions Elizabeth’s long illness the prior winter and expresses his distaste for Parris’s sermons before underscoring his piety. Hale asks John to recite the Ten Commandments....
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