The Crucible takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The action begins in the home of Reverend Parris, whose daughter Betty lies unconscious and appears very ill. Around midnight the night before, Parris had discovered Betty, his niece Abigail, and Tituba, his black slave, dancing in the woods, causing Betty to swoon. The local physician is unable to determine the cause of Betty's illness. Mr. and Mrs. Putnam arrive and reveal that their daughter Ruth is also ill. There is talk in the village of an unnatural cause.
Abigail warns her friend Mercy Lewis and the Proctors' servant Mary Warren, not to reveal that they were all casting spells in the woods. Betty wakes, and Abigail threatens the other girls with violence if they tell anyone that she drank blood and cast a spell in order to kill Goody Proctor. Betty loses consciousness again.
John Proctor and Abigail talk privately about their former relationship. Prior to the opening of the play, Abigail worked as a servant in the Proctor home. Elizabeth Proctor was ill at the time and Abigail took on more responsibility within the Proctor household. When Elizabeth discovered the affair, she dismissed Abigail. During their discussion, Abigail becomes angry with Proctor because he refuses to acknowledge any feelings for her.
Betty wakes again and is hysterical. The well-respected Rebecca Nurse is visiting the Parris household and calms her. Prophetically, Rebecca warns Parris that identifying witchcraft as the cause of Betty's illness will set a dangerous precedent and lead to further problems in Salem. Mr. Putnam asks Rebecca to visit Ruth and attempt to wake her. Ruth is the only Putnam child to survive infancy, and Mrs. Putnam is jealous of Rebecca because all of Rebecca's children are healthy, whereas Mrs. Putnam had lost seven infant children.
Putnam, Proctor, and Giles Corey argue with Parris about his salary and other expectations. Parris claims that a faction is working to drive him out of town, and he...