You get the feeling that Elizabeth is extremely nervous as she enters the court because the first reference towards her in the room via the stage directions is that, “(She stands alone, her eyes looking for Proctor).” This suggests to me that she is feeling very tense and this would have an effect on the audience; and the fact that she isn’t yet aware of why she has been asked to come into the court wouldn’t make her feel any calmer.
Danforth is very harsh towards Elizabeth almost as soon as she enters the scene with his very first words being, “Come here, woman.” This is very harsh and unsympathetic, and you can tell this from his evident tone, which is noticeable throughout this scene, with lines such as, “Look at me only,” using only one and two syllable words. When she is “(Glancing at Proctor’s back)” he immediately demands her full attention which would undoubtedly worry her. She has a very nervous disposition and Danforth is not helping her. This idea comes from her speaking very “(Faintly)” and her not being very willing to give long answers. When asked if she dismissed Abby all she can answer is, “That is true, sir.” Not a word more and she appears to use a very bland tone, because there is no demonstration of punctuation that would suggest anything else. She also tends to use short sentences, commas and full stops, and unimaginative language.
In the next eight lines we see Danforth become very aggressive as he questions her directly asking her, “For what cause did you dismiss her?” It would have been far easier for him to say, “Why did you dismiss her?” but he is very particular about what he says, and Elizabeth seems to become quite nervous, obviously realising that if she does tell the court the real reason her husband would lose all of his respect, and as we found out earlier, she finds it very difficult to admit to the fact that her husband did indeed have an affair. In the stage directions, it says that Elizabeth is beginning to sense a situation arising and so she is, “(Wetting her lips to stall for time)”. This gives a firm indication that she has become very worried and doesn’t really know what to do or say, so she tries to give herself some time to think. Only a couple of lines later she stutters and stalls in mid-sentence saying, “She were -,” to try and buy herself some time. Every time Elizabeth pauses more tension would rise, as nobody in the court or the audience would be sure what she would say next.
She has pauses in nearly every sentence, and is also hesitant in reply to any of Danforth’s questions. This is particularly noticeable in her last speech on page 90 where she begins, “Your Honour, I – in …” and these breaks become more frequent with every speech. She never gives straight or direct answers, continuously giving half truths and avoiding Danforth’s looks until he has to use aggression and strong punctuation to regain her look. He exclaims, “Woman look at me!” and, “What disturbance did she cause you?” All of this would have been said in a violent manner and would probably scare Elizabeth, and we instantly see the result of this, as in her next speech she has numerous pauses as if she feels tense or upset, and this would undoubtedly give the audience an impression of her tenseness and would rub off on them. The way in which Danforth commands Elizabeth’s attention would be visible to the audience and they would undoubtedly suffer with her in their desperation.
As the scene progresses Danforth becomes more and more aggressive and in one line he even starts to question her, almost as if she is the criminal, and he is the prosecutor with three lines in a row of Danforth’s being direct questions to Elizabeth in an attempt to find out whether or not Proctor did indeed commit adultery. I believe that the most tense part of the scene comes when Danforth asks Elizabeth if John did indeed turn from her and all that she can utter is merely that, “My husband – is a goodly man sir.” This is a vital line because although she has not said that John didn’t have an affair, it gives the audience the impression that this is what she would say if asked and this also gives Danforth the lead he is after. The audience would feel very tense at this point not only for that reason but also because they know that it took a lot of strength on Elizabeth’s part to utter those words, and you can tell she has struggled by the pause in mid-sentence.
When Elizabeth does lie to the court just seven lines later we see a large number of different things start to happen all at once. She obviously feels hurt at lying to the court because when she “(faintly)” replies “No, sir” to Danforth she seems to be very upset. The audience would despair and be deeply upset that Elizabeth has lied as they would have been so desperate for her to tell the truth and this would have been building up for quite a while throughout the last few scene; and then all gone within two words. In the following six lines we see Proctor and Elizabeth’s true feelings for each other revealed as they react Elizabeth’s lie, yet only three people in the room know it to be so.
Danforth immediately has Elizabeth removed and this would give Proctor a little less hope because she was the only one who would tell. John seems almost desperate when he says, “Elizabeth I have told the truth!” Although there is no immediate reaction from Elizabeth because Danforth gets in before her, she realises what a fatal mistake she has made, although by this time the audience would already know. The audience would still feel tense because Elizabeth would change her answer if given the chance.
The audience would feel great sympathy for John when he cries out, “Elizabeth, I have confessed it!” and the stage directions reiterate this fact when it says he is, “(crying out)”. Elizabeth’s next two words sum up the emotion felt by all affected when she finally realises what will happen, and the cry of, “Oh God!” would be enough to make any audience feel sorry for both her and John. In a last attempt to save himself, John tries to defend Elizabeth’s answer by telling the court that his wife had, “Only thought to save his name!” but for someone as stern and aggressive as Danforth this has little effect, although it may of course have been very true. John had throughout the play been worried about saving the family name and perhaps this was the reason for the lie of Elizabeth, and this may make the audience feel yet more sympathy for John as Elizabeth could have just been doing what he had wanted.
In the final speech of the scene Danforth sums up the way he has acted throughout, as this mean man who has very little, if any remorse, by telling Hale and the court that, “She spoke nothing of lechery, and this man has lied!” This would leave an audience feeling very subdued after a very tense scene because they know that John has revealed his affair and yet failed to have it discredited after doing nothing wrong.
In all, this scene is a compelling one which has high levels of tension in almost every line, and features and explores two very interesting and deep relationships, that of John and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth and Abigail. It also shows the great work of Arthur Miller’s stage directions which make it a tense scene to read as well as watch, and they are so obvious an audience would be able to pick up on them, especially those relating to the directness and aggressiveness of Danforth.