Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 3
Reverend Hale visits the Proctor house. Hale tells Elizabeth and Proctor that Elizabeth was named in court. Hale questions Proctor about his poor attendance in church. Hale asks Proctor to recite the Ten Commandments. Proctor can only recall nine and Elizabeth reminds him of the one he forgot — the commandment forbidding adultery. The fact that Proctor forgets this particular commandment is not unintentional. Irony is created here because the audience, along with Proctor and Elizabeth, realizes that he really "forgot" the commandment when he had the affair with Abigail. Proctor has not incorporated this commandment into his life, so it fails to remain in his memory.
Proctor tells Hale that Abigail admitted to him that witchcraft was not responsible for the children's ailments. Hale asks Proctor to testify in court that Abigail is a fraud. Hale then questions Elizabeth to find out if she believes in witches. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse arrive and tell Proctor, Hale, and Elizabeth that the court has arrested both Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse for witchcraft.
Hale is a fair individual who honestly attempts to administer justice. He remains uninvolved in the petty rivalries and power plays of the inhabitants of Salem. Several issues disturb Hale and make him suspicious of the Proctors. These include Proctor's poor church attendance, the fact that one of the Proctor children remains unbaptized, and Proctor's inability to recite all of the Ten Commandments. He comes to the Proctor home on his own in order to test the Proctors and give them fair warning of Elizabeth's possible arrest.
The fact that Hale gives Proctor the opportunity to explain each of the incriminating items is an important testament to Hale's fairness and directly contrasts with what happened in Act I, Scene 5. In Act I, Scene 5, the inhabitants of Salem provide a list of evidence that Hale takes at face value and fails to analyze individually. As a result, Hale declares witchcraft without attempting to examine any of the evidence. Here, however, Hale allows Proctor to explain his actions. Although Hale disapproves of Proctor's actions — particularly his refusal to baptize his son because of feelings toward Parris — Hale realizes that Proctor is not an evil man.
Tension also arises in Scene 3 between the Proctors and Hale over issues of faith. Both Elizabeth and Proctor refuse to believe that Rebecca could be involved with witchcraft, and the accusation horrifies them both. Although Hale is hesitant to believe that Rebecca could be guilty, he will not dismiss the possibility.
At this point the play introduces the issue of an individual's works. The Puritans looked to the Scriptures as a guide for daily life. They did not believe that faith was a sufficient indication of religious dedication, unless a person demonstrated that faith through good deeds. Not surprisingly, the Proctors argue with Hale over Rebecca, considering her history of good works. Hale seems willing to discount Rebecca's past works, even though Puritan ministers preach that God judges people according to their works.
Hale extends this argument when he questions Elizabeth regarding whether or not she believes in witches. Elizabeth denies the fact that witches exist because of Hale's attitude toward Rebecca. Elizabeth does not believe that Rebecca can possibly be a witch because the idea contradicts the morality of the Scriptures. Elizabeth knows that suspicion hangs over her also. Elizabeth has devoted her life to moral goodness and charity; therefore, she refuses to acknowledge the existence of witches when the court could label her as one.
Proctor's statement that Abigail admitted she was faking the entire witchcraft incident forces Hale to reexamine his own faith and actions in the preceding events. Hale realizes that good intentions and a firm commitment to God governed his own actions. However, he also realizes that he may have imprisoned innocent people and condemned to death those individuals who refused to confess to something they did not do.
trafficked had traffic, trade, or dealings with.
softness the quality of being easily impressed, influenced, or imposed upon; here, lax or negligent.
bound under compulsion; obliged; here it means in service to.
tainted morally corrupt.