The Witchcraft Hysteria
In 1692, in Salem Massachusetts, the superstition of witches existed in a society of strong puritan beliefs. Anybody who acted out of the ordinary was accused of being a witch, and then the accused would actually be forgiven if they admitted it and told the court of anyone else that was with the devil. This was one of the main themes of the play entitled, The Crucible by Arthur Miller. In this play a group of young girls act up and are then accused of being witches. These girls then blamed other people in order to get out of trouble, and even pretended to be “bewitched” in front of the court during the trial. This leads into the deaths of some innocent people who were accused and automatically found guilty. I believe, in many ways the people of Salem were responsible for the witch hysteria in Salem.
The person with the most influence was Abigail. Abigail had an affair with John Proctor. Elizabeth Proctor, John’s wife, then fired Abigail. Abigail was jealous because of John’s lack of attention. So Abigail, a few other girls, and a servant from the Caribbean named Tituba danced around in the woods hoping a spell would kill Proctor’s wife. Reverend Parris, Abigail’s uncle, sees them and reports them to the courts. When Abigail is questioned about this, she denies the accusations but doesn’t tell the truth about what was going on. The news of Abigail and the other girl’s strange behavior gets around and the hysteria starts. Without Abigail’s superstition and her fear of telling the truth, I think the events in The Crucible would not have become as serious as they did or even started.
John Proctor was another agitator of the witch hysteria in Salem. Proctor adds to the hysteria when he and his wife were talking about Abigail and why she is acting so oddly. Although John Proctor knows she is making up everything and blaming innocent people, he is reluctant to go to the court in Salem and testify against her as a fraud because of the adultery he committed with Abigail. If he would have done this, the witch trials could have been stopped. John Proctor added to the hysteria, and eventually did hang for his refusal to admit or deny the accusations of being a witch, but in the end helped stop the trials.
Another person who had a key role in the witchcraft hysteria was Governor Danforth. Danforth’s part in the actual trials and his court system was very brutal and uncivilized. In fact, he said, “If you are not with the court, then you are against the court”, which basically means, if you’re on trial and you don’t believe what the court believes, then you are guilty. Danforth contributed to the hysteria in another way by the method he used to judge who was guilty in terms of evidence. Danforth believed word of mouth more than the actual evidence, mostly because he wanted the trials to be over fast and he wanted it to turn out the way he wanted. Without Danforth’s ignorant court procedures and weak justice system, the trials would have gone much better and the truth of the hysteria would have most likely been uncovered.
The ignorance and superstition of the people of Salem were responsible for the witch hysteria. I believe that this kind of hysteria could never exist in a society like the one I live in today. Today’s courts are much better than the church/courts of the late 1600’s. Another thing to consider. is that our Declaration of Independence states that we have freedom of religion. Therefore, even if someone was a “witch” and didn’t harm anybody, they would receive more trouble from the press than from the law.