Write about the character of Danforth Essay
Write about the character of Danforth
Danforth, the Deputy Governor of the province of Massachusetts, represents the combined authority of the church and the state in the theocratic society of Salem. He is indeed a powerful man, but a powerful man in a very difficult situation. The community of Salem have been stirred into paranoia, superstition and malice as accusations of witchcraft hit them hard. However with the deaths of so many resting on his signature how is Danforth putting into effect his judicial powers in the community? We first hear of Danforth in Act Three of the play and it is at this point when his true character begins to emerge.
In the stage directions it says: “On his appearance silence falls. Danforth is a grave man in his sixties, of some humour and sophistication that does not, however interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause. ” The fact that everyone is silent when he enters shows the authority he holds over them and how powerful he is. It furthermore gives an idea of his serious and threatening manner, which will be shown later on in the play. It also describes to the reader before Danforth is even on stage that he is bound tightly to his work and that he is obviously keen that no one undermines what he says.
At the same time as we first meet Danforth we are also introduced to Judge Hathorne. Hathorne is a cold unbending judge and is so throughout the entirety of the play. This is somewhat different to Danforth who seems prepared to listen to new evidence despite him being very firm in his proceedings and defence of the court. I actually think on first appearance Danforth is shown to be a fair man. He is willing to listen to evidence against the constraints of Hathorne. Danforth wants to make sure the evidence of Giles Corey is submitted in: “proper affidavit”
This actually means that he is going to take “a written statement, confirmed by law for use as evidence”. This what’s more suggests that he taking into consideration the other side of the argument in the case. However, all this is going to change, as he becomes an overbearing and pitiless man later in the play when he abuses his judicial powers in Salem and refuses to weigh up the possibilities of the girls lying. Nevertheless this shows how he ensures all the court procedures are done properly and how seriously he is taking the events in Salem.
Danforth also reminds Corey and Procter, before listening to their evidence, about how important he is. In fact Danforth constantly reminds people of his great importance: “And seventy-two condemned to hang by that signature” This could perhaps be to scare the people into not causing attacks against the court, but could just be to reinforce to the audience and the townspeople how powerful he is in Salem and to show the terrible outcome, which will arise if someone is found guilty of witchcraft. It shows how seriously witchcraft was treated in the time in which the book was written.
His power and influence over people would be shown on stage with him sitting in the highest chair in the court, probably looking down upon the others in the court. However from this point onwards, despite his willingness to listen, Danforth is shown to be myopic. He seems to let the evidence against the witchcraft go, with no real consideration for the doubt that it could throw on the case. He also seems to have a limited perception of human nature and finds it difficult to conceive that the girls are anything other than what they say they are.
He is determined to root out witchcraft and does not want to know about anything, which may lead him in a different direction. He also appears to narrow minded and thinks his opinion is right. “The entire contention of the state… is that the voice of heaven is speaking through the eyes of our children” The quote above shows what is supposedly the dispute in Salem. However despite Danforth saying this, it is evident that he seems to think the girls are right and that they have seen spirits. This could be because off how religious he is and also how he considers himself to be God’s agent in some way.
This interferes with his judgement as becomes bigoted and will only really except evidence that shows his point of view. Danforth also abuses his judicial powers to a high degree by telling people that they will hang if they do not admit they “trafficked” with the devil. He shows at this point that he still believes he is right to have arrested them and has no perception of the fact they could be innocent. He never attempts to look at probabilities, or weigh the defendants’ motives. This again shows how narrow-minded he is. There are other instances when he also misuses his power.
Two of these occur when he acts in a callous and highhanded manner with those accused of witchcraft. He bullies Mary Warren into changing her evidence and also arrests those who are simply the witnesses to the good character of the accused. When he terrifies Mary Warren who is only a “timid girl” it is said in the stage directions that he “pounds it into her”. He says: “You have seen the devil, you have made compact with Lucifer have you not? ” By shouting at her, it could well have scared her into changing her evidence. This is an example of injustice.
Danforth manipulates a witness and the legal procedure to suit his purpose. This gives the impression that he is a malicious and cruel man who never thinks of others before himself. Danforth then does a similar thing however in this case with Elizabeth Proctor. He puts her in a difficult situation where she is torn between her husband and telling the truth. In the end she lies for the love of her husband. It was wrong of Danforth to do this as it meant that the evidence was not true. This shows how manipulative he is as he is able to use his powers to alter what people say to suit his purpose.
It just shows how pitiless he is. In the stage directions Danforth is portrayed in a similar way. He at one point he: “Reaches out and holds Elizabeth’s face” and at another he turns Mary Warren “Roughly to face him” Using such a physical, overbearing and domineering action shows his authority over the people as he can abuse them purely because he is of a superior standing and he wants them to tell him something he wants to hear. This in addition portrays him to be a self righteous, arrogant man who has once again abused his power as a judge in order to get some kind of story of events, be it true or not.
Even the language Danforth uses portrays his ruthless character. He uses leading questions to try to obtain the answers that suit him: “Might it be that here we have no afflicting spirit loose, but in the court there were some? ” This in itself is a form of trickery. It shows how spiteful his character is and how he uses his judicial powers wrongly to get what he wants. Towards the beginning of Act four Danforth hears from a distraught Mr Parris that Abigail has fled from Salem with the contents of his strongbox. At this point Danforth “Walks in thought, deeply worried”
This quote is open to interpretation. Danforth could be worried that Abigail is a fraud, and that the whole series of trials have been based on a false assumption. He may also feel guilt for those that have been hung. However it is most likely to say that he is anxious that the news may get around and persuade others to think that Abigail was a fraud. This would mean that people loose faith in his position and that he would no longer hold power over them. Danforth however does nothing to stop the hangings taking place once he realises that the people may be innocent. He says:
“Postponement speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon those that died until now. ” This suggests that he cares too much about his position. He appears to be a heartless and villainous character at this point as he will stand by and let wrongly convicted people be hung for the sake of his reputation. He is shown to care more for consistency than justice. The people of Salem however will have to accept his judgment, as he is a position of such high authority. Towards the end of the play, Danforth still remains convinced that he was right in charging people with witchcraft.
It is actually said both the judges did actually believe that they were doing the right thing. They saw themselves as good and thought that they were defending the community from evil by weeding out evil witches. However, they persecuted and destroyed good people with no hard evidence. In my opinion this makes them the evil ones. It becomes even more evident that Danforth perceives himself to be right when he says: “While I speak God’s Law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering” Towards the end of the play, Danforth along with the other judges tries to convince John Procter to Confess to witchcraft.
The reason why he does this is ambiguous. He could really want to save John’s life or he may just want him to confess because his confession would cast doubts upon the innocence of the others who had refused to confess. The second of these reasons would tie in with how the character of Danforth has been portrayed up until this point. If so it just shows again how the lives of others come second to his position of authority. The last time we see Danforth is when he is speaking some parting words to the prisoners who are going to be hanged.
These are arrogant and pitiless. “Hang them high over the town. Who weeps for these weeps for corruption” These words only lead me to believe further that he is a proud and quick-tempered man who has little humility and no compassion. He still believes them to be guilty despite the lack of tangible evidence. All in all, in the face of a dramatic situation and in the face of disagreeing and dubious evidence Danforth has an extremely difficult job to do, yet he does nothing to stop the court proceedings when he realises he could be at fault.
Danforth in fact is a striking representation of a man of intelligence and apparent humanity who refuses to admit possibilities outside the strict confines of his, version of the truth. He feels contempt for many of the foolish witch-hunters and he seems to understand people, but yet he applies the law with a rigid harshness. He almost appears to be unwilling to perceive events as they really are. Overall I believe him to be a cruel man who through being afraid to admit his own fault causes the deaths of many wrongly accused people.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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