Comment on Jonson's "The Alchemist" as a comedy.

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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"The Alchemist" by Ben Jonson is, I think, one of the most perfect comedies ever written. Kenneth Tynan, the veteran theatre critic, described is as "good episodic play ...bead after bead, the episodes click together upon the connecting string, which is chicanery and chiselry."

It's basically a farce with a very dark underbelly. A conceit is set up: two conmen con stupid person after stupid person and get money from them. Each gull sees a different set of disguises from the two conmen: a lot of costume changes, a lot of props changes, and a lot of running aroudn ensue!

Yet then Jonson gradually complicates matters by having the gulls come in unexpectedly. The conmen gradually lose their control over the plot, and the strings become harder and harder to hold on to: and their methods of keeping the con running get ever more complicated (so, when Surly tricks them into thinking that he is a Spanish Grandee, they have to hide him in a room in the house and arrange to marry him off to Dame Pliant in order to get his money and get him out of the way!).

In one scene in Act 4, most of the gulls appear at the same time, and the conmen have to really struggle to hold things together. And it is JUST at the point where they think they have managed it that Lovewit comes back from his holidays, and they have to rapidly evacuate the house - forgetting about Dapper, whom they have locked in the toilet, in the process!

It's a difficult play to read on the page. But see a good production, and you'll see that it really is an amazing comedy.

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