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Abigail Williams (The Crucible)

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Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you! And you know I can do it. I saw Indians smash my dear parents' heads on the pillow next to mine. And I have seen some reddish work done at night. And I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!
~ Abigail Williams threatens to kill any of the girls in Salem who would reveal the truth about her.

Abigail Williams was an intelligent and manipulative young woman from Salem during the 17th century, who single-handedly started the Salem witch trials as does her controversial real-life counterpart of the same name. She is the main antagonist of many stories based on the event, namely Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible.

Abigail is described as "seventeen with a remarkable capacity for dissembling" who covets Elizabeth Proctor's husband John Proctor and tries to get Elizabeth killed in the Salem witch trials.

Past

Abigail was raised as an orphan after her parents were killed by Indians. She eventually became the housekeeper for John and Elizabeth Proctor. After she had a sexual affair with John, Abigail was discharged by Elizabeth, who cursed her name. An angry Abigail went to Tetuba, a black slave from the Bahamas, and got all the girls to perform a Voodoo chant that would make men love them, but Abigail turned it into a spiteful chant after drinking chicken blood. After being accused of witchcraft, Abigail led all the girls to blame everyone of witchery, leading to the infamous Salem witch trials.

Story

Act one

Reverend Parris is praying over his daughter Betty Parris, who lies as if unconscious in her bed. Conversations between Parris, his niece Abigail Williams, and several other girls reveal that the girls, including Abigail and Betty, were engaged in heretical activities in a nearby forest, apparently led by Tetuba, Parris's slave from Barbados. Parris had discovered them, whereupon Betty fainted and has not yet recovered. The townspeople do not know exactly what the girls were up to, but there are rumors of witchcraft.

John Proctor enters the room in which Betty lies in bed, and Abigail, otherwise alone, tries to seduce him. It does not work, but it is revealed that Abigail and Proctor engaged in a previous affair and that Abigail still has feelings for him.

Reverend John Hale is summoned from Beverly to look upon Betty and research the incident. He is a self-proclaimed expert in occult phenomena, and is eager to use his acquired learning. He questions Abigail, who accuses Tetuba of being a witch. Tetuba, afraid of being hanged and threatened with beating, professes faith in God and accuses Goodwives Sarah Good and Osburn of witchcraft. Betty, now awake, claims to have been bewitched and also professes her faith in God. Betty and Abigail sing out a list of people whom they claim to have seen with the Devil.

Act two

Elizabeth questions Proctor to find out if he is late for dinner because of a visit to Salem. She tells him that their housemaid, Mary Warren, has been there all day. Having forbidden Mary from going to Salem, Proctor becomes angry, but Elizabeth explains that Mary has been named an official of the court.

Elizabeth tells Proctor that he must reveal that Abigail is a fake. He declares that he cannot prove what she told him because they were alone when they talked. Elizabeth becomes upset because he has not previously mentioned this time alone with Abigail. Proctor believes that she is accusing him of resuming his affair with Abigail. An argument then ensues between the two.

Mary returns, and Proctor is furious that she has been in Salem all day. However, she advises that she will be gone every day because of her duties as an official of the court. Mary gives Elizabeth a poppet that she made while in court, tells the couple that thirty-nine people are now in jail, and that Goody Osborne [sic] will hang for her failure to confess to witchcraft. Proctor is angry because he believes the court is condemning people without solid evidence. Mary states that Elizabeth has also been accused, but, as she herself defended her, the court dismissed the accusation.

Elizabeth tells Proctor that she believes Abigail will accuse her of witchcraft and have her executed because she wants to become Proctor's wife. Elizabeth asks Proctor to speak to Abigail and tell her that no chance exists of him marrying her if anything happens to his wife.

Reverend Hale visits the Proctor house and tells Elizabeth and Proctor that the former has been named in court. Hale questions Proctor about his poor church attendance and asks him to recite the Ten Commandments. When Proctor gets stuck on the tenth, Elizabeth reminds him of the commandment forbidding adultery.

Proctor tells Hale that Abigail has admitted to him that witchcraft was not responsible for the children's ailments. Hale asks Proctor to testify in court and then questions Elizabeth to find out if she believes in witches. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse arrive and tell Proctor, Hale and Elizabeth that the court has arrested both of their wives for witchcraft.

Ezekiel Cheever and Willard/Herrick arrive with a warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. Cheever discovers the poppet that Mary made for Elizabeth, with a needle inside it. Cheever tells Proctor and Hale that, after apparently being stabbed with a needle while eating at Parris' house, Abigail accused Elizabeth's spirit of stabbing her. Mary tells Hale that she made the doll in court that day and stored the needle inside it. She also states that Abigail saw this because she sat next to her. The men still take Elizabeth into custody, and Hale, Corey and Nurse leave.

Proctor tells Mary that she must testify in court against Abigail. Mary replies that she fears doing this because Abigail and the others will turn against her.

Additional scene

In the original production of the play, there was an additional scene in the second act. It has been removed from most subsequent productions, but is added as an appendix in many written book forms of the play:

In the woods, Proctor meets with Abigail. She again tries to seduce him, but he pushes her away, informing her that she must stop all accusations against his wife. They argue, Abigail forces John to grope her and then asks him how he intends to prove that what she is saying is false. He informs her that he fully intends to admit to their affair in court if necessary, and the scene ends with Abigail saying, "I will save you tomorrow... from yourself I will save you."

Act three

Judge Hathorne (offstage) is in the midst of questioning Martha Corey on accusations of witchcraft, during which her husband, Giles, interrupts the court proceedings and declares that Thomas Putnam is "reaching out for land!" Giles is removed from the courtroom and taken to the vestry room by Willard/Herrick. Judge Hathorne enters and angrily asks: "How dare you come roarin' into this court, are you gone daft, Corey?". Giles Corey replies that since Hathorne isn't a Boston Judge yet, he has no right to ask him that question. Deputy Governor Danforth, Cheever, Reverend Parris and Francis Nurse enter the vestry room. Corey explains that he owns 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land and a large quantity of timber, both of which Putnam had been eyeing. Corey also states that the court is holding his wife Martha by mistake saying he had only said Martha was reading books, but he never accused her of witchcraft.

Danforth soon thereafter takes utter control of the situation, and denies others in the court even a modicum of power. John Proctor enters with Mary Warren, promising to clear up any doubts regarding the girls if his wife is freed from custody. Danforth orders the girls into the vestry. Reverend Parris is skeptical, pointing out that the girls fainted, screamed, and turned cold before the accused, which they see as proof of the spirits. Mary tells them that she believed at first to have seen the spirits, however she knows now that there aren't any.

In an attempt to discredit Mary, Abigail and the other girls begin to scream and cry out that they are freezing. When Abigail calls to God, Proctor accuses her of being a whore and tells the court of their affair. Abigail denies it and the court has Elizabeth brought in to verify if Proctor is telling the truth. Not knowing that he had already confessed, Elizabeth lies and denies any knowledge of the affair. When Proctor continues to insist that the affair took place, the girls begin to pretend to see a yellow bird sent by Mary to attack them. To save herself from being accused of witchcraft, Mary tells the court that Proctor was in league with the devil and forced her to testify. Proctor is arrested for witchcraft, and Reverend Hale storms out of the court, shouting "I denounce these proceedings!"

Act four

Proctor is chained to a jail wall, totally isolated from the outside. Reverend Parris begins to panic because John was liked by many in the village (as were Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse, who are also to be hanged), and he explains his fears to Hathorne, Danforth and Cheever. He also reveals that Abigail and Mercy Lewis (one of the "afflicted" girls) stole 31 pounds (about half his yearly salary) and boarded a ship in the night.

Hale enters, now a broken man who spends all his time with the prisoners, praying with them and advising prisoners to confess to witchcraft so that they can live. The authorities send Elizabeth to John, telling her to try to convince Proctor to confess to being a witch. When Proctor and Elizabeth are alone, she forgives him and reaffirms their love. Elizabeth tells of Giles Corey being pressed to death.

John chooses to confess in exchange for his life and calls out to Hathorne, who is almost overjoyed to hear such news. Proctor signs the confession, then tears it up when realizing that Danforth is going to nail the signed confession to the church (which Proctor fears will ruin his name and the names of other Salemites). Proctor, Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey are led to the gallows to hang.

Motivation

Abigail's motivation to do what she did in the story was her jealousy of Elizabeth Proctor, a hunger for power, and a lust for John Proctor. It's also speculated that she was acting out of a desire for attention and affection from others, which she'd get when she was hailed as a heroine for outing witches in Salem. She was also seeking amusement in how she could turn the entire town and it's religious community on it's head due to her lies, giving her a greater sense of power and control than most girls of her time period could have. It's also possible that she suffered from dementia or some sort of severe personality disorder, which explained why she put her own selfish wants in place of where her moral compass should have been.

In many ways, Abigail ended up getting the last laugh. She was successful in achieving most of her desired outcomes and while she couldn't get John Proctor to love her in return, her actions ultimately led to his and Elizabeth's deaths in the witch trials. Meanwhile, she got to leave Salem behind, completely unpunished for her evil deeds. However, there is a legend that suggests that Abigail became a lower-class prostitute in Boston and died a few years later, likely of a sexually transmitted disease. 

Quotes

(about George Jacobs) They are gonna hang him, ya know?  And he prays, ya know, he prays in jail. He talks to me at night while he’s praying in the jail.  Hypocrite!  They all are!  Thank God I have the power to cleanse this town of them!
~ Abigail Willaims
Let *you* beware, Mr. Danforth. Do you think yourself so mighty the Devil may not turn *your* wits?
~ Abigail threatening Mr. Danforth.
I am but God's finger, John. If he would condemn Elizabeth, she will be condemned.
~ Abigail Williams

Movie appearances

Abigail appears in the 1957 film adaption of The Crucible as John Proctor's maid before she betrays him and left him to die at the witch trials presided over by deputy governor Thomas Danforth. Here she is portrayed by Mylène Demongeot. She appears again in the 1996 remake of the same name as the movie's main antagonist. Here, she is sixteen, while in the actual events, she was twelve and therefore, obviously did not have a relationship with John Proctor. In this version she was portrayed by Winona Ryder.

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