How the Actions of the Court Amplified Hysteria and Expedited the Trials in The Crucible

April 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

How is it possible that the actions of a single institution can completely decimate the physical and societal structure of an entire town? In Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, this situation comes to pass in Salem, Massachusetts during the 1690’s. The actions and decisions made by Salem’s court regarding the infamous witch trials unravel the townspeople’s sanity and push them to hysteria. Considering the time period, and the unyielding focus on religion that came with it, the court’s actions were thought to be within reason. However, the court’s religious bias and single-minded values only amplified the town’s hysteria and expedited the trials.

From the start of the trails, the religious bias of the court has been evident in every one of its decisions. The officials of the court let their belief in God and the Bible wholly influence their decisions regarding the case and blind them to the truth. For instance, when Goody Osburn is on trial for witchcraft, the technique the court uses to assess her innocence is the recitation of the Ten Commandments. According to Mary Warren, Danforth asked Osburn to recite the commandments but “‘…of all the ten she could not say a single one’” (Miller 1272). This admissible piece of evidence is all the biased officials need against Goody Osburn and she is condemned for witchcraft. This quote perfectly exemplifies Danforth’s religious bias, considering his only judgement of character within a court of law is whether the accused is a diligent Christian.

The courts in Salem are not only biased, but also extremely single-minded. Officials of the court seem to believe that their way is the most correct and most Christian and that any other option is sinful. This is demonstrated during the scene in the court where Danforth claims that “‘…a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road in between,’” meaning that if a person does not fully agree with every decision the court makes, they are against the court (1298). The single-mindedness of the court is further shown through the court’s inability to accept evidence. When Proctor gives Danforth a petition that argues for the characters of the accused—signed by 91 upstanding citizens—Parris’s immediate reaction is to have the 91 that signed arrested, because “‘[a]ll innocent and Christian people are happy for the courts in Salem,” meaning that anyone that opposes the court, even if they are valid in their opposition, is sinful and traitorous (1297). Essentially, the court officials are saying that if a person, no matter their character, is not completely aligned with the views of the court or not completely indoctrinated into believing everything they claim, they are not true Christians and are therefore guilty of witchcraft.

These instances of religious bias and conservative values solidify the court’s belief in witchcraft and lead to widespread paranoia within Salem and an unnecessary acceleration of the trials. From the town’s point of view, the court holds all the power and are therefore always right. So when the court intimidates them to believe that witchcraft is alive within their town through these two attributes, they have no choice but to go along. For example, Danforth and the rest of the court official’s unwavering belief in Abigail and the other accusers leads the townspeople to believe the girls too, because if anyone were to oppose the court, they were sinners. However, Danforth and the court’s influence is so powerful that Mary Warren, one of the accusers herself, begins to believe that witchcraft is real, even though she knows that it is all a lie. Mary admits this to Danforth, testifying that because Danforth believed the girls, she too began to believe what the girls were saying (1306-1307). Mary’s hysteria even goes as far as causing her to legitimately faint in the courtroom (1305). This shows how the court’s actions and decisions precipitated unnatural paranoia in Salem

Moreover, the court’s single-mindedness and religious bias only allows them to accept one outcome in any aspect of the trials: witchcraft. Throughout the play, a plethora of evidence is presented to the court that contradicts their claim that witchcraft is present in Salem—Giles’ deposition, Mary’s deposition, the 91 signatures, Abigail’s confession, and the unethical motives of the accusers—yet the court’s values and beliefs stop it from accepting the truth. This leads to the acceleration of the trials because every time a person is accused, they have two choices: confess to witchcraft and accuse another witch or deny it and die (1260-1261). Neither of these choices are particularly appealing, but because most of the townspeople want to live, they choose to confess and accuse one of their neighbors. This leads to hundreds of people being accused of witchcraft, expediting the trials and sentencing many to death. In essence, the court’s decisions and tactics were heavily influenced by their own beliefs and biases, engendering fear and paranoia in Salem and hastening the trials.

Ultimately, the decisions made by the court and the values of the court officials were the biggest reason that the witch trials were as hyperbolic as they were. More specifically, the court’s religious convictions and unyielding views engendered a fear of, not only witches, but prosecution within Salem and hastened the trials. Because the court was so set in its religious convictions, with no room for reason, people were afraid to speak out against the court. This created hysteria within Salem, causing people to commit unthinkable acts such as accusing their neighbors and friends of witchcraft and prolonging the trials. Had it not been for the court’s bad decisions, the trials would not have been extended over such a long period of time and would not have ruined so many good people’s lives.

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