Act 4 is the most significant of all scenes because all questions are answered and all strings are tied. It is, by far, the most tension-pulling and heart-wrenching scene in the whole play. Miller lures us into a false sense of security by decreasing our tension level at the start of the scene with Tituba and Sarah’s Humour! This leaves us plenty of room for it to then rise again. Hale has come back and Abigail, along with Mercy Lewis and Parris’s money, has gone! The realisation had started to rise and the pressure was getting high. However, Danforth wouldn’t have any of it! He was far too worried about his reputation and his job.
“You misunderstand sir: I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hung for the same crime. It is not just.” Miller then throws a painfully upsetting conversation between Proctor and Elizabeth at us, full of confession and realisation. This was maybe to give us a shred of hope, which he then toys with endlessly during the signing because of John’s indecisive mind! Thanks to the help of Rebecca Nurse washing John with guilt and the thought of his name being lost, John decides to die with his name, rather than to live without it. We then see that Proctor will be happier because his conscience is clear! When he runs to Elizabeth and when they kiss passionately we see that they have loved each other all along! As an audience we can feel Elizabeth’s overwhelming emotion.
Hale collapses on the floor and begs Elizabeth to change Johns mind. But she now knows exactly what is best for John and this is what he would have wanted. The unforgettable ending of Act 4 leaves the audience with a painful sadness that overwhelms you for a long time. However, without this scene, there would be many unresolved situations. These could include the audience never finding out what happens to Giles, Tituba and Sarah. We wouldn’t have known if Proctor had died or whether he had confessed and been released and the same for Elizabeth! Was she hung for lying about John being a lecher? Or was she released to have her child? We wouldn’t have known that Abigail and Mercy had run off together with Parris’s money or that Hale had returned and was now telling people to lie!
I am now going to take a look at John and Elizabeth and explore how they have both developed and changed throughout the play “The Crucible.” From the start of Act 2 where we are first introduced to Elizabeth, she meets up to her reputation of being a “cold, snivelling woman” Her and John start to have a conversation about the weather. They are keeping it short and sweet because Elizabeth doesn’t really trust John. On page 42 of “The Crucible” hardback book John tries to stop the small talk but by Elizabeth’s subtle hints you can tell something’s up. John says “I mean to please you Elizabeth” and she hesitates and finds it hard to say by coming out with “I know it John.”
John then tries to kiss her BUT she just accepts it like it is her duty. This shows that she may be feeling betrayed by John and it suggests to the audience that what Abigail said about her being a “cold, snivelling woman” might be true. Elizabeth tries to stay as calm as she can throughout the act, even right through to the end when she is getting arrested. You can tell that she is afraid but she manages to keep a bit of respect by calmly saying, “I will fear nothing. Tell the children I have gone to visit someone sick.”
At the end of Act 3 we meet Elizabeth again. Just before she enters John says to the court “that woman will never lie” Elizabeth then finds herself in a pretty sticky situation. She has been a good religious woman throughout her life, but is prepared to give that up and lie to save the man she loves. Elizabeth must have felt just plain sick when she found out that what she had just done had gone to waste. She had not only ruined her reputation but she had just pushed John into even deeper water!
Months have past by the time we meet Elizabeth again. By this time she has developed into a warm loving character and we find out that Elizabeth and Proctor have loved each other all along. Elizabeth has changed dramatically. She rises out of her shell because she knows anything that has to be said must be said now before it is too late. Proctor enters and is left alone with Elizabeth where they are both overcome with emotion. This is the first time they have been alone together since Act 2. As an audience we can tell that they are both trying to act calm. Especially Elizabeth, who is trying desperately not to crack the calm atmosphere around her.
John asks Elizabeth what he should do but Elizabeth doesn’t say to lie directly because she doesn’t want to be the one responsible for John damning himself. So Instead she says, “As you will. I will have it.” Trying to subtly suggest to John that he should lie by saying “I want you living, that’s for sure.” Although at the same time, she wants John to be able to forgive himself. She says “John, it come naught that I should forgive you, if you’ll not forgive yourself.” After that she pours her heart out to John with self-pity. She says “it were a cold house I kept” and “it takes a cold wife to prompt lechery.” Obviously, Elizabeth was distraught by the affair. As if her self-confidence wasn’t low enough already, the affair had just confirmed to her that she was worthless. Why would a man like proctor love her?
Elizabeth shows the audience that she has inner strength, by overcoming her coldness and touching john. Something that she hadn’t before, done in the play. Finally, Proctor rips up the confession and Elizabeth is full of uncontrollable emotion. She rushes to him and weeps against his hand. Proctor tells her to be strong and she manages to contain herself by saying these final words “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him.” John is one of the main characters in “The Crucible” so he had to have the most complicated role to play.
John proctor was respected if not feared in Salem. He was a powerful man who was not easily led. Some say he was a sinner who had a quiet confidence and an unexpressed hidden force; there is also evidence to suggest he had a sharp biting way with hypocrites. He arrives in Act 1 and our opinions of him are low. All we know is that he is cheating on his wife with Abigail Williams so not many good things are to be said of him.
We then meet him again in Act 2, where he and Elizabeth are alone for the first time. John tries his very best to put what happened with Abigail behind him by being really good to Elizabeth. For example he says “I mean to please you Elizabeth” and tries to give her a kiss. However after she “receives” it I think John knows she suspects him. John looses his temper when he knows Elizabeth has guessed about the affair and says, “Spare me! You forget nothin’ and forgive nothin'” and “an everlasting funeral marches round your heart” he says “as though I come into a court when I come into this house!” These are all true things that Proctor is feeling but I think he immediately regrets saying that when Elizabeth gets arrested. John loves Elizabeth but he is just getting frustrated with Elizabeth’s suspicions. I think partly why John is getting angry is because he is frustrated with himself and knows that he would feel the same if Elizabeth had done the same to him. He feels that he has not only betrayed Elizabeth but he has also betrayed himself.
In Act 3, as if Proctor hadn’t got a big enough shock finding out his wife was pregnant, the pressure was on and he just bursts out in a fling of fury and says “I say-I say-God is dead!” he is then arrested. As we enter Act 4 tension is high. In Act 4 Proctor is very indecisive. He doesn’t know what to surrender! His life? Or his name? Elizabeth wants John to live and just to give his confession and lie, but proctor doesn’t know what to do! Inside of him the anger is building up and in the end he rips up the confession and hangs like a gentleman. We see John change from being a weak man giving into temptation at the start, to rising to be as strong a man as he has ever been before, up until right at the very end where he decides to sacrifice his life to keep his name and place in society.