The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Plot Summary

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth plot summary of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.

The Crucible | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram



The play begins with an "Overture" to Act 1 with comments by Arthur Miller. They are not stage directions but character analysis and background, including discussions of witchcraft hysteria and the founding of early America.

Act 1

When the curtain opens on Act 1, Reverend Parris is kneeling by the bed of his daughter, Betty. She had fainted the previous night when the minister found her and a group of girlfriends dancing in the woods. Abigail Williams, his niece, contends they only danced, and Betty fainted when Reverend Parris jumped out of the bushes. He states the dancing was enough to sully his reputation among his enemies and warns her that nothing else better have occurred. Neighbors Thomas and Ann Putnam rush in with the message that their daughter Ruth is also ailing. Ann raises fears of the supernatural.

When the adults leave, Abigail hits Betty in the face for challenging her story about what went on in the woods and warns the girls to stick to their dancing story. John Proctor walks in as the girls leave, and Abigail tries to woo him back, but he refuses. She is furious and disparages Goody Proctor, John Proctor's wife. Betty starts wailing, and the other adults return followed by Rebecca Nurse, the wife of Francis Nurse, and Giles Corey, a Salem farmer and husband of Martha Corey. Ann Putnam mentions how she has lost seven babies in infancy but finds it strange Rebecca's 11 children have thrived. Proctor and Parris feud. Corey sides with Proctor regarding Parris's negative ministry, and Putnam jumps into the argument on the minister's side.

Reverend Hale enters, and the conversation turns to witchcraft and the conjuring of evil spirits. Mrs. Putnam mentions that Tituba can speak to the dead. Corey innocently mentions his wife, Martha, loves reading, too. When Hale interrogates Abigail and Tituba about their activities in the woods, they fold under the power of suggestion. The terrified Tituba mentions that the Devil has spoken to her and that she saw Goody Good and Goody Osburn walking with him. Betty wakes up and starts naming other Salem citizens as the Devil's disciples, and Abigail joins her by accusing other townspeople.

Act 2

John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth, tiptoe around each other's emotions, frayed since John confessed his affair with Abigail. His wife explains Mary Warren, the Proctor's servant, is now a court official. Fourteen people have been jailed in the week since the accusations began, and the judges will hang anyone convicted of practicing witchcraft. The justices consider Abigail an upstanding witness and believe the girls' bewitched acts when a defendant is questioned and sentenced to hang. Elizabeth begs John to tell the court clerk that Abigail had told him their dancing in the woods involved no witchcraft. They fight about her suspicions that he still is attracted to Abigail.

Mary Warren enters and gives Elizabeth a poppet she made during the day's trial. She says 39 people are now arrested and Goody Osburn will hang, but Goody Good won't because she confessed to practicing witchcraft. She tells Elizabeth her name was mentioned during the trial, and Proctor promises to go to Abigail and demand she stop this fraud. Reverend Hale joins them, explaining he wants to talk with them about the depth of their Christian beliefs. When John forgets to cite adultery as one of the Ten Commandments, his wife reminds him. She begs John to tell Reverend Hale about the affair and the girls' fraud. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse enter and announce their wives have been arrested. Elizabeth is arrested for trying to murder Abigail by casting a spell on her. John demands that Mary sign a deposition saying the girls are just pretending they are bewitched.

Act 3

Misters Proctor, Nurse, and Corey try to overturn their wives' arrests. Corey has a deposition stating Thomas Putnam's motivation for accusing farmers is his greed for land. Francis Nurse has signed testimonies from 91 people affirming they have always known the men's wives to be pious. The men refuse to hand over the papers when the judges demand they identify the people who signed the forms. Mary Warren explains that she and the girls have been faking, but she recants under heavy interrogation and the girls' intimidation. Proctor confesses his affair with Abigail and says his wife will affirm his admission because she would never lie. She does, though, thinking she is saving her husband's reputation. Proctor is arrested for trying to bewitch Mary Warren. Reverend Hale denounces the court and leaves.

Act 4

Judge Hathorne is present at the jail along with Deputy Governor Danforth and the Reverends Parris and Hale. Parris tells them Abigail left town with Mercy Lewis after robbing him. He thinks they left because the townspeople believe innocent people have been executed. He fears they will riot if John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and Martha Corey are hanged. Danforth refuses to postpone the executions or pardon the three scheduled to hang. Elizabeth refuses to try to sway John's decision to either lie and confess so he can live, or die knowing he is innocent, but carrying the truth to his grave. Ultimately, he reluctantly agrees and signs the confession, but he changes his mind when the judges demand it so they can post it on the door of the church. Proctor rips it up and says he cannot shame his good name by lying, and he walks to the gallows.

The Crucible Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Betty Parris and other girls are found dancing in the woods.

Rising Action

2 Reverend Parris and the Putnams suspect witchcraft.

3 John Proctor refuses Abigail's advances.

4 Reverend Hale arrives to investigate witchcraft in Salem.

5 John Proctor and Giles Corey side against Putnam and Parris.

6 Elizabeth Proctor is arrested for practicing witchcraft.

7 Proctor and his friends try to free their wives.

8 Abigail and the girls pretend to be victims of witchcraft.


9 John Proctor admits to adultery to save his wife.

Falling Action

10 John Proctor is arrested for witchcraft.

11 Hale and Parris try to postpone the hangings.


12 John Proctor refuses to lie to save his name and is hanged.

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