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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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Before this issue can be brought completely out in the open,
Mary Warren comes home from court. This scene does several
important things: 1) it interrupts John and Elizabeth's argument
just when it was coming to a head, keeping us in suspense until
they can resume; 2) it brings us new information about the trials
and what happens in court; and 3) the poppet Mary gives to
Elizabeth sets up the "proof" that will lead to Elizabeth's arrest
at the end of the act.

NOTE: Of these three things, Mary's descriptions of the trials is
most crucial, for now we see how the witchcraft works. A person
is cried out for a witch and is arrested and brought into court.
We've already seen Hale go to work on Tituba, so we know what
court examinations are like-denials are useless. But Mary's
story adds a new wrinkle:

...she sit there, denying and denying, and I feel a misty coldness
climbin' up my back, and the skin on my skull begin to creep,
and I feel a clamp around my neck and I cannot breathe air;
and then I hear a voice, a screamin' voice, and it were my

The witch has "sent her spirit out" to torment the girls who have
accused her. This will turn out to be the most damning evidence
against an accused witch. It sounds crazy to us today (as it did
to Proctor and some others at the time), but the judges had good
reason for putting so much stock in "spectral evidence," as they
called it. Listen to Deputy Governor Danforth, in Act III:

In an ordinary crime, how does one defend the accused? One
calls up witnesses to prove his innocence. But witchcraft is ipso
facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime, is it not?
Therefore, who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the
victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse
herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims-and
they do testify, the children certainly do testify.

The only way to refute such logic is to deny the existence of
witchcraft. But then you're left with the question, What is
tormenting these children? And for that, no one has an answer.

Mary also tells the Proctors that Goody Osburn will hang, but
that Sarah Good will not, because she confessed. This is
extremely important-the last act of the play revolves around
this legal procedure. A bit later in this act, Proctor will say to
Reverend Hale, "There are them that will swear to anything
before they'll hang; have you never thought of that?" It's a
question that will come to haunt him later, when the noose is
threatening his own neck. It is already beginning to haunt
Reverend Hale, as we will find out. Hale hasn't come in yet, but
let's remember this question when he does.

John Proctor's having enough trouble in his own house without
worrying about the nonsense going on in the town. And now
this serving girl refuses to stay at home as he commanded her to
do. It's the last straw, and he goes for his whip. But Mary's an
official of the court now, she says, and she'll not stand whipping
any more. Besides, she saved Elizabeth's life today by saying
she never saw any sign of witchcraft about the house. The whip
comes down unused, and Mary Warren goes to bed.

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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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