Crucible Essay - What is the dramatic significance of Act 2

Consider the effects of character and action; the effect of dramatic devices; the layers of meaning in language, ideas themes; the historical context. Act two begins in the common room of The Proctors household. It has been eight days since Abigail and the girls made their accusations against the innocent people within the community of Salem. At the beginning of the scene the common room is empty and the only thing that can be heard is the voice of Elizabeth Proctor softly singing to her children.

John soon arrives and as Elizabeth enters the common room the couple engage in a conversation of small talk that appears so painful it suggests tension. It appears that John has done wrong, as he is constantly trying to please her, and yet she seems most unimpressed. The scene progresses as the two sit down for dinner. Their servant, Mary Warren has defied the orders of John and Elizabeth by going to the courts in Salem.

Elizabeth informs John that there have been fourteen arrests, she also tells him that the court have the power to hang the accused and that the Deputy Governor promises that people will be hung if they do not confess.

John is bewildered by the arrests but reassures Elizabeth that Abigail swore her dancing had nothing to do with witchcraft. Elizabeth wants him to give this statement in court, but he protests that he cannot as Abigail told him this information while they were ‘alone’ together. On hearing this Elizabeth’s faith in John is totally demolished, as he had previously told her that Abigail had sworn this “with a crowd”.

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John demands that Elizabeth stop judging him, he says that he feels like his home is a courtroom. Elizabeth replies that the real court is in his own heart.

At this point John proctor’s attention is drawn to a noise outside he decides to investigate, as he goes to the door Mary Warren enters, he goes immediately to her and unleashing his anger he grabs her and shakes her violently. He harshly questions her demanding to know why she defied his orders, and left his wife on her own. As if to compensate Mary presents Elizabeth with a doll that she made for her in court. She tells John that there have now been thirty nine arrests, she also reveals that Goody Osburn will hang and that Sarah Good will not as she confessed to ‘making a compact with Lucifer’.

As John hears this news his guilt (shown by anger) grows, he argues with Mary over whether or not she can return to the witch trials. John inevitably uses violence to try and win his case, and so in defence Mary reveals that she saved the life of Elizabeth earlier that day as her name was brought up in the court. The fact that Elizabeth’s was mentioned brings Reverend Hale to the Proctors’ household. He notes several things, for one that their youngest son is not baptized and two, their relationship with Reverend Parris is not one of a positive nature.

He also asks them to recite the Ten Commandments. John gives the first nine, and then stumbles ironically on adultery. At this point the stage direction that describes John reads ‘as though a secret arrow had pained his heart’, showing the guilt and shame that John Proctor feels as his wife has to remind him of the last commandment. While being questioned by Hale, Giles Corey and Francis Nurse rush into The Proctors’ home, with news that their wives have been arrested.

Soon after, Ezekiel Cheever and Herrick arrive at The Proctor’s home with a warrant for Elizabeth’s Arrest. Hale is shocked as, last he heard Elizabeth had not been charged at all. Ezekiel Cheever asks Elizabeth if she has ever kept any dolls, Elizabeth replies that she has not kept a doll since she was a little girl, but Ezekiel sees the doll made my Mary and finds a needle inside it. He immediately relates that Abigail had a fit at dinner that evening and Parris found a needle stabbed into her stomach.

He also recalls that Abigail had accused Elizabeth of witchcraft. Elizabeth calls Mary downstairs to tell Ezekiel that it was her that made the doll, but despite Mary’s statement that she made the doll and Abigail saw her do it, Elizabeth is taken away. Angry Proctor demands that Mary testify against Abigail in court. Mary, who is petrified by Abigail and the power she has over the community, screams that she cannot. Act two plays a vital role within ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller. As Act two begins we are introduced to the Proctors, as principal characters.

John Proctor has appeared in the previous Act, but his wife Elizabeth, though previously described by Abigail, we have never met. However when we do meet her we immediately see a harsh contrast between the Elizabeth earlier described and the Elizabeth now being shown to us. This is important as it allows us to see, Abigail’s for what she really is. In Act one Abigail describes Goody Proctor as “a cold snivelling woman”. Also as a liar, “she is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me! ” Implying that Elizabeth is an untrustworthy gossip, and a jealous, spiteful woman.

But when she is introduced in Act two she is heard singing softly to her children, “Elizabeth is heard singing softly to her children”. This tells us that Elizabeth is in fact a warm and loving person. From these quotes we begin to learn about the characters of the two women, we begin to see Elizabeth as a victim and Abigail as a liar, it is also apparent that Abigail feels a strong passion of hate towards Elizabeth. In Act two we see that this hate has arisen from jealousy. An affair, between Abigail and John spirals and escalates into the hysteria of witchcraft.

Act two allows us to see the way the affair has affected the lives of the Proctors. Though they both love each other greatly the affair has caused awkwardness between them. As they eat their dinner John tells Elizabeth that he will ‘buy George Jacobs Heifer’ to make her happy, he then remarks ‘with a grin’ as indicated by the stage directions, ‘I mean to please you, Elizabeth’. The next line belongs to Elizabeth and it reads; ‘I know it, John’. ‘It is hard to say’ is the stage direction that follows this line, and is evidence of the awkwardness that overshadows their relationship.

John, experiencing guilt is desperately trying to gain back the trust of Elizabeth. He is constantly aware of her increasing loss of faith in him. Though she denies this loss of faith when confronted, her tone of speech suggests otherwise, and she later admits to keeping a cold house “It were a cold house I kept”, meaning that she had made sure the house in which they lived was rid of any form of human warmth or emotion. John’s constant need for forgiveness is what later plays a part to his eventual confession of his adultery.

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Crucible Essay - What is the dramatic significance of Act 2
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