Hale informs Danforth that none of the prisoners will confess. Hale asks Danforth to pardon the seven individuals condemned to die, or allow him more time to persuade them to confess. Danforth refuses.
Hale summons Elizabeth. He asks her to convince Proctor to admit his guilt so that the court will not hang him. Elizabeth agrees to speak with him. Proctor and Elizabeth discuss their children and the child she carries.
Proctor admits that he is considering confessing. He asks Elizabeth if she will respect him if he does. Elizabeth states that it is his decision, and she tells him that she has forgiven him for the affair. Elizabeth realizes that she bears part of the blame for the affair because she has been a cold, suspicious wife in response to her own insecurities.
Scene 3 reveals a dramatic change in the relationship between Proctor and Elizabeth. They have learned to forgive one another and to communicate their feelings. Elizabeth realizes that she cannot blame Proctor entirely for the affair. Her insecurity prevented her from trusting Proctor and her lack of emotion created distance between them. When Elizabeth tells Proctor of her feelings, he sees that Elizabeth no longer condemns him. He can believe her when she tells him she has forgiven him; as a result, they manage to put the affair in the past and move on to consider the future.
Proctor's decision to confess seems surprising at first. Considering his options, however, the choice seems less surprising. The Salem court states that it will find an individual innocent, provided that he or she is of "good conscience," but this is not the case. Danforth tells Hale in Act III, Scene 2 that witchcraft is "an invisible crime," one without witnesses. As a result, once an individual stands accused of witchcraft, he or she is guilty. The Salem court does not operate on the modern idea that an individual is innocent until proven guilty, but that an individual is guilty once accused. As a result, confession is the only way to plea-bargain for one's life.
Proctor is guilty of witchcraft because of his charge against Abigail and Mary Warren's accusation. He can refuse to plead guilty and be hung for witchcraft, or he can confess the crime and live. Either way the court declares him guilty, but the confession shows repentance for the crime and saves him from execution. Both Proctor and Elizabeth realize that lying about the confession is a small price to pay for his life. They have finally reached a point where they can begin to rebuild their marriage, and they do not want to lose that opportunity now.
floundering speaking or acting in an awkward, confused manner, with hesitation and frequent mistakes; here, meaning wavering, especially from indecision or doubt.
quail to draw back in fear; lose heart or courage; cower.
disputation a discussion marked by formal debate, often as an exercise; here, meaning an argument.