Set in Salem, Massachusetts, the play enacts the hysteria and irrational hunt, trial, and execution of innocent people caught up in a personal and superstitious web of accusations. The opening scene is the home of Parris, a local priest. His daughter Betty appears seriously ill and is lying on her bed unconscious. Parris caught Betty just the previous night, about the midnight hour dancing essays on the salem witch trials the woods with another young woman, Abigail, who is his niece, and Tituba, the black slave he owns.
A local doctor has not been able to determine what is wrong with Betty. Meanwhile, Parris’s niece Abigail tries to persuade her friend Mercy Lewis, as well as Mary Warren, who is working as the servant to the Proctors, not to betray the fact that they were all in the woods casting spells. Abigail threatens violence to anyone who reveals that she drank blood in order to cast a spell to kill Goody Proctor. At this, Betty lapses back into unconsciousness. During a private conversation between John Proctor and Abigail we get details about their former relationship.
While Abigail worked as a servant in the Proctor home, Elizabeth Proctor became ill. As a result, Abigail took on more responsibility in the home and took on a larger role. We learn that during this time a relationship developed between John Proctor and Abigail. When Elizabeth Proctor regained her health, she dismissed Abigail. Betty wakes again and becomes hysterical.
She is calmed by Rebecca Nurse. Rebecca is well-respected and during this visit she warns Parris that naming witchcraft as the cause of Betty’s illness will set dangerous things in motion in Salem. Putnam asks Rebecca to visit Ruth and attempt to wake her. We find out that Ruth is the only surviving child of the Putnams, as the seven others died in infancy.
Because of this, we also find out that Mrs. To further complicate relationships, Putnam, Proctor, Parris, and Giles Corey get involved in an argument over business matters. Parris believes that there are people allied to drive him out of Salem. Putnam, Proctor, and Corey argue over property lines and property ownership. Putnam accuses Proctor of taking wood from the land that he does not own. Things become complicated as Reverend Hale arrives in order to investigate the strange happenings and sicknesses in Salem. He has been summoned by the people of Salem who fear that witchcraft is behind the illnesses.
Hale finds out that the afflicted girls were in the woods dancing together with Tituba. He believes Tituba is capable of conjuring spirits. At this the girls begin to blame each other. Abigail puts the blame on Tituba who admits that she is capable of conjuring spirits.
Eight days pass and Elizabeth and Proctor argue over that fact that she found out Proctor spoke with Abigail privately in Salem. After serving in the court, Mary Warren returns home to Salem. She gives Elizabeth a doll she made while sitting in the courtroom. Mary Warren explains to Proctor that some of the girls accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft. However, the charge is dismissed by the court after she is defended by Mary Warren. Hale turns his questioning on the Proctor house and asks Proctor about his poor attendance at church. As a test, he asks Proctor to name the Ten Commandments.