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 in 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.