"The Crucible," Vocabulary from Act 4

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.

Learn these word lists for the play: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4

Looking for more Arthur Miller vocab? Find lists from Death of a Salesman here.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. stench
    a distinctive odor that is offensively unpleasant
    There is a prodigious stench in this place.
  2. contention
    a dispute where there is strong disagreement
    Contention make him weep, sir; it were always a man that weep for contention.
    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.
  3. gaunt
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    He is gaunt, frightened, and sweating in his greatcoat.
  4. astonished
    filled with the emotional impact of overwhelming surprise
    Hathorne, astonished: She have robbed you?
  5. naught
    a quantity of no importance
    Why at every execution I have seen naught but high satisfaction in the town.
  6. strive
    exert much effort or energy
    I will myself strive with him till dawn.
    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.
  7. sufficient
    of a quantity that can fulfill a need or requirement
    There is not sufficient time till dawn.
  8. sorrow
    sadness associated with some wrong done or disappointment
    He is steeped in sorrow, exhausted, and more direct than he ever was.
  9. conciliatory
    intended to placate
    Danforth, conciliatory: You misunderstand, sir; I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime. It is not just.
    "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.
  10. reprieve
    the act of postponing or remitting punishment
    Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now.
    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.
  11. retaliation
    action taken in return for an injury or offense
    If 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.
    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.
  12. adamant
    impervious to pleas, persuasion, requests, reason
    Is he yet adamant? Has he struck at you again?
  13. harlot
    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?
  14. belie
    represent falsely
    I come to counsel Christians they should belie themselves.
  15. cleave
    stick or hold together and resist separation
    Beware, Goody Proctor-- cleave to no faith when faith brings blood.
    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."
  16. prevail
    use persuasion successfully
    I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess.
  17. climactic
    consisting of or causing a decisive moment
    Hale, with a climactic desperation: Woman, before the laws of God we are as swine! We cannot read His will!
    "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).
  18. calamity
    an event resulting in great loss and misfortune
    A very ape would weep at such calamity! Have the devil dried up any tear of pity in you?
  19. sibilant
    a consonant characterized by a hissing sound
    A sound--the sibilance of dragging feet on stone. They turn.
  20. embodiment
    a concrete representation of an otherwise cloudy concept
    He reaches out his hand as though toward an embodiment not quite real, and as he touches her, a strange soft sound, half laughter, half amazement, comes from his throat.
  21. indictment
    a formal document charging a person with some offense
    He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property.
  22. flail
    thrash about
    Proctor, pauses, then with a flailing of hope: Giles’ wife? Have she confessed?
  23. gibbet
    an instrument of public execution
    I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud...I am not that man.
  24. spite
    feeling a need to see others suffer
    Spite only keeps me silent. It is hard to give a lie to dogs.
  25. vanity
    the quality of being valueless or futile
    It is pretense for me, a vanity that will not blind God nor keep my children out of the wind.
    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.
  26. providence
    a manifestation of God's foresightful care for his creatures
    Hathorne, with a mystical tone: God be praised! It is a providence!
    He rushes out the door, and his voice is heard calling down the corridor: He will confess! Proctor will confess!
  27. tantalize
    harass with persistent teasing or baiting
    He moves as an animal, and a fury is riding in him, a tantalized search.
  28. singe
    burn superficially or lightly
    You would not; if tongs of fire were singeing you you would not! It is evil. Good, then--it is evil, and I do it!
  29. efficiency
    skillfulness in avoiding wasted time and effort
    Proctor, with a cold, cold horror at their efficiency: Why must it be written?
  30. scaffold
    a platform from which criminals are executed
    Come, man, there is light in the sky; the town waits at the scaffold; I would give out this news.
  31. rejoice
    feel happiness or joy
    Why, you should rejoice to say it if your soul is truly purged of any love for Hell!
  32. incredulous
    not disposed or willing to believe; unbelieving
    Danforth, inquiring, incredulous: Mr. Proctor, do you think they go like saints?
  33. agonized
    expressing pain or agony
    His breast heaving with agonized breathing, Proctor now lays the paper down and signs his name.
    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!"
  34. boundless
    seemingly limitless in amount, number, degree, or extent
    But Proctor snatches it up, and now a wild terror is rising in him, and a boundless anger.
  35. penitence
    remorse for your past conduct
    Is there no good penitence but it be public?
  36. salvation
    the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil
    You will not use me! It is no part of salvation that you should use me!
  37. stony
    showing unfeeling resistance to tender feelings
    Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!
  38. declare
    announce publicly or officially
    What profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? Shall the worms declare his truth?
    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).
  39. heighten
    The final drumroll crashes, then heightens violently.
  40. rescind
    cancel officially
    In solemn meeting, the congregation rescinded the excommunications--this in March 1712.

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