Reverend Parris prays beside his daughter's bed. Ten-year-old Betty Parris lies in an unresponsive state. She has been in this condition since her father discovered her and her cousin Abigail Williams dancing in the woods. Susanna Walcott enters to inform the Reverend that Doctor Griggs has been unable to find a medical explanation for Betty's condition and suggests that he look for an unnatural cause. Abigail and the Reverend instruct Susanna to return home and say nothing more of the possibility of such things. Abigail informs her uncle that their parlor is packed with townspeople who have heard rumors of witchcraft. It is being said that Betty has been bewitched. Parris berates his niece for dancing in the woods with the other girls and his slave Tituba. Tituba had been intoning unintelligible words and waving her arms above a fire while the girls danced. He demands to know what she was singing and why he saw a dress on the ground. Had there been nudity as well? She denies this as well as the idea that they had been practicing witchcraft. Her uncle is concerned about the future of his position in the parish as well as his daughter's health. Abigail had recently been discharged from her position at Elizabeth Proctor's and since, no other family had sought her service. Goody Proctor has insinuated that Abigail is a corrupt girl. Parris asks if she has done something to soil her name, and therefore his. Abigail is again denying wrongdoing when Ann Putnam enters and is soon followed by her husband. Goody Putnam informs Reverend Parris that another townsperson reported seeing his daughter Betty fly over a barn. When her husband enters, he informs Parris that his daughter, Ruth, is also afflicted but her symptoms are different from Betty's. Parris begs Thomas Putnam to refrain from blaming the situation on witchcraft (as it will threaten his position in the parish). Putnam feels only contempt for Parris however, and insists that evil spirits are to blame. He compels his wife to confess to Parris that she sent their daughter, Ruth, to Tituba to conjure up the spirits of her seven dead children so as to find out who was to blame for their deaths. Parris is horrified that his family was involved in conjuring spirits though Abigail insists it was only Tituba and Ruth. Putnam again declares that a murderous witch is at work and that Parris ought to announce the discovery of witchcraft.
As the proof is in his own home, the Reverend refuses to do this, at least until Reverend Hale arrives to investigate further. Mercy Lewis, the Putnam's servant girl, arrives saying she wants to check on Betty. As soon as the adults are gone however, she and Abigail begin to discuss the situation. Abigail lets her know how much has been confessed and instructs her to admit to nothing more. Another girl, Mary Warren, arrives and expresses her fear that they will be accused of witchcraft. She encourages the other girls to admit to dancing and accept a whipping. Betty cries out for her mother and screams at her cousin for having drunk a charm (blood) to kill Elizabeth Proctor. She then tries to leap from the window but is restrained. Abigail threatens the girls if they dare to speak about the events in the woods further. John Proctor enters and reprimands his servant, Mary Warren, for having left the house against his orders. She and Mercy Lewis leave and Abigail attempts to seduce Proctor into resuming their affair. He rejects her harshly.
At this point, a psalm is heard and Betty begins to scream bringing the others running and interrupting Abigail and Proctor. Rebecca Nurse advises everyone that the spectacle is all a child's silliness and nothing more. She believes that Betty and Ruth will come out of their afflicted states when they tire of the game. The adults continue to squabble, moving from the children to the issues of Parris' preaching and his pay. They then move on to issues of property and power. These are the true issues in the society. Reverend Hale arrives and the subject turns back to the children and the presence of witchcraft. Hale assesses the situation. He attempts to revive the now limp Betty while questioning Abigail. Abigail is forced into admitting further details of the night in the woods. She quickly jumps to blame Tituba and claims ignorance. Tituba is called for and is shocked when Abigail accuses her. She denies being affiliated with the Devil. Abigail continues accusing until the crowd has been worked up and calls for the execution of the slave. Tituba caves in at this point and tells the people that she is an unwilling servant to the Devil. She says that she believes one of the Devil's other witches is afflicting the children. She is questioned further and Putnam even goes as far as to suggest certain women in the town as possibly being the witch. Tituba picks up the hint and accuses the women, Goody Good and Goody Osburn, suggested by Putnam. Abigail suddenly rises and claims to also have seen those women with the Devil as well as Bridget Bishop. Betty catches on at this point and rises from her unconscious state to join her cousin in accusing several others.