The accusations fly in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." The play's dramatic retelling of the Salem Witch Trials where the truth gets obscured by sensational charges of possession by demons echoes the crusade of Senator Joseph McCarthy to root out communists, which was occurring while the play was being written.
a contentious speech act; a dispute where there is strong disagreement
The example sentence makes the "contention" seem significant, but according to Cheever, Parris is simply weeping about cows. This is soon shown as wrong when Parris reveals that he is troubled by Abigail's disappearance and by the upcoming hangings of respected members of the Salem community.
Contention make him weep, sir; it were always a man that weep for
Compare with "contention" in this list (the Latin "tendere" means "to strive"). The use of the verb "strive" reveals Danforth's character, because he sees the convincing of the accused to confess as a contest of wills that could result in a possible victory for him (and God). More revealingly, Danforth says these words, but he doesn't actually do what he says, partly because he doesn't have the time, but mostly because he doesn't have the patience.
"Placate" means "to cause to be more favorably inclined"--Danforth's outward manner might seem conciliatory, but his words are not, since they make clear that Hale is wrong and he is right in refusing to pardon the accused.
conciliatory: You misunderstand, sir; I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime. It is not just.
the act of reprieving; postponing or remitting punishment
Unlike a reprieve, a pardon releases one from punishment. Danforth's reasons for refusing to grant reprieves or pardons focus on his unwillingness to look like an incompetent judge ("flounder" means "behave awkwardly or with difficulty") who cannot definitively determine guilt and execution dates.
Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part;
reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now.
Compare with "vengeance" in the list for Act 2. When Proctor describes the vengeance that is walking Salem, he is focused on how Abigail, having been dismissed by Elizabeth, gets her revenge through a false accusation. Here, Danforth's mention of retaliation is a response to Parris's fear, not yet realized, that hanging respected citizens like John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse could dangerously upset the community.
retaliation is your fear, know this--I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.
a woman who engages in sexual intercourse for money
Excellency, there are orphans wandering from house to house; abandoned cattle bellow on the highroads, the stink of rotting crops hangs everywhere, and no man knows when the
harlot's cry will end his life--and you wonder yet if rebellion’s spoke?
come or be in close contact with; stick or hold together and resist separation
Reverend Hale seems to be recommending that Elizabeth cleave ("separate or cut with a tool") herself from a faith that brings blood. His speech echoes ideas from the Bible book Deuteronomy: "That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy day."
Beware, Goody Proctor--
cleave to no faith when faith brings blood.
"Climax" can mean both "the highest point of anything" (in this case, the "anything" is Hale's desperation to save a good man from being hanged) and "the decisive moment in a play" (which describes Hale's desperate pleading with Elizabeth, since the outcome of that would affect Proctor's decision to live or die).
Hale, with a
climactic desperation: Woman, before the laws of God we are as swine! We cannot read His will!
Proctor talks himself into choosing life by arguing that he can't choose to hang like a saint, since he's a sinner who has lied; choosing to hang would be a useless action that would not fool God or protect his children. "Vanity" also means "feelings of excessive pride"--this can be seen in Hale's words: "It is pride, it is vanity." By naming the new choice a sin, Hale hopes to convince Elizabeth to change Proctor's mind.
It is pretense for me, a
vanity that will not blind God nor keep my children out of the wind.
In Greek, "agon" means "struggle" (and can be seen in the words "protagonist" and "antagonist")--Proctor's agonized breathing is not due to physical stress but to his emotional struggle with signing his name to a false confession. This struggle later erupts in the words: "I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"
His breast heaving with
agonized breathing, Proctor now lays the paper down and signs his name.
The Latin "clarus" means "clear" so a declaration is usually associated with clear truths, but here, Hale is trying to urge Elizabeth to urge her husband to save himself by giving the court the lie it wants to hear (but won't admit is a lie).
What profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? Shall the worms
declare his truth?