Offstage, Judge Hathorne and Deputy Governor Danforth question Martha Corey. Giles Corey suddenly shouts that he has evidence that Thomas Putnam is using the trials to get more land. Corey is dragged from the courtroom (and onto the stage), followed by Francis Nurse, Hale, Parris, Hathorne, and Danforth. Hathorne and Danforth are furious that Corey would disrupt and try to influence the court.
The court doesn't want evidence: it's already decided that witchcraft exists in Salem. The court, of course, failed to realize it forced false confessions by threatening to hang innocent people unless they confessed.
Francis Nurse steps forward. Danforth says that he's only heard good things about Nurse's character and is amazed to see him in such an "uproar." Hathorne wants to arrest them all for contempt of court.
Since the judges view themselves as allied with God and therefore always right, they can't accept or even comprehend anyone disagreeing with them.
Nurse says they have proof the girls are frauds. Proctor and Mary Warren come forward. Parris tells Danforth that Proctor causes "mischief," while Hale begs Danforth to hear the evidence.
Parris supports the court and gives into the hysteria to protect his reputation. Like Abigail, he's reversed his denials of witchcraft.
Proctor tells Danforth that Mary is prepared to testify she never saw any spirits. Parris shouts that Proctor has come to overthrow the court, but Danforth silences him. Terrified and barely able to speak, Mary steps forward and says that the girls were only pretending to see spirits.
Danforth is a more open-minded judge than Hathorne, slightly more willing to accept the possibility he could be wrong.
Danforth, shocked, considers whether to accept this testimony in court. Proctor assures him his evidence is valid, but Ezekiel Cheever mentions that Proctor earlier ripped up the court's warrant, and Parris adds that Proctor seldom comes to church. Hale argues that such evidence hardly justifies considering Proctor a threat to the court.
In a society built on social order, any deviation implies that you're against that order. No one can tell if you're religious, so they judge you by whether you seem religious. That's why reputation is so important in Salem.
After a brief conference with Hathorne, Danforth informs Proctor that Elizabeth is pregnant, and therefore can't be hanged. He asks if Proctor will now let the proceedings go on. Proctor replies that he can't stand by: many of the condemned are his friends.
Danforth tests Proctor's motives and Proctor proves his integrity by refusing to be satisfied with the protection of just his wife.
Danforth agrees to hear the evidence. First, Proctor shows him a petition signed by 91 landowners declaring their good opinions of Elizabeth, Rebecca Nurse, and Martha Corey.
The accusations attack people's reputations. Proctor tries to combat the attacks with proof of good reputations.
Parris declares this an attack on the court. Hale questions why all attempts at defense are called attacks on the court.
Hale begins to perceive the court's ideological blindness.
Danforth decides the landowners must be questioned, which infuriates Nurse, who had promised them they would not be implicated. But Danforth says the people will not be harmed if innocent, and that everyone must be either with the court or against it.
Since Danforth believes the court is always just, he cannot comprehend that it could be unfair. He considers fear of the court an indication of guilt.
Next, Corey provides a deposition that quotes a witness who heard Thomas Putnam say he had his daughter charge a man with witchcraft in order to get his land. Danforth asks for the witness's name, but Corey refuses to give the name, for fear the man will be treated like the signers of the petition. Hale observes that there's a great fear of the court in Salem. But Danforth says this fear is evidence of a plot against Christianity in Salem, and has Corey arrested for contempt of court.
Abigail and Putnam are The Crucible's two main villains. Hysteria makes the townspeople actually believe and fear witchcraft. But Abigail and Putnam manipulate that hysteria and the blindness of the court for their own ends.
Proctor brings Mary forward. Hale says this argument is so important Danforth should let a lawyer present it to him. Danforth takes this as an insult to his ability to administer justice, and says that lawyers are unnecessary in cases where the only evidence is the testimony of the victims.
Danforth here points out why the entire trial should be considered suspect—all the evidence is hearsay. Yet he thinks that because he's a Puritan Deputy Governor, he'll be able to perceive the truth.
Danforth questions Mary. She's frightened, but tells Danforth that the other girls are lying. The girls are brought out to face Mary. Abigail denies the charge, but Proctor says Abigail has often laughed at prayer, and that Abigail and the other girls frequently danced in the woods. Parris is forced to admit he saw them dancing. Danforth had not heard this before, and begins to doubt.
Proctor combats Abigail's attacks on other people's reputations by attacking her reputation. To protect his own reputation, Parris had kept the girls' dancing from Danforth.
Hathorne comes up with an idea: if Mary was pretending to see spirits and faint during the trial, she could do the same now. But Mary can't. She explains: before, when she was surrounded by screaming girls and judges who seemed to believe in the spirits, she thought she actually saw spirits, and so could faint. Now she realizes she never saw them, and can't faint.
Hysteria changes people's perception of reality. Mary wasn't lying before. When she said she saw spirits, she really thought she did because of the hysterical reactions of the people around her.
Danforth seems to believe Mary and turns back to question Abigail, but Abigail suddenly shudders and claims to feel a cold wind. The other girls follow suit. They say Mary is sending her spirit to attack them. Furious, Proctor calls Abigail a whore. Proctor admits his affair with Abigail and says Elizabeth dismissed her because of it. Abigail denies it, but Proctor says he would not soil his own honor for no reason.
Proctor sacrifices his reputation to prove that Abigail is lying. In the process, he regains his integrity: he tells the truth to try to help the innocent…
Danforth sends for Elizabeth, whom Proctor says will never lie. While they wait, Danforth instructs everyone to remain absolutely still and silent and to make no signs of any sort. When Elizabeth enters, Danforth asks her whether Abigail and Proctor had an affair. Elizabeth hesitates, agonizing, then says no. As she's being led away, Proctor shouts out that he confessed. Elizabeth cries out in despair.
…but Elizabeth doesn't know it was Proctor who confessed his adultery. She dooms both Proctor and the other innocent people by trying to protect Proctor's reputation rather than following her own natural instinct to preserve integrity.
Hale says he believes Proctor, and that Elizabeth was just trying to protect his reputation, but Danforth will not hear it.
Hale focuses on evidence and logic, but Danforth is no longer interested.
Abigail screams again that Mary's spirit is attacking her. The girls start repeating whatever Mary says. Mary begs them to stop. Danforth threatens Mary that she'll hang unless she confesses. Mary runs to Abigail and says that Proctor is allied with the devil.
The vicious cycle of forced confession gets Mary to turn against Proctor. Danforth dupes himself.
Danforth demands that Proctor confess his allegiance to Hell. In response, Proctor says God is dead. Proctor then condemns himself as a devil, because he resisted fighting against what he knew to be false. He also calls Danforth a devil for allowing a fraud to be perpetrated. Danforth orders Proctor arrested. Hale denounces the court.
Saying God is dead is the ultimate act of defiance against Puritan society. Danforth, blinded by absolute faith, thinks Proctor is just confirming his alliance with the devil. Hale, focused on evidence rather than ideology, knows better.