CONTEXT This play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692.
We are in the home of Reverend Parris, whose daughter, Betty lies apparently unconscious in bed after being discovered at midnight dancing in the woods outside Salem. Her father had witnessed this scene, which involved the house black slave Tituba, and Parris' niece Abigail, and one other unidentified naked girl.
It later transpired that this naked girl was Ruth, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Putnam and she was in a similar comatose state.
There is talk of witchcraft.
Abigail is the leader of the girls and she had an affair with John Proctor and was dismissed by his wife from the household. She still desires John and she is obsessed with becoming his wife.
During the episode in the woods, Abigail drank blood and cast a spell in order to kill Mrs. Proctor.
The physician is unable to determine Betty's illness.
A well-respected member of the community, Rebecca Nurse tries to calm the situation and warns the Reverend Parris against blaming witchcraft for Betty's illness, as it would set a dangerous precedent.
There is animosity between Mrs. Putnam and Rebecca because all Rebecca's children are healthy whilst Mrs. Putnam has lost seven children in infancy, and she believes witchcraft is responsible for this.
There is a mutual dislike between the Reverend Parris and Proctor. Parris believes Proctor heads a group opposed to Parris and he is fearful for his position in the town.
There are disputes between the Putnams and the Corey family over land. Putnam is ambitious and desires more possessions.
The Reverend Hale arrives in the town to investigate the strange events. He is an expert in witchcraft.
Tituba, the black slave, is suspected of conjuring up spirits, and Abigail blames her for enticing her to sin.
Hale questions Tituba who accuses Goody Good and Goody Osburn of witchcraft.
Abigail also confesses to witchcraft, but fully repents and so starts a wave of accusations of witchcraft in the town. She sees a way to obtain John Proctor by accusing his wife of witchcraft.
The Proctors' servant, Mary Warren is appointed an official of the Court and she manages to protect Elizabeth Proctor from the first accusation of witchcraft.
Hale arrives at the Proctors' house to question them. He is concerned at Proctor's poor Church attendance and the fact that their last child has not yet been baptised. Hale is not convinced of Elizabeth's innocence and soon after she is arrested. They find a doll that was made by Mary Warren in the Proctors' house, and concealed inside is a needle. This is taken as evidence of witchcraft. Abigail stabs herself with a needle and accused Elizabeth of this act.
The Court convicts Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft.
Giles Corey believes that Putnam is using his daughter to accuse his neighbours of witchcraft so that he can gain their land. Corey is arrested for Contempt of Court.
Deputy Governor Danforth who imposes a stay of execution for Elizabeth, as she is pregnant, heads the Court.
Proctor persuades Mary Warren, his servant, to make a testimony against Abigail and the other girls. However, through fear she withdraws this statement and matters look bleak for the Proctors. Proctor is forced to make public his affair with Abigail and he calls her a whore, and tells the Court that her aim is to have Elizabeth executed in the hope of becoming his wife. He has faith in his wife's honesty, telling the Court that she would never lie. However, on this one occasion she does lie to protect her husband from being charged with Lechery. John Proctor is arrested and he is scheduled to hang with Rebecca Nurse.
The Reverend Hale realises that matters have got out of hand, and hopes to save the lives of the prisoners by persuading them to confess to witchcraft. Proctor does confess to witchcraft, but when he realises that a written Affidavit is required to be posted on the Church door, he refuses and is taken to the gallows.