Parris summons Danforth and Hathorne and informs them that Hale is attempting to convince the prisoners to confess their crimes. Parris also tells Danforth that Abigail and Mercy Lewis have disappeared. Abigail robbed Parris, and he believes she and Mercy boarded a ship.
Danforth and Parris discuss a recent rebellion in Andover. Parris worries that the people of Salem will throw out the court, as the people in Andover did. He tells Danforth the townspeople are not happy about the upcoming execution of Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor. Parris found a dagger outside his door and he fears for his life. He attempts to convince Danforth to postpone the executions until Hale successfully convinces a prisoner to confess. Danforth refuses.
Some individuals, such as Putnam, profited from the witch trials, but overall the proceedings have devastated Salem. The court has torn apart families, leaving children as orphans. Fields now stand empty, and cattle roam the streets unclaimed. These consequences are noteworthy because originally the people believed that the trials would only affect the accused; however, one cannot ignore the relationship between the trials and the community. Instead of eliminating evil within the Salem community and uniting the people, the trials created an atmosphere of terror and destroyed the bond between neighbors.
Although no one has attempted to oust the court, as in Andover, grumblings of dissatisfaction echo throughout Salem, and apprehension looms over the court. The people of Salem are tired of living in fear. The court has accused many people, and executed twelve. Proctor has been in jail for three months, giving the people in the town time to think about his charge against Abigail and what happened in Act III, Scene 3. The townspeople no longer believe that Abigail serves as a mouthpiece for God, but instead acts upon her own vengeance; the people have had enough. The dagger that Parris finds represents the potential for violence that is just below the surface in Salem.
Danforth and Parris realize that public sentiment for the court is shifting. Their actions at this point are notable. Danforth displays a rigid determination to continue with the court proceedings. Act III, Scene 1, established the fact that Danforth's own role in the court concerns him more than the implications of the court's actions. Act IV, Scene 2 underscores his earlier behavior. He believes a delay in the executions will suggest he is weak and that he doubts his own judgments. This point should be irrelevant when contrasted with the possibility of executing an innocent person, but public perception of himself concerns Danforth more than justice.
Scene 2 continues to contrast Parris and Hale. Self-preservation motivates Parris, while a desire to make things right drives Hale. Parris prevails upon Danforth for a delay, not because he worries about condemning innocent people to die, but because Parris fears for his life. At the beginning of the play Parris worries about a faction trying to force him out of Salem. Now he fears that a mob will attack and kill him. The size of his congregation has diminished. This decrease is due in part to a dissatisfaction with Parris as minister; however, it also underscores the people's dissatisfaction with the court because the people perceive Parris as a proponent of the court.
Abigail's disappearance further testifies to the unrest in Salem. After Proctor revealed their affair, Abigail lost credibility in the eyes of the people, if not the eyes of the court. Abigail now realizes that Proctor thwarted her plan. Not only has she lost all of the power she gained through the witch trials, but she has also lost the prize she sought in the first place, Proctor. Rather than eliminate Elizabeth, her actions have condemned Proctor to hang. The deception that she created to possess Proctor and gain power in Salem has backfired. No reason exists for Abigail to remain in Salem any longer. Hints of violence toward Parris also alert Abigail that the people of Salem may turn against her, because they see her as the one who started the calamity.
Parris does not tell Danforth of Abigail's disappearance immediately because he knows Danforth could interpret it as proof that the girls are a fraud. Once again Parris protects his own interests. He withholds the truth in order to prevent upheaval in Salem — an upheaval he fears would result in violence toward himself. Nevertheless, he has gone from a man who asked for more pay at the start of the play to a man who has lost everything. He is paying for his lack of integrity.
Danforth's reaction to Abigail's disappearance recalls his actions in Act III, Scenes 2 and 3. He does not consider the implications of Abigail leaving Salem because such consideration would force him to review the court and its actions. Carrying on as if he knew nothing of Abigail's disappearance is easier because it allows him to feel secure in his own actions. He will not delay the executions for fear that the people may regard the previous twelve executions as wrong. If this happened, Danforth would loose credibility. He is willing to execute seven more people, even though he doubts their guilt since the flight of their chief accuser.
strongbox a heavily made box or safe for storing valuables.
gibbet a gallows; a structure like a gallows, from which bodies of criminals already executed were hung and exposed to public scorn.