The play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts during the 17th century and
is based on a true event. The fact that the story takes place during the 17th
century is important as the community needed to be superstitious and gullible
in order for this incident to actually happen. Also, the event needed to be
in a Puritan society wherein an aversion to witches existed. People in the
twentieth and even the nineteenth centuries would be too skeptical about the
supernatural to believe the girls. Also, they would be likely to dismiss the
act of dancing in the forest as just a little game.
As the play begins, the audience learns that some girls were caught dancing
naked in the woods by Reverend Parris. Apparently they had conjured up spirits
and this led to the accusations of the girls as witches. In order to escape
punishment, they accuse other women of the town of being witches. This leads
to trials of these women with the girls as the jury.
John Proctor is having an affair with Abigail and Elizabeth Proctor knows
of the affair. In order to get Elizabeth out of the picture, Abigail accuses
Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch. A doll is found in the Proctor's house
and this is overwhelming evidence that she is a witch.
Deputy Governor Danforth is the judge. He believes the girls are telling
the truth. Meanwhile they are accusing the women whom they do not like. Reverend
Hale is called in as an expert witness. He at first believes that the women
are witches, but then he denies it and tries to help the accused.
Proctor gets Mary Warren to testify against the girls. When Mary Warren enters
the court room, Abigail and the other girls start to scream that she is sending
her spirit upon them. Mary then afraid, accuses John Proctor of sending his
spirit out upon her.
John is now accused of being in league with the devil. He discusses the possibility
of lying in order to save his life. Danforth wants him to sign a confession.
This way it will show the townspeople that the witch trials are valid. John
does not want to sign the confession because he doesn't want to incriminate
his friends. He is then put to death, but retains his good name and pride.