John Proctor and Abigail are alone in the room with Betty. Proctor questions Abigail about Betty's illness, suspecting that responsibility for "this mischief" probably lies with Abigail. Denying any involvement in witchcraft, Abigail states that she and the girls merely danced in the woods.
Abigail asks Proctor if he has come to see her, but Proctor denies it. The conversation reveals that approximately seven months earlier, Abigail and Proctor had an affair while Abigail lived and worked in the Proctor household. Goody Proctor subsequently dismissed Abigail. Now Abigail accuses Proctor of still being in love with her, even though he will not admit it to her or himself.
Abigail is the exact opposite of Proctor's morally upright wife, Elizabeth. Abigail represents the repressed desires — sexual, material, or other — possessed by all of the Puritans. The difference between Abigail and the other residents of Salem is that she does not suppress her desires. Abigail goes after what she wants and uses any means to achieve her goal, even manipulation, deception, and seduction.
While Abigail lived with the Proctors, Elizabeth was very ill. Abigail's responsibilities expanded and she began to see herself taking Elizabeth's place as Mrs. John Proctor. Not surprisingly, Proctor, lonely and vulnerable, noticed Abigail and became attracted to her. She was more visible in the house and interacted with him more than Elizabeth. However, the key to Proctor's desire for Abigail is her willingness to discard Puritan social restrictions. Whereas another Puritan woman would have concealed her desire for a married man, Abigail instead tempted Proctor and eventually enticed him to sin.
Scene 3 performs a pivotal role in the play because it reveals Abigail's only vulnerability: her feelings for John Proctor. Because Betty lies unconscious, Abigail seizes the opportunity to speak with Proctor alone and reaffirm their relationship. Although Proctor remains resolute in his decision not to become involved with Abigail again, she and her blatant impropriety still captivate him. The thought of Abigail and the others dancing in the woods amuses and excites Proctor because society forbids the acts. Abigail interprets Proctor's reaction to her "wicked" behavior as a sign that he still cares for her. When Proctor refuses to admit any feelings for Abigail or to even speak of their affair, Abigail grows angry and blames Elizabeth for his indifference.
Proctor's determination to remain faithful to Elizabeth establishes his character's morals, and provides Abigail with her sole motivation throughout the remainder of the play. Prior to Scene 3, Abigail views Elizabeth as an inconvenience because she is preventing Abigail from being with Proctor. Now, however, Abigail sees Elizabeth as a threat because Proctor no longer acknowledges his feelings for Abigail. Up until this point in the play, Abigail's only concern has been concealing her behavior in the woods and her affair with Proctor. Now Abigail knows that she must deal with Elizabeth or lose Proctor completely. This realization foreshadows Abigail's actions in Scene 5.
partisan a person who takes the part of or strongly supports one side, party, or person; often, specifically, an unreasoning, emotional adherent.
faction a group of people inside a political party, club, government, and so on, working in a common cause against other such groups or against the main body; here, it refers to those resisting Reverend Parris.
calumny a false and malicious statement meant to hurt someone's reputation.
soft gentle; low; not loud or harsh: said of sound.
sportin' jesting; joking.
wintry of or like winter; cold, bleak; Here, it means without feeling.
covenant a binding and solemn agreement to do or keep from doing a specified thing; compact; the promise made by God to humanity, as describedin the Bible. Here, "covenanted" specifically refers to a person bound by God's law and scriptures. For example, John Proctor is a married man and is bound to Elizabeth through their marriage promise or contract. According to God's law, Proctor and Elizabeth must remain faithful to one another. Of course, the entire premise of The Crucible is the result of Proctor's and Abigail's infidelity.