Parris, the Gestic Chameleon (Act IV)
The following sequence of images show the ways that Reverend Parris changes his physicality with the situation. In each image, Parris changes his Haltung, his physicalized attitude towards the changing situation.
The sequence starts shortly after Parris enters.
He initially tells Danforth that Abigail has absconded with Mercy Lewis, and his Haltung betrays nervousness.
He then relates the circumstances of the girls’ escape as if it were any old tale, and delivers it as anyone simply telling a story. This was understood as a way of deflecting attention away from his own complacency in the matter.
As the tale continues, Parris admits that he believes that the girls have sailed away from Salem on a ship. The openness of the previous image turns to a look of fear. The challenge for the audience here is to ascertain whether this is genuine or a ruse to elicit sympathy from Danforth.
Parris reveals that Abigail has stolen his savings and that he is penniless.
He then transforms himself to counter the accusation that he was in some way to blame for Abigail’s disappearance. This change brought forth audible laughter from the audience as Parris moves from a victim of theft to a self-assured defender of his allegedly good name.
The changes in Haltung expose Parris for the social chameleon he is: he is happy to play a variety of roles in order to stay in favour with those in power. The inconsistencies between the different Haltungen have comic potential because Parris is revealed to be a consummate self-interested role-player.