'The Crucible' Character Study: Judge Danforth

The Ruler of the Courtroom Who Cannot See the Truth

Actors Madeline Sherwood (rear 2L), Arthur Kennedy
The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images / Getty Images

Judge Danforth is one of the key characters in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible." The play tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials and Judge Danforth is the man responsible for determining the fates of those accused.

A complicated character, it is Danforth's responsibility to run the trials and decide if the good people of Salem who are accused of witchcraft are really witches. Unfortunately for them, the judge is incapable of finding fault in the young girls behind the allegations.

Who is Judge Danforth?

Judge Danforth is the deputy governor of Massachusetts and he presides over the witch trials in Salem alongside Judge Hathorne. The leading figure among the magistrates, Danforth is a key character in the story.

Abigail Williams may be wicked, but Judge Danforth represents something more agonizing: tyranny. There is no questioning that Danforth believes he is doing the work of God and that those on trial shall not be treated unjustly in his courtroom. However, his misguided belief that the accusers speak the undeniable truth in their charges of witchery shows his vulnerability.

Character traits of Judge Danforth:

  • Dominating with an almost dictator-like adherence to Puritan law.
  • Gullible when it comes to the teenage girls' stories.
  • Shows little to no emotion or sympathy.
  • Elderly and semi-fragile though this is hidden behind his gruff exterior.

Danforth rules the courtroom like a dictator. He is an icy character who firmly believes that Abigail Williams and the other girls are incapable of lying. If the young women so much as shout out a name, Danforth assumes the name belongs to a witch. His gullibility is exceeded only by his self-righteousness.

If a character, such as Giles Corey or Francis Nurse, attempts to defend his wife, Judge Danforth contends that the advocate is trying to overthrow the court. The judge seems to believe that his perception is flawless. He is insulted when anyone questions his decision-making ability.

Danforth vs. Abigail Williams

Danforth dominates everyone who enters his courtroom. Everyone with the exception of Abigail Williams, that is.

His inability to comprehend the girl's wickedness provides one of the more amusing aspects of this otherwise somber character. Although he yells and interrogates the others, he often seems too embarrassed to accuse the beautiful Miss Williams of any lascivious activity. 

During the trial, John Proctor announces that he and Abigail were having an affair. Proctor further establishes that Abigail wants Elizabeth dead so she can become his new bride.

In the stage directions, Miller states that Danforth asks, "You deny every scrap and tittle of this?" In response, Abigail hisses, "If I must answer that, I will leave and I will not come back again."

Miller then states in the stage directions that Danforth "seems unsteady." The old Judge is unable to speak, and the young Abigail seems more in control of the courtroom than anyone else.

In Act Four, when it becomes clear that the allegations of witchcraft are completely false, Danforth refuses to see the truth. He hangs innocent people to avoid sullying his own reputation.

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Bradford, Wade. "'The Crucible' Character Study: Judge Danforth." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-crucible-character-study-judge-danforth-2713481. Bradford, Wade. (2020, August 29). 'The Crucible' Character Study: Judge Danforth. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-crucible-character-study-judge-danforth-2713481 Bradford, Wade. "'The Crucible' Character Study: Judge Danforth." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-crucible-character-study-judge-danforth-2713481 (accessed March 21, 2023).