In the play The Crucible, Arthur Miller applied the word “crucible” as a severe test or trial. Indeed, the characters of the play all lived through an immense ordeal. The trials and the executions were traumatic, and many characters were affected by what had happened. Many Salem citizens were in favor of the courts at first; later, however, began to despise the court. One of these characters was Reverend Hale of Beverly. As Hale came into Salem, his goal was to preserve goodness. He knew that his work was admired and respected by the common people and he was proud of this.
He was confident that he would do his duty in Salem. Yet the more time Hale spent there, the more he changed his opinion on the situation. As the story progressed, Hale’s attitude changed from confidence to concern to outrage, and finally, to guilt. When Hale came to Salem, “to ascertain witchcraft, he felt the pride of the specialist whose unique knowledge has … been publicly called for”(33). He thought of his task as just and righteous. Hale believed that “the Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone…”(38), and that identifying whether the Devil was living in Salem would not be difficult.
However, as the play progressed, he began to question whether he was doing his job or not over the course of the trials. He decided to visit the homes of the people mentioned, so that he could “draw a clear opinion of them”(63) and be able to pass judgment on them properly in court. As he made the visits, his ignorance was cleared away and he saw that the courts were not entirely correct. He grew even more concerned when he was notified that Rebecca Nurse, a woman he had a good opinion about, had been charged with murder.
Although Hale becomes “deeply troubled”(71), he still has faith in the courts. This is evident when he says, “Believe me, Mr. Nurse, if Rebecca Nurse be tainted, then nothing’s left to stop the whole green world from burning. Let you rest upon the justice of the court; the court will send her home, I know it. “(71). While Hale was concerned but still confident in justice, certain members of the community were tried. To his horror, they were also found guilty! Hale was outraged at this. It is as though he was the only one in the court who maintained rational thought.
He attempted to state his opinion when he said that he gives credence to Proctor, not Abigail (114) and Deputy Governor Danforth disregarded him. Hale yelled, “You cannot believe them” (117), attempting to appeal to Danforth’s common sense, but the whole court was so fed up by the false accusation of Mary Warren’s spirit supposedly flying about the courtroom in the form of a bird and hurting the other girls, that Hale was overlooked. In complete fury at his helplessness, Hale stormed out of the room, crying, “I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court! (120) When Elizabeth Proctor becomes under arrest, her husband cried to Hale, “Pontius Pilate! God will not let you wash your hands of this! ” (77). Proctor compared Hale to the Roman officer who did not agree that Jesus should be executed but let it be done because the people wanted it. The analogy stands that Hale did not want Elizabeth (and others) to be tried, yet he stood by and let it be done because the court officials and the Salem community wanted. Hale subconsciously admitted to himself that he stands partially responsible for these people’s misfortunes.
He let the court know this when he said, “… I have signed seventy-two death warrants; I am a minister of the Lord, and I dare not take a life without there be a proof…no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt… I have this morning signed away the soul of Rebecca Nurse, …my hand shakes yet as with a wound” (100). In Act IV, when Rebecca Nurse, John Proctor, and others are to be hanged, Hale showed that he was responsible for these deaths when he told Elizabeth, “I would save your husband’s life, for if he is taken I count myself his murderer” (131). Hale’s conscience was tormenting him and he felt guilty.
He very well may have felt himself as Pontius Pilate. Reverend Hale was a dynamic character. His emotions changed throughout the play. He was confident and proud of his work in the beginning. Soon he became concerned, and later outraged, about the trials. As the play drew to an end, Hale was feeling guilt and despair. Reverend Hale was just one of the many characters who were at different levels “tested” or “tried” in The Crucible. After these emotional trials, people were feeling hatred towards the courts, which had caused this turmoil, and threw them out.