Act III begins in the Salem meeting house. The court questions and accuses Martha Corey of witchcraft. Giles Corey interrupts the court proceedings and declares that Thomas Putnam is "reaching out for land!" He is removed from the courtroom and taken to the vestry room.
Judge Hathorne, Deputy Governor Danforth, Ezekiel Cheever, and Parris enter the vestry room. Corey says that he owns six hundred acres of land, and a large quantity of timber. Corey also states that the court is holding his wife Martha by mistake. Corey tells Danforth that he had asked Hale why Martha read books, but he never accused her of witchcraft.
Corey and Francis Nurse state that they both have evidence for the court. They have been waiting for three days to present the evidence, but to no avail. Danforth responds that they must file the appropriate paperwork for the court to hear them. Nurse tells Danforth the girls are pretending.
Time plays a critical role in Act III. The fascination with witchcraft that appeared in Act I, Scene 5 has quickly changed to mass paranoia. The townspeople now regard anyone who does not conform exactly to the laws of Salem society as a potential witch. Fear and automatic suspicion replace reason. As the power of the court grows, the people of Salem live in fear. Old grudges, dislikes, and minor misdeeds can result in arrest and death — especially if the person offended is one of the children in the town, or someone who seeks more land. As the number of arrests increases, the court shows no mercy and refuses to acknowledge the idea that the accusers may have hidden agendas.
Not surprisingly, Proctor, Giles Corey, and Francis Nurse are anxious to present their evidence against Abigail and the girls. The court has just condemned Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse, and, now that Elizabeth is in jail, Abigail has only to wait until Elizabeth's execution for her plan to be complete. Proctor will finally be free to remarry, and Abigail can possess him. Proctor senses this and is desperate to prove that Abigail is a fraud.
Danforth and Hathorne's participation in the court empowers them. The workings of the court concern them more than the actual individuals participating in the proceedings — whether voluntarily or against their will. As a result, when Nurse tells them that the girls have faked the entire witchcraft incident, the judges regard him as a dangerous individual. He casts doubt on the court, its proceedings, and, by extension, Danforth and Hathorne.
daft insane; crazy is closer to mad or crazy.
contentious always ready to argue; quarrelsome.
contemptuous full of contempt; scornful; disdainful. Here, the word describes Giles Corey's attempt to disrupt the court.
break charity to treat wrongfully or betray.