The Crucible Act 4 - Epilogue Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of the fourth and final act of Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible'. In this act, we see the power of the court begin to unravel, but not before it takes the lives of more innocent people.

Things Begin to Unravel

Act 4 of The Crucible opens on the morning two respected townspeople, John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, are scheduled to be hanged. There is unrest though, and the Reverend Parrish (uncle to Abigail who started this whole mess) meets with the judge and some other court officials in the prison to discuss it.

Abigail Williams, the lead accuser in these witch trials, has fled with all her uncle's savings. There has been civil unrest in Andover, another Massachusetts town where a witch hunt is underway. The people there have risen up against the court and driven out its officials. There is concern now that something similar could happen in Salem.

Saving Face

Judge Danforth, Reverend Parris, and Reverend Hale are all worried about the witch trials in Salem, but they all seem to have largely selfish motivations. As news of the unrest in Andover and of Abigail's flight spreads, Reverend Parris sees the community's tolerance of him waning. One morning, he finds a dagger in his door. 'There is danger for me,' Parris tells Danforth. He begs the judge to postpone the hangings.

John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse have been well liked pillars of the community. Parris worries if they are executed 'unconfessed and claiming innocence,' the doubts and animosity in the community will increase. Judge Danforth, however, does not want to postpone the hangings because, 'postponement now speaks a floundering on my part.'

Reverend Hale, witch 'expert', is also eager to prevent more deaths. He has been working tirelessly to convince the prisoners to confess and save their lives. Even he, though, is tainted by self interest. He cries out, 'There is blood on my head!'

A Solution is Proposed

So what do they decide to do? They decide to try to convince at least one prisoner to confess. If one person confesses, it will validate the charges against them and legitimize the executions of the others. Perfect. John Proctor is the lucky winner of these efforts. They decide that having his (pregnant) wife Elizabeth talk to him is the most likely way to convince him to confess. 'I promise nothing,' Elizabeth says when they pitch their plan to her, but asks, 'Let me speak with him.'

Elizabeth and John

Elizabeth does not try to convince John to confess, but John tells her independently that he is thinking of doing so. His reasoning is, 'I am not a good man.' He is speaking, of course, of the adultery he has committed in the past with Abigail Williams. He argues that, unlike the others condemned to die, his soul is damaged already, so 'nothing's spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before.'

'I cannot judge you,' is Elizabeth's response. They embrace, and John receives the forgiveness he has been seeking from her: 'I never knew such goodness in the world,' Elizabeth says of him. They are reconciled and there is an outpouring of love. At this, John calls out 'I want my life,' and preparations are made to receive his confession.

John Proctor's Confession

'You'll confess yourself?' they ask John, with excitement. 'I will have my life,' John clarifies--thus indicating his confession is only a means whereby he can avoid execution. They wait for him to speak and he does not, so they ask direct questions such as, 'Did you see the Devil?' and 'Did he bid you do his work upon the earth?' John answers only with 'I did.' and 'He did.'

When they start asking him to implicate others, though, he refuses. 'I cannot judge another,' he reasons, 'I have no tongue for it.' Eventually they settle for just his own confession and they ask him to sign it it can be displayed on the church door.

John's Firm Decision

When he is asked to sign his name, John balks. 'I have given you my soul; leave me my name,' he begs. On this point, they stand firm. John contemplates in anguish. Eventually he signs his name, but will not relinquish the paper. Staring, contemplating, weeping, he ultimately tears the paper and crumples it, knowing he is condemning himself to death.

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