Judge Hathorne in The Crucible

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

In this lesson, we will explore the character of Judge Hathorne from Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. As a Puritan judge who comes to Salem to participate in the witch trials, Hathorne plays a significant role in how the story unfolds.

The Real-Life Judge Hathorne

Judge John Hathorne is both a historical figure and a semi-fictionalized character in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. The historical John Hathorne lived from 1641-1717 and was a merchant and magistrate of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Salem, Massachusetts. He was one of the most prominent judges during the Salem witch trials beginning in 1692. The records of the trials show that Hathorne often questioned witnesses and defendants harshly.

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  • 0:03 The Real-Life Judge Hathorne
  • 0:36 Judge Hathorne in The Crucible
  • 3:17 Hathorne & Miller's Commentary
  • 4:13 Judge Hathorne Quotes
  • 6:21 Lesson Summary
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Judge Hathorne in The Crucible

Judge Hathorne arrives in Salem with Deputy Governor Danforth. Danforth is to preside over the witch trials, and Hathorne will be a prosecutor in the trials. Both Danforth and Hathorne believe unwaveringly in the Puritan government of Massachusetts. Puritans were a religious and political group of Protestants that formed in the 16th century and believed in the need for a greater strictness in worship and religious discipline. This fixation on religious purity fed into the hysteria of the witch trials, as many Puritan officials and citizens believed that a battle between God and the devil was playing out across New England.

Judge Hathorne himself comes across as arrogant in Miller's play. His words and actions give the impression that he has come to Salem with his mind made up. He is totally unwilling to consider any other explanations other than the group of girls is telling the truth, that they temporarily succumbed to the devil's influence at the hands of various members of the community. He believes that the voice of God is being revealed through the girls' numerous accusations. In Hathorne's mind, his position as a government official means that his own judgment of the situation is correct.

In The Crucible, Hathorne is one of the most unyielding and dislikable characters besides Abigail Williams and the girls she leads. Danforth, at least, seems to momentarily consider new information that comes forward. Hathorne, on the other hand, is intensely suspicious of anyone who comes forward to dispute the version of events that he believes in. For example, when Giles Corey comes forward and accuses Mr. Putnam of telling his daughter to accuse a community rival of witchery, Hathorne promptly exclaims that Giles is in contempt of court when he hesitates to name his source for this information.

As time, convictions, and executions go by, Danforth and Hathorne remain convinced of the authority and truth of the court. Reverend Hale, in contrast, begins to see that hysteria and false accusations have run amok in Salem. Hathorne regrets nothing. He becomes almost joyful when John Proctor appears ready to confess (falsely) to witchcraft:

''I want my life,'' say Proctor.

Hathorne, electrified and surprised, responds: ''You'll confess yourself?''

Proctor replies: ''I will have my life.''

Hathorne, with a mystical tone, says: ''God be praised! It is a providence!'' He rushes out the door, and his voice is heard calling down the corridor, ''He will confess! Proctor will confess!''

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