Danforth’s Comic Fanaticism (Act IV)
By Act IV, there is really very little to laugh about. Innocent villagers have been condemned to death, and Proctor wrestles with his decision whether to lie and live or tell the truth and be executed. However, there were still moments in which the so-called great and the good could be criticized through comedy.
Judge Danforth seeks to exact corroboration from Proctor that would implicate Rebecca Nurse in a relationship with the devil. At this point, Proctor has already given a false confession to Danforth, but refuses to incriminate his friend.
The sequence begins as one would expect. The questions are relentless, but predictable. When Danforth becomes exasperated, however, he loses his composure and addresses Proctor in a more recognizably human way, dropping his mask of interrogator. The change of tone, which could have remained the same in a more conventional rendition, hopefully created a comic inconsistency in the figure and revealed his fanatical desire to have his cake and eat it. That is, not only to condemn Proctor, but to use him to damn Rebecca, a figure who had already been found guilty.