Abigail Williams Act Two
1. “Abigail brings the other girls into the court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel” (page 43) • How has Abigail’s status in Salem changed over the past week or so? • What power does she now possess? • How does she use this power, and what does this suggest about her?
Teacher’s notes • Abigail and the other girls have become the centre of attention in Salem and will be known throughout the surrounding villages. They are playing an important role regarding the accusations of witchcraft as they have the power to accuse people. Their allegations are believed without question. The simile used, which compares Abigail and the other girls to the Israelites led by Moses out of Egypt, emphasizes the fact that they are held in great respect and admiration in Salem, as they are seen to have been chosen by God to do His work in rooting out the evil influence of Satan.
Abigail’s status in Salem has been completely transformed over the past week or so. She previously had a low social standing in Salem as she was a young, unmarried female and a servant girl with a poor reputation as being promiscuous. However, she now has a huge amount of power and influence in the village. • Abigail uses her new power, influence and status to falsely accuse many innocent men and women of being witches, resulting in almost 40 people being arrested so far. She and the other girls are responsible for the widespread fear and paranoia that Satan is taking hold of Salem.
• Abigail does not hesitate to use the power that she has been given to make false accusations against innocent people who she perceives to have wronged her in some way in the past. She shows herself to be a cold-hearted and guilt-free person who has no reservations about harming innocent people. She is clearly a vengeful and vindictive person who bears grudges and is unable to forgive those who may have wronged her. She wants to hurt and punish them. She does not care about the chaos and hysteria she is causing in Salem.
Techniques • Simile. • Characterisation. • Dialogue.
2. “Oh the noose, the noose is up…She wants me dead” (page 50) • What reasons does Elizabeth give for thinking that it must have been Abigail who accused her in court? • What does Elizabeth ask Proctor to do?
Teacher’s notes • Although Mary refuses to say who named Elizabeth in Court, Elizabeth is certain that it must have been Abigail. Elizabeth believes that Abigail wants her dead so that she can marry Proctor. She knows that Abigail is besotted with Proctor and that she would do anything, even resort to murder, to be with him. Elizabeth knows that Abigail views her as her enemy and that she blames her for firing her after discovering the affair. Elizabeth is terrified that Abigail will use the witch-trials as an excuse to get rid of her.
• Elizabeth understands that Abigail would interpret Proctor’s sexual interest in her as being love. Elizabeth knows that Abigail would assume that Proctor loves her and that he would marry her if he was not already married. Elizabeth asks Proctor to go to Abigail and firmly make it clear to her that he does not love her, that their affair is completely over, and that he would never marry her. Elizabeth hopes that this will encourage Abigail to forget Proctor and persuade her to stop making false accusations against her.
Techniques • Dialogue. • Characterisation. • Conflict.
3. “The girl is murder! She must be ripped out of the world” (page 62) • What is the source of Elizabeth’s anger towards Abigail? • What does this information reveal about Abigail?
Teacher’s notes • Elizabeth is arrested on the charge of witchcraft having being formally accused by Abigail falsely claims that Elizabeth used a poppet to send out her spirit to attack and murder her. (It was thought that witches often made small models/dolls of their victims and inflicted harm upon them by sticking needles/pins into them). As a result of this accusation, Elizabeth will be imprisoned and then tried on the charge of witchcraft, despite being completely innocent. If she does not confess to a crime she did not commit, she will be hanged.
• Abigail stabs herself in the stomach in order to frame Elizabeth for a crime she did not commit. She engineers a scenario whereby it appears that Elizabeth has tried to kill her. This demonstrates the brutal and extreme lengths she is willing to go to in order to get rid of the main rival for Proctor’s affections. She ruthlessly manipulates the Court into believing that she is an innocent victim of Elizabeth Proctor’s witchcraft. She does this knowing that these allegations will possibly lead to Elizabeth’s hanging, all because she is jealous and resentful of her.
Techniques • Characterisation • Dialogue.
4. “She’ll kill me for sayin’ that… Abby’ll charge lechery on you, Mr. Proctor!” (page 65) • What does this reveal about Abigail’s character and the lengths that she is willing to go to?
Teacher’s notes • Mary is terrified of the prospect of having to testify against Abigail in Court. She is well aware of how powerful Abigail has become and the cruelty and evil she is capable of. Mary knows that Abigail will resort to anything in order to protect herself and that she is likely to be her next victim. She is horrified about what Abigail might do to her. Mary also knows about the affair between Proctor and Abigail. She desperately tries to convince Proctor not to denounce her as a fraud as Abigail would be willing to reveal the affair as an act of revenge against him.
• It is clear that Abigail would be willing to ruin her own reputation, and forever be known as promiscuous, if it allowed her to take her revenge against Proctor and punish him for attempting to destroy her new power and influence. She knows how important Proctor’s reputation is to him but would be willing to ruin him out of hate and vengeance.
Techniques • Dialogue. • Characterisation. • Conflict
Note on Abigail From the beginning of Act 2, we see that Abigail is clearly the antagonist of the play. The fact that she actively sets out to harm Elizabeth and gain revenge against her also suggests that she is capable of cruel acts and is possibly evil. This, then, also makes her the villain of the play. It can also be argued that Abigail is a type of malcontent: she is clearly disaffected and dissatisfied by her life, particularly as she is an unmarried servant girl in a very patriarchal society. This makes her desire more power and influence. It is, however, certain that Abigail is a Machiavel. She is clearly a villainous and immoral character who is a skilled liar, schemer and manipulator. She has used deceit to gain a huge amount of power in Salem, and is using this power to falsely accuse innocent people of witchcraft.