Is The Alchemist by Ben Jonson a comedy?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Although there are certain elements of a morality tale in this play, overwhelmingly there are far more elements that make this play a comedy - the theme of "gulling" or deceiving was very popular in Johnson's times and the audience is able to enjoy the "fleecing" of the central characters of a number of stock characters, that are deliberately undeveloped and rather shallow. These characters have also been carefully chosen to represent a cross-section of London society, so all can enjoy and laugh at the way they are tricked. Besides the coincidences and slapstick comedy that ensues, the real humour lies not just in the skill of the "fleecers" (Face, Subtle and Dol Common), but in the characters who are fleeced themselves. For it is ultimately they who allow themselves to be deceived by their greed. They project all of their desires onto the central characters and are therefore easily gulled. The one room as well which is where the action of the play occurs, changes for each "customer". Of course, there is the obvious comparison between the willingness of the audience to be gulled in exactly the same way, as we believe what is set before us, no matter how unbelievable or ridiculous, expecting the "alchemy" of the theatre to transform it into reality. The last laugh, therefore, is actually on us.

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