Act 4 gives us the exciting conclusion to this saga of madness. How are the citizens of Salem and their governing officials dealing with the fallout from the trials? Will the "witches" falsely confess to avoid execution? Does John Proctor still, like, totally hate himself? Read on to find out all this and more, including key quotes and a thematic analysis for the final act of The Crucible.
The Crucible Act 4 Summary — Short Version
Act 4 opens with Herrick removing Tituba and Sarah Good from a jail cell so the court officials can hold a meeting there. Reverend Hale and Reverend Parris are off praying with the other condemned prisoners, which is unsettling to Danforth and Hathorne. When Parris arrives at the meeting, he explains that Hale is trying to get the prisoners to confess to their crimes rather than lose their lives needlessly. He also reveals that Abigail and Mercy Lewis have run away, and they stole his life’s savings.
The authorities then discuss the state of social unrest that has emerged in Salem after the jailing of so many citizens. Hathorne denies that there is any possibility of rebellion ("Why at every execution I have seen naught but high satisfaction in the town" (pg. 117)), but Parris is very concerned about what will happen if they hang people who are well-respected. Parris has already received a death threat in the form of a dagger wedged in his doorway. He advises that they postpone the hangings and continue pushing for confessions, but Danforth refuses because it would make him look bad.
Hale arrives and says that he hasn’t extracted any confessions yet. The one prisoner who he hasn’t talked to is John Proctor. The officials decide that they will bring in Elizabeth Proctor to speak with him and convince him to confess. Elizabeth and John are left alone, and Elizabeth informs John of Giles Corey’s death. Giles was pressed to death with heavy stones since he refused to plead guilty or innocent to the charges of witchcraft. John begs her to tell him whether or not he should confess. He’s leaning towards confessing because he doesn’t think very much of himself and feels his soul is already beyond redemption. He asks for Elizabeth’s forgiveness, but she says her forgiveness doesn’t mean anything if he won’t forgive himself. She also places some blame on herself for the way things went down with Abigail. She tells him that only he can decide whether or not to confess.
John tentatively agrees to confess, but he refuses to name any names and then is reluctant to sign the confession. He decides he can’t go through the rest of his life after signing his name into disgrace in this permanent way. He snatches the signed paper away at the last minute and rips it to shreds, thus sealing his fate. Rebecca Nurse and John are then led off to the gallows by Marshal Herrick. The others beg Elizabeth to convince him to reconsider, but she refuses to deprive him of this choice when it’s clearly the only way he can break free from his self-hatred.
"Ain't nobody dope as me I'm dressed so fresh so clean" -John Proctor at the end of The Crucible
The Crucible Act 4 Summary —"Oops, I Didn't Read It" Version
This act takes place in a jail cell in Salem. Marshal Herrick wakes up the occupants, Sarah Good and Tituba, to move them to a different cell. The two women speak of their plans to fly away to Barbados after the Devil comes for them and transforms them into bluebirds. They mistake the bellowing of a cow for the arrival of Satan to carry them away (could've happened to anyone). Herrick ushers them out of the cell as Tituba calls to the Devil to take her home.
Once they leave, Danforth, Hathorne, and Cheever enter the cell, and Herrick returns to join their meeting. Danforth is disturbed to learn from Herrick that Reverend Hale has been praying with the prisoners. Reverend Parris is also supposed to meet with Danforth and Hathorne, so Herrick goes to get him. Apparently, Parris is praying with Reverend Hale and Rebecca Nurse. It turns out that Parris told Herrick to allow Hale to see the prisoners.
Danforth is concerned that Parris is acting weird. Hathorne mentions Parris has had looked a little crazed lately and thinks it might not be wise to allow him amongst the prisoners. He said good morning to Parris a few days earlier, but Parris just started crying and walked away. Hathorne is worried about Parris appearing this unstable since he’s supposed to be the town’s spiritual leader. Cheever says he thinks Parris’ distress is a product of the ongoing property disputes in town. Abandoned cows are wandering all over the place because their owners are in jail. Parris has been arguing with farmers about who gets to claim these cows for days, and he doesn’t handle conflict well, so it makes him upset. Parris finally enters the cell, looking haggard. Danforth and Hathorne immediately criticize him for letting Hale speak with the prisoners. Parris says Hale is trying to persuade the prisoners to return to God and save their lives by confessing. Danforth is surprised, but he welcomes this news.
Parris then reveals why he called this meeting with the court officials. Abigail and Mercy Lewis disappeared a few days before. Parris says he thinks they’ve boarded a ship, and they stole his entire life’s savings to pay for passage. He’s been upset lately because he’s completely broke. Danforth is exasperated and calls Parris a fool. Parris says that the next town over, Andover, rejected the witch trial trend and threw out the court, which has sparked the beginnings of a rebellion in Salem. Abigail most likely left for fear that people in Salem might turn against her.
Hathorne doesn’t buy into the idea that a rebellion is fomenting in Salem because the town has been supportive of the executions so far. Parris points out that this is because all of the people who have been executed up until now had bad reputations for other reasons (Bridget Bishop lived with a man before marrying him, Isaac Ward's alcoholism left his family in poverty). Now they’re about to hang Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor, people who are still well-liked and respected in the community. That’s not going to sit well with many of the townspeople. Parris advises Danforth to postpone the hangings so he and Hale can continue to push for confessions and avoid social unrest. Danforth is adamant that everything will proceed as planned. Parris reveals that he has received a death threat and fears for his life if they don't postpone the executions.
Hale enters the cell, saddened and exhausted, and says he hasn’t been able to get anyone to confess. He begs Danforth to pardon the prisoners or at least give him more time to bring them around. Danforth insists he can’t pardon anyone or postpone the hangings. Twelve people have already been hung for the same crime. Pardon or postponement would be unfair and, what’s worse, it would make him look weak.
John Proctor is the only prisoner Hale hasn’t spoken to yet. The officials decide to summon Elizabeth Proctor to see if she will speak to her husband and persuade him to confess. Hale keeps pushing Danforth to postpone the executions, arguing that it would show that he is merciful rather than weak, but Danforth won’t change his mind. Hale points out that society in Salem is on the verge of collapsing because of the upheaval caused by the trials. Danforth asks Hale why he has even bothered to return to Salem, and Hale says it’s because he can’t live with the part he played in condemning innocent people to death. There will be less blood on his hands if he can get them to confess.
Elizabeth Proctor is led into the cell. Hale begs her to convince her husband to confess. He says it’s better to tell a white lie than to sacrifice a life for pride, but Elizabeth is not convinced ("I think that be the Devil's argument." (pg. 122)). She agrees to speak with her husband, but she doesn’t promise to persuade him to confess. A ragged John Proctor is escorted in by Marshal Herrick, and he and Elizabeth are left alone. Elizabeth reveals to John that many people have confessed to witchcraft, but Giles Corey refused to plead one way or the other on the charges leveled against him. He was pressed to death by his interrogators, but his sons will inherit his farm (his property would have been publicly auctioned off if he officially died a criminal).
Proctor has been contemplating making a confession, and he asks Elizabeth what she thinks he should do. He feels he has already committed so many sins that it’s stupid for him to bother holding up his integrity on this one point. John says he has only refrained from confessing out of spite, not nobility. He asks for Elizabeth’s forgiveness. She says he needs to forgive himself first, and her forgiveness doesn’t mean much if he still feels he’s a bad person. She blames herself for pushing him into Abigail’s arms and says he shouldn’t take responsibility for her issues as well.
Hathorne returns to the jail cell. Elizabeth tells John that he has to make his own choice on whether or not to confess. John says he chooses to have his life, and Hathorne assumes this means he will confess. John asks Elizabeth what she would do, but his question ends up being rhetorical. He knows she would never give into the pressure and lie. However, he still hates himself and thinks he’s not good enough to die a martyr.
Danforth, Parris, Cheever, and Hale return and start questioning Proctor so they can write down his confession. John begins to confess, but he falters when Rebecca Nurse is led into the cell and expresses her disappointment. John refuses to name any names of other people he’s seen with the Devil, and Danforth becomes frustrated. Hale manages to persuade Danforth to accept this and allow John to sign the confession as-is. John balks at actually signing his name to the confession. He finally does so, but then he snatches the signed paper away. He doesn’t want to be held up by the court as an example to other prisoners.
John says he can’t bring himself to bind his name to such a shameful lie. Danforth is incensed and insists that the document must be an honest confession, or Proctor will hang. Proctor tears up his confession. He finally decides he does have some decency within him, and it will be manifested in this final sacrifice. Danforth orders the hangings to commence. Parris and Hale beg Elizabeth to convince John to reconsider as John and Rebecca are led off to the gallows. Elizabeth refuses; she realizes that this is what John needs to do. He’d rather die with dignity than live in shame, and she respects his choice.
Yeah do whatever you want John. Honestly, I don't know why you didn't just tell them you're pregnant too - these guys will believe anything.
The Crucible Act 4 Quotes
In this section, I'll list a few of the most important quotes in Act 4 and explain why they matter.
“Oh, it be no Hell in Barbados. Devil, him be pleasure-man in Barbados, him be singin’ and dancin’ in Barbados. It’s you folks - you riles him up ‘round here; it be too cold ‘round here for that Old Boy.”
Tituba, pg. 113
This is probably the most substantive line spoken by Tituba in the play. She recognizes the culture in Salem as overly repressive and conceives of “the Devil” in a different light. The Devil is not an evil presence; he represents freedom from the bonds of a society that forces people to deny their humanity constantly. Tituba feels that the Devil is provoked into mischief by the hypocrisy of the citizens of Salem.
“Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this - I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.”
Danforth, pg. 119-120
This quote provides deeper insight into Danforth’s character and state of mind. He feels that he can’t postpone the hangings now because he may be seen as weak and indecisive. He definitely can’t pardon the prisoners because people might suspect mistakes were also made in past convictions. Every person brought in by the trials and convicted must receive an equally harsh punishment, or Danforth’s reputation will be decimated. He is so authoritarian that he would hang ten thousand people who objected to a law without stopping to consider whether this big of an uprising could indicate major flaws in the law itself. Danforth is dependent on this concept of the infallibility of the law because it allows him to maintain control.
“I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up. Beware, Goody Proctor - cleave to no faith where faith brings blood. It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice. Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it. I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie. Quail not before God’s judgement in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.”
Reverend Hale, 122
Hale is a disillusioned shell of the man he was at the beginning of the play. He initially felt that he was bringing enlightenment to Salem, but he inadvertently brought destruction instead. His good intentions rooted in a strong faith led to the loss of innocent lives. Hale argues that throwing away one’s life, even if it’s done in adherence to God’s commandments, leaves a darker moral stain on the world than giving a false confession. This advice is largely an effort to assuage his guilt about the situation. He won’t be able to live with himself if all these people die because of his mistakes.
“Let them that never lied die now to keep their souls. It is pretense for me, a vanity that will not blind God nor keep my children out of the wind.”
John Proctor, 126
John is convinced that he is not worthy of dying as a martyr because he has already lied and committed immoral acts in his life. He feels his soul beyond saving, so he should stop acting all virtuous and just confess. There is no point in remaining honest if he is already going to Hell with or without this false confession. At least if he lives, he can continue to provide for his kids and postpone an unpleasant afterlife.
“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feel of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
John Proctor, pg. 133
Proctor has this outburst after he snatches his signed confession away from Danforth. He can’t bring himself to permanently sacrifice his reputation by signing the confession. He feels his self-loathing and inevitable suffering in the afterlife is punishment enough (“I have given you my soul”). He can’t stomach the idea of also being defined by his confession in the eyes of society and history. He knows his name will forever be associated with cowardice and a lack of integrity.
“He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!”
Elizabeth Proctor, pg. 134
Elizabeth refuses to dissuade John from revoking his confession. She can see that he has achieved freedom from his own self-loathing through this final truthful act. If she persuades him to return and confess, she might as well not save his life at all because he will feel so utterly worthless after throwing away this last bit of integrity.
John's destruction of his confession is similar to ripping up a check and throwing it in someone's face when they offer to pay off your debts just to show that their power over you. In both cases, for better or for worse, pride wins out over self-preservation.
Act 4 Thematic Analysis
Here's a list of the major themes that are expressed in Act 4 along with some short explanations and analyses.
Danforth makes a few ironic statements in Act 4 as he interrogates Elizabeth and John. In observing Elizabeth’s lack of emotion when he asks her to help them convince John to confess, he says “A very ape would weep at such calamity! Have the Devil dried up any tear of pity in you?” (pg. 123) He is shocked that she isn't acting more upset even though he has shown no remorse for condemning people to death throughout the play. In fact, he expressed his viewpoint that "I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes" (pg. 120). He can't understand why Elizabeth doesn't fall apart and beg her husband to confess because he doesn't grasp the idea that an action can be legally prudent but morally distasteful.
Later in Act 4, Danforth becomes angry at the implication that John’s confession may not be the truth. He says “I am not empowered to trade your life for a lie” (Danforth pg. 130). This is an example of tragic irony because Danforth has been trading people’s lives for lies this whole time. He has sentenced numerous people to death based on lies about their dealings in black magic, and he has accepted the false confessions of those who would rather lie than be executed.
Though there is less evidence of hysteria in this act, Danforth, for one, is still very much caught up in the “WWIIIIIITTTTCHHHH” mindset. As John gives his confession, Danforth says to Rebecca Nurse “Now, woman, you surely see it profit nothin’ to keep this conspiracy any further. Will you confess yourself with him?” (pg. 129). He remains convinced that everyone is guilty.
Danforth also becomes frustrated with Proctor when he won’t name names in his confession: “Mr. Proctor, a score of people have already testified they saw [Rebecca Nurse] with the Devil” (pg. 130). Danforth is convinced that John knows more about the Devil's dealings than he has revealed. Though Rebecca Nurse's involvement has already been corroborated by other confessors, Danforth demands to hear it from John. This testimony will confirm that John is fully committed to renouncing his supposed ties to Satan.
As the hysteria over the witch trials dies down, it becomes apparent that the reputations of the accused continue to influence how they are treated as prisoners. Parris begs Danforth to postpone the executions of John and Rebecca because they’re so well-respected that he’s received death threats for going along with their hangings. He says, “I would to God it were not so, Excellency, but these people have great weight yet in the town” (pg. 118).
However, Danforth’s own reputation as a strong judge hangs in the balance, and he dares not damage it by getting all wishy-washy. “Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering” (pg. 119).
John Proctor’s concern for his reputation also plays a role in the events of Act 4. He goes to the gallows instead of providing a false confession because he realizes his life won't be worth living if he publicly disgraces himself in this way: “How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (pg. 133).
Power and Authority
In Act 4, many of the power structures that were in place earlier in the play have broken down or become meaningless. Though the judges and reverends technically still hold official positions of authority, Reverend Parris has been subjected to death threats, and Salem as a whole seems to be in complete disarray. The judges now have little respect for Parris ("Mr. Parris, you are a brainless man!" pg. 117), who has become weak and vulnerable following the loss of his life's savings.
The prisoners have lost what little faith they had in the earthly authority figures who have failed them, and they look towards the judgment of God. John ultimately realizes the only power he has left is in refusing to confess and preserving his integrity. As Elizabeth says to him, “There be no higher judge under Heaven than Proctor is!” (pg. 127). In steadfastly refusing to confess, Rebecca Nurse ends up holding onto a significant amount of power. The judges cannot force her to commit herself to a lie, and her sacrifice will deal a serious blow to their legitimacy.
Several characters are still dealing with intense guilt at the end of The Crucible. After quitting the court in Act 3, Hale did some self-reflection and decided to return to Salem to advise the accused witches to confess. His rationalization is that encouraging people to lie to save their lives is a forgivable sin, but being responsible for the deaths of innocents is not. He’s wracked with guilt over the part he played in kicking off the witchcraft hysteria (“There is blood on my head!” pg. 121). However, because Hale is so tormented, he’s only able to consider his personal feelings about the situation. The false confessions might absolve him of his guilt, but the confessors would be forced to live the rest of their lives in shame.
This might seem strange to us today (obviously you should just lie to avoid being executed!), but we have to consider the pervasiveness of religion in Puritan society. This is not just a matter of upholding one's good name in society - it's a matter of the state of one's soul. To the most devout people (like Rebecca Nurse) in such a highly religious culture, lying about involvement with the Devil might be considered worse than death. If a person dies without sin, she will go to Heaven, but if she corroborates the lie perpetuated by the courts, her soul will carry a permanent stain and could spend eternity in Purgatory or Hell. Hale's argument is less than convincing to people who have spent their whole lives in service to God and don't intend to compromise such an excellent record.
Meanwhile, John Proctor continues to feel guilty for his affair and the role it has played in putting both he and his wife in mortal peril. A deep fear of hypocrisy almost persuades Proctor to confess because he would feel guilty martyring himself next to other people like Rebecca Nurse who are genuinely without sin. He says, “My honesty is broke, Elizabeth; I am no good man” (pg. 126). However, he ultimately doesn’t allow his guilt to define him and refuses to give up the remainder of his integrity.
Elizabeth also displays some guilt in Act 4 when she partially blames herself for pushing John into Abigail's arms ("I have sins of my own to count. It takes a cold wife to prompt lechery" pg. 126). The sexism of the play shows through in Elizabeth's guilt. She has been conditioned to believe that it's her job to prevent her husband from straying by being a happy homemaker. If we weren't entirely sure that this play was written in the 1950s before, it's pretty clear now.
She was bedridden, but that's no excuse for not attending to John's every need. What was she expecting? That he WOULDN'T sleep with a teenager?
The Crucible Act 4 Review
Let's do a quick recap of the events of Act 4, the frustrating conclusion of The Crucible:
- Danforth and Hawthorne meet in a jail cell and discuss their concerns with Parris' erratic behavior and Hale's return to Salem.
- Parris joins them and reveals that Hale is advising the prisoners to confess.
- Parris also reveals that Abigail ran away with his life's savings, most likely because of the rising societal discontent with the court's activities.
- Both Parris and Hale beg Danforth to either pardon the prisoners or postpone the hangings until confessions are obtained because Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor still have such good reputations, and their executions could cause an uprising.
- Danforth refuses because he's already executed other prisoners accused of the same crimes, and he doesn't want to look weak.
- They decide to bring in Elizabeth Proctor so she can talk to John and hopefully convince him to confess before he is sent to the gallows.
- John and Elizabeth discuss this decision, and John is leaning towards confessing because he doesn't feel he's worthy of martyrdom.
- Elizabeth tells him he has to make his own choice.
- John begins to confess, but he falters when he is ordered to sign his name to the confession and learns that it will be displayed publicly.
- He tears up the confession and decides he will go to his death rather than permanently ruin his reputation and sacrifice the only integrity he has left.
- The officials try to convince Elizabeth to stop him, but she refuses because she recognizes this is the only way John can end his feelings of self-hatred.
- John and Rebecca Nurse are led to the gallows to be executed.
In Miller's short afterward, entitled "Echoes Down the Corridor," he states that Parris was soon voted out of office, and the families of the victims of the witch trials were later provided with compensation by the government. He claims that in the aftermath of the trials, "the power of theocracy in Massachusetts was broken." However, the events of The Crucible provide an all too clear allegory for many modern-day tragedies borne of prejudice, fear, and ignorance.
Now that you've read summaries for each act of The Crucible, check out our complete thematic analysis of the play so you can kick butt on all your English quizzes and essays.
Need some quotes to flesh out your essay? Read this list of the most important quotes in The Crucible, cataloged by theme.
You should also take a look at this article to see detailed analysis of the most important characters in The Crucible.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.