Character Profile - Elizabeth



Opening Impression:

We first meet Elizabeth, Proctor’s wife, in Act Two where she seems caring and kind. Although both she and Proctor seem to be trying hard to rebuild their relationship, ultimately she remains deeply hurt by Proctor’s betrayal.



Quotations & Analysis:





The first mention of Elizabeth is when Abigail was talking to Betty, Mary Warren and Mercy Lewis

The audience first hears of Elizabeth through the quotation “attempted murder through witchcraft” which is an important plot detail, as it shows how Abigail is intent on taking Elizabeth out of Proctors life, which suggests that Abigail (at this stage) still has feelings for Proctor


This is also the beginning of Elizabeth’s problems – she begins the play as the focus of Abigail’s attempted witchcraft (who eventually gets away with her wrongdoings) and ends the play as the victim of Abigail’s manipulative, ‘social witchcraft’



“That’s well” “It must be” “Aye, it is”

Proctor and Elizabeth’s bland interaction over dinner shows that their relationship has been strained by Proctor’s adultery. They seem to act in a carefully controlled manner with no sense of comfortable warmth as each is trying to please the other in an attempt to fix their problems. As a result there is also something practiced and routine-like about their relationship at this stage, which further reinforces the emotional distance between the two.



“I took great care” “blushing with pleasure

A clear example of where both characters are going to great lengths to make their relationship work. Elizabeth worked hard on the meal but in addition we see that Proctor surreptitiously seasoned the food to his liking so that he could compliment Elizabeth on its flavour. It is also clear that they are desperately trying to avoid the topic of Proctor’s relationship with Abigail



Elizabethreceives” Proctor’s kiss

The word ‘receives’ clearly shows that Elizabeth has not yet forgiven Proctor as there is an element of coldness and awkwardness about it signalling the absence of genuine affection.



“you must tell them it is a fraud”

Elizabeth can see past the hysteria and knows what the ‘right’ thing to do is. She seems wise, and clearly intelligent and as such her characteristics echo those of Proctor and Goody Nurse who are heroic because of the clear sightedness and moral integrity



“If it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now?”

Once again we can see that she is clear headed and sees through Proctor’s excuses to the real reason that he doesn’t want to go to Salem to challenge Abigail. We can see here that she is constantly judging Proctor and has not yet forgiven him for his affair with Abigail.



“Do as you wish then”

Her dismissiveness here reveals a disappointment with Proctor and, in response to this judgement, Proctor condemns her as cold-hearted. Later we see Elizabeth admit that ‘it takes a cold-heart to prompt lechery’ and it may be that Miller is using Elizabeth’s coldness towards Proctor to help us judge him more lightly.



“she has an arrow in you yet, John Proctor, and you know it well”

Once again we can see that Elizabeth sees elements of the true story, the bigger picture – she has a more holistic view of her situation than most other characters in the play and understands more about Proctor than he does at this stage. Her understanding of her husband is once again revealed in the final Act when she says that the only judge which can judge Proctor is the one that sits in his own heart.



"I am a good woman, I know it; and if you believe I may do only good work in the world, and yet be secretly bound to Satan, then I must tell you, sir, I do not believe it"

Here Elizabeth comes across as outspoken about her beliefs – she will not be told what to believe, nor will she believe something for show simply because it is what is expected of her which shows a clear strength within her character.


Furthermore, this speech has a lasting significance in terms of the plot, as she is shown to be telling the truth in a testing situation. Thus the audience has prior knowledge to back up Proctor’s statement in Act III where he says that she always tells the truth and never lies. Ultimately her decision to lie in Act III provides one of the highest moments of dramatic tension in the play and is also pivotal in undermining Proctor’s attack on the court.



“oh John, bring me soon”

This quotation occurs as she is being taken away and is the first dialogue between Elizabeth and Proctor which carries emotional language. The delivery of this line on stage, with body language and a certain breathlessness, could convey feelings between Proctor and Elizabeth that were not visible during the preceding scene suggesting a depth to the relationship that we had not previously suspected.



“Oh God!”

Elizabeth says this line in response to Proctor’s “Elizabeth, I have confessed it!” when she has been asked to verify Proctor’s story of his adulterous relationship with Abigail, and decided to lie to save her Husband’s name, but in the end ultimately condemned him. This short exclamation is crucial as it shows that she was trying to save him by lying.


The fact that she lied, and this line in particular, are of paramount importance to the pace, intensity and tension in this scene and her choice to lie (when the audience has seen that she always tells the truth) shows the depths of her devotion to her husband despite his betrayal of her.



As a warning reminder” “I promise nothing. Let me speak with him”

When Elizabeth is in Jail, she is shown to have a clear sense of integrity, and to be a strong willed character. She also dismisses Danforth, and simply replies to his lengthy speeches with single sentences, and conveys her meaning and purpose


This contrast between Danforth and Elizabeth (one has lengthy speeches which equivocate to nothing, and the other short sentences which control the situation) shows that the upright characters in the society, such as Elizabeth, hold moral high ground over characters such as Danforth or Parris, and that their opinion and perspective is to be trusted more, and followed (by the audience) even though their voices remain unheard in the madness of Salem.



Elizabeth and Proctor meet in the Jail in Act IV

Their meeting here is in clear contrast with their emotionless contact in Act II as they now have a closer, more trusting and intimate meeting. It is as if the hardship which they have both been through reveals to them the pettiness of their previous disagreements and shows the depth of feeling they have for one another.


Telling, in their first meeting, they needed to fill the silence with meaningless words. Now they speak through silence and convey more emotion and meaning than their words did before: “It is as though they stood in a spinning world



“I cannot judge you, John” “There be no higher judge under Heaven than Proctor is!”

She clearly sees that it is ultimately Proctor’s decision as to whether or not he will confess. Her unwillingness, or inability, to judge Proctor shows that she would a) love him no matter what he chose to do, and b) knows that in the end, Proctor must and will choose the right thing to do, as she knows that he could not live with himself knowing that he had lied to save his own life. It also suggests that she recognises his heroic status – who can judge a hero but a hero?



“He has his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!”

This resounding final line of the play is a perfect quotation to link to Miller’s underlying theme of the 1950s communist Witch Hunt. The audience are left with the phrase “He has his goodness now”. The message that is supposed to have been conveyed by this stage in the play is that through integrity, strength of character, a determination to stick to one’s own opinions and an ability to express this opinion fearlessly, combined with a rejection of what powerful institutions (e.g. the church or the modern-day America the government) want you to do, an audience member can free themselves from the repressive anti-communist mindset that the American government holds, and formulate their own opinions based on real facts. In so doing, they become heroic.




Role in the Play:

Elizabeth plays a key role in the play in terms of plot development. Were it not for Abigail’s vicious desire to have Proctor to herself the conjuring in the woods the discovery of which started the witch hunts would never have happened.


Elizabeth is also pivotal in creating what is probably the most dramatic moment in the whole play when she lies in the court room intending to save her husband’s good name but, ironically, destroying his hopes of over throwing the court.


Throughout the play Elizabeth is used as a foil to Proctor’s character to underline his heroism. Her admission that ‘it takes a cold heart to prompt lechery’ goes some way towards excusing his affair with Abigail and his desperate attempts to save her reveal his tender and caring side. Most importantly, however, her presence in the jail cell with Proctor in Act IV combined with her refusal to tell him what to do reinforces how Proctor is ultimately in charge of his own fate and it is his last minute realisation that there is a ‘shred’ of goodness in him that enables him to die a heroic martyr than live coward who wasn’t good enough to dust the shoes of those who were hanged.