Hysteria is a mental state that people sometimes enter when exposed to extreme stress. It causes a person to let his or her emotions take control of their actions, often with catastrophic results. People can be mislead easily when in this state of heightened emotions, led to behave foolishly and, as in the case of Salem, dangerously. Mass hysteria often follows, particularly if the source of the hysteria is influential, as are the main Judges in the Crucible; Hathorne and Danforth. In The Crucible, a group of adolescent girls are caught supposedly conjuring the Devil in the woods.
One of their number is taken ill, unable to move, lying as if in a trance. The fact that she is Betty Parris, the ministers daughter, does not make the situation any easier. As time goes on, she does not wake, and the minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, begins to fear for his reputation, and the suspicion of witchcraft comes to mind. This is the spark that sets off the hysteria which carries hundreds of innocent people to their deaths. In Act One, he grows worried to the extent that he even suspects his niece of witchcraft, asking her if they "trafficked with spirits" in the forest.
The tension in this scene begins to mount as he constantly questions her, despite her claims the they merely danced in the woods. Desperate to keep his reputation. Parris calls in Reverend Hale, a man noted for his knowledge of the supernatural. The tension continues to grow as he asked her why Goody Proctor, whom Abigail once served, had discharged her from their household. We see a very different Abigail here. She immediately flares, insulting Goody Proctor. This contrasts heavily with the girl we saw sincerely pleading her case with her uncle at the beginning of the scene.
This vivid contrasts shows Abigail's "endless capacity for dissembling", as she almost manages to fool her uncle into believing her innocence, but cannot control her temper when Goody Proctor is mentioned. At this point, we see the tension in this scene heighten. The reason for her outburst is made clear is made clear later on in the play, when we discover the secret affair she indulged in with John Proctor, a much respected farmer in the town. Great tension can be seen between these two main characters during the scene in which John Proctor is first introduced to the audience, and is left alone with Abigail for several tense minutes.
When John enters the room in which the girls, Mary Warren, Mercy Lewis, and Abigail Williams have been discussing the current situation, the girls reactions alone are enough to portray Proctor as a powerful, influential man in the village. Mercy Lewis is more affected by this then Mary, who merely gets reprimanded sharply for disobeying Proctors orders by leaving the house. Mercy behaves in an almost childish manner, as though she is attracted to him but is also strangely nervous. As she to leaves the room, the tension increases gradually, continuing to do so throughout the following conversation.
To begin with, Abigail seems to be in awe of John, standing "as though on tiptoe", although she does not endeavor to hide her attraction to him. Proctor does not react to this at first, and his behavior towards her shows the audience that the relationship between these two people is far more complex and developed then at first glance seems. As the scene continues, we can evidently see that Abigail is not acting naturally, as again an immense change in her behavior can be observed. She acts as though she is confiding in John, telling him about the dancing in the woods, and in turn he smiles and laughs with her.
However, as Proctor turns to go, Abigail stops him, and her desire for him is revealed as she says "give me a word John, a soft word". Immediately, the tension in this scene rises greatly. Proctors manner switches, instantly, and he is no longer smiling as he replies "No Abby, that's done with". The use of Abigail's nickname, Abby, may indicate that he does still feel for her, although he does not openly admit this yet. She quickly switches tactics, and slyly says "You come five miles to see a silly girl fly? I know you better".
By saying this she means to destroy his anger and show him she knows he still loves her. But again he denies his feelings for her, and she grows desperate. At this point in the scene the tension is still rising rapidly. At this second denial, Abigail grows desperate, "grasping his hand", and telling him of how she is " waitin' for him every night". His reply sparks off her anger, as she cannot understand why he persists in denying his love for her. The rise in tension becomes faster, as the two come close to arguing.
As the conversation continues, John confesses to having "looked up" at her window, as though he misses her presence in his everyday life. As she becomes more desperate and wild in her arguments, he softens slightly, and tries to reason with her. However, as he calls her "child" her anger suddenly flares again, and she soon goes onto the subject of Johns wife, Elizabeth. " Oh I marvel how such a strong man may let such a sickly wife be-". Abigail constant vendetta against Elizabeth reveals her jealousy and hatred of John's wife.
The tension in the scene reaches a crescendo , until Proctor threatens to whip her for her insults. However, this is immediately shattered by the singing of a psalm from below. The two characters are immediately distracted, and the tension lowers itself down. In this scene we were introduced to a relationship which plays a key role in the Salem witch trails and the plot of The Crucible. Although these two characters evidently love each other, they are unhappy with the state of affairs in the village, and are not at ease with each other. Here the effects of Abigail's strict upbringing is made evident.