Tyranny means oppressive use of absolute power held by an individual leader to enforce obedience by force or threats. Tyranny is clearly present in The Crucible in various characters, but especially Danforth with his authority in the court and Abigail with the influence she gains over the whole village, in particular the girls who participate in the witch trials with her. In Act Three Danforth tells Giles Corey and Francis Nurse that there are ‘seventy-two condemned to hang by [his] signature’.
Danforth has the most influence in the court, as he ultimately decides which sentence each person accused of witchcraft will receive. He highlights the extreme power he possesses in response to Corey and Nurse coming to court to protest against the accusations against their wives. It seems that by telling them how much power he has to control people’s lives, he is trying to intimidate and subtly threaten the men not to create difficulties for him by opposing his decision to have Rebecca Nurse hanged and likely sentence Martha Corey to the same fate.
It is in his interest to prevent people from discussing the possibility of the court being wrong because he is a very well-respected judge and his reputation is under threat if more people begin to agree with Corey and Nurse. Danforth’s use of his position of his authority to protect his own interests is a clear example of tyranny in the play.
Judge Hathorne and Reverend Parris, although they could not be considered tyrants themselves, help Danforth to maintain his power because they know that it will help to protect their reputations too as they have also been involved in the judgement of the people who have already been arrested and sentenced to death. They do this by immediately attempting to discredit the men’s claims that girls’ accusations are false. Hathorne says of Corey and Nurse that ‘they must both be arrested in contempt’ and when Proctor arrives Parris tells Danforth that ‘they’ve come to overthrow the court’.
They both react this way before allowing the men to present their evidence because as long as they are contradicting the court, they could potentially reveal that the court has made a catastrophic mistake in believing everything Abigail and the girls say. Therefore Hathorne and Parris have some part in perpetuating Danforth’s tyranny by refusing to let anyone contradict him. However, it could be said that the fault is not with Danforth or the other judges because whilst they do make it difficult for opposing arguments to be heard, they do so only because they have mistakenly trusted the girls.
Abigail could be described as a tyrant due to her power over the other girls involved in the trials and eventually her influence over the entire village. In Act Two Elizabeth says that ‘where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel’, which indicates that Abigail manages to control everyone around her and becomes either respected or feared to the point where people are afraid to get in her way, possibly because they know that if they give her any reason to take issue with them, she can accuse them of witchcraft and most likely have them hanged.
The audience also knows that Abigail has gained this power primarily by threatening the girls who danced in the forest with her prior to the start of the play, if they recall Abigail telling Betty, Mercy and Mary in Act One that if they tell anyone about the illicit rituals they performed in the forest she will ‘bring a pointy reckoning’ to them. Here she uses threats to ensure that they will not expose her, which would lead to her reputation being ruined and her uncle possibly going as far as to disown her.
It would also rule out any chance of her being able to marry John Proctor, who she is still in love with since he ended their affair around seven months previously. Therefore there is some evidence that Abigail is the main perpetrator of tyranny in the play as she threatens the other girls and, slightly more cunningly, the other people living in Salem, in order to carry out her plan to replace Elizabeth as John Proctor’s wife and conceal the ‘witchcraft’ she performed in the forest with Tituba.
In conclusion, tyranny is present throughout The Crucible, but it is debatable whether Danforth or Abigail is the main cause of this. Danforth is able to use his power to make decisions without being opposed in court and uses this to his advantage at times when he realises that his and the other judges’ reputations are at risk if the authenticity of Abigail’s claims is questioned. Abigail could be considered even more oppressive, however, because she explicitly threatens three of the other girls with death unless they keep her secrets and also holds power over the lives of all the villagers.