Last Updated on June 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573
Subtle, the Alchemist, a moldy, disreputable cheat. Joining forces with Jeremy Butler and Dol Common, he uses his fund of scientific and pseudo-scientific jargon to fleece the gullible. He promises large returns from transmutation of metals, astrological prophecies, physical nostrums, or whatever seems most likely to entrap his victims....
(The entire section contains 1951 words.)
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Subtle, the Alchemist, a moldy, disreputable cheat. Joining forces with Jeremy Butler and Dol Common, he uses his fund of scientific and pseudo-scientific jargon to fleece the gullible. He promises large returns from transmutation of metals, astrological prophecies, physical nostrums, or whatever seems most likely to entrap his victims. When the master of the house returns, he is forced to take flight without his gains.
Face (Jeremy Butler), Subtle’s contact man, who furnishes his master’s house as the Alchemist’s headquarters. He is a resourceful, quick-witted improviser. Disguised as a rough, blunt captain, he entices victims to the house. When his master, Lovewit, returns home unexpectedly, he arranges a marriage between Lovewit and the Widow Pliant, thereby escaping punishment.
Dol Common, the third of the tricksters, the common mistress of the other two. Her dominant personality keeps her quarrelsome cohorts in line. She can act various roles, such as an exotic lady or the Queen of the Fairies, to carry out Subtle’s various schemes. Along with Subtle, she is forced to flee with the jeers of Face following her.
Sir Epicure Mammon
Sir Epicure Mammon, a fantastic voluptuary. He is a veritable fountain of lust and imagined luxury, and he seeks the philosopher’s stone to help him to unbounded self-indulgence. When his investment is wiped out by the explosion of the Alchemist’s furnace, planned and well-timed by Subtle, Sir Epicure confesses that he has been justly punished for his voluptuous mind.
Abel Drugger, a small-time tobacconist ambitious for commercial success. Engaged to the Widow Pliant, he takes her and her brother Kastril to the Alchemist. He is tricked not only out of his money but also out of the widow.
Kastril, an angry boy, brother of the Widow Pliant. He has come to London to learn to smoke and quarrel. Face uses him to get rid of the skeptic, Surly. He is much taken with old Lovewit, who quarrels well, and consents to his sister’s marriage to him.
Pertinax Surly, a sour skeptic who prides himself on being too astute to be tricked. First coming to the Alchemist’s as a friend of Sir Epicure, he returns disguised as a Spanish don, planning to save the Widow Pliant from Subtle and Face and to marry her. He is driven away by Kastril and loses the widow to Lovewit.
Tribulation Wholesome, an oily Puritan hypocrite from Amsterdam. Being quite willing to compromise his conscience for profit, he has difficulty restraining his uncompromising companion, Deacon Ananias.
Ananias, a deacon, a hot-tempered zealot who considers even the word “Christmas” a papist abomination. Quarrelsome at first, he finally agrees that counterfeiting is lawful if it is for the benefit of the faithful. Along with Tribulation, he is driven away by Lovewit.
Dame Pliant, an easygoing, attractive young widow, affianced to Drugger but perfectly willing to accept another husband. Subtle and Face both hope to marry her, but the latter decides that it is safer to hand her over to Lovewit, his master.
Lovewit, the master of the house, who has left London because of the plague. His absence sets up the plot, and his return resolves it. He drives away Subtle, Dol, and their victims, but he forgives Jeremy Butler (Face) when Butler arranges a marriage between his master and the rich young widow, Dame Pliant.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 173
Jeremy is Master Lovewit's butler. He is known to his friends as Face, while Lungs is the persona Jeremy assumes as the alchemist's assistant. Knowing that while the plague continues to claim victims Lovewit will remain absent, Jeremy decides to offer the home and his services to an acquaintance, Subtle and his partner Dol, so that they can prepare an elaborate swindle. He is smart and inventive. In his disguise as Face, he is able to recruit new victims to the house and the swindle.
When Lovewit returns unexpectedly, Jeremy offers marriage to the rich Widow Pliant as a means of escaping punishment. Lungs is an appropriate name for one who assists an alchemist with the dark and shadowy process of turning base metals into gold. His name conjures up the smoky furnace of the alchemist's laboratory. Since alchemy is also associated with Satan, Lungs also suggest the fires and smoke of hell. Face is symbolic of the many faces, names, and characters that Jeremy can assume depending on his need and audience.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 160
Drugger is a tobacconist who is also a victim of the swindlers. Drugger is seeking a magic that will tell him where to place the doors of his new shop and where to store certain goods so that he can make more money and be successful in his enterprise. The swindlers tell Drugger that it will be his fortune to enjoy great success and that he will achieve a position beyond his youthful years. Drugger returns to the swindlers a second time with a story about a rich young widow who would like her fortune told. He hopes that Subtle will assist with a match between the tobacconist and the widow.
The smoking of tobacco in London began with the importation of the product from the New World. Since Drugger was used to refer to someone who dealt in drugs or who functioned as a druggist, Jonson's use of the name may suggest that he viewed tobacco as a drug.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188
Mammon is a disreputable knight who is guilty of avarice and lechery. He is a great believer in alchemy. He anticipates being able to transform all the base metals in his house into gold and precious metals. He has grandiose plans to be wealthy and to acquire all the lead, tin, and copper available, which he will then turn into gold. He also thinks he can turn old men young, cure all disease, and eliminate the plague. Mammon even pays more money for the extra promises the stone offers. He expects to have many wives and mistresses, silk clothing, and wonderful perfumes.
After Mammon catches a glimpse of Dol, he is enamored and wants to marry her.
As is true for so many of the swindler's victims, Mammon is foolish and greedy and an unsympathetic victim of his own avarice. The explosion of the alchemist's furnace wipes out Mammon's investment in the scheme. Mammon's origination is a Greek word for riches. In Medieval English, Mammon is thought to be the name of the devil who covets riches. Its use in Jonson's play describes the nature of the character.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 857
Ananias is one of the holy Brethren of Amsterdam. He is a Puritan who seeks out the swindlers so that he might secure possession of the philosopher's stone. He hopes to increase his influence through possessing the stone. But when Ananias tells the alchemist that the Brethren will not invest any more money in the stone, Subtle drives the Puritan from the house. Later he returns with another elder, Tribulation Wholesome, and the promise to pay more money. He is zealous and quarrelsome, an idealist who rejects Christmas as too Catholic but who decides that counterfeiting is not really a crime if it benefits his congregation. In the Bible, Ananias is a man who was struck dead for lying.
Dapper is a law clerk who gambles and who hopes to learn how to win at games of chance. Jeremy met Dapper at the Dagger and the young law clerk comes to the house seeking assistance and a means to win at racing and gambling. Dapper pays Subtle and is told that a rare star was aligned at his birth, a good fairy, who will help him win. When Dapper returns prepared to meet his fairy, he is stripped, his mouth is stuffed with gingerbread, and he is locked in an outhouse as a more important customer arrives at the house.
The word dapper was identified with young men who present themselves as neat, trim, and smart in appearance, but was also often associated with littleness or pettiness.
See Jeremy Butler
Kastril, brother to Dame Pliant, has recently inherited money, and he wants to learn to be quarrelsome so that he might be a gentleman and a gallant. He is referred to as the angry boy. He is given a lesson in quarreling by Subtle. At the play's conclusion, Kastril is very impressed with Lovewit's ability to quarrel and so consents to his sister's marriage to Lovewit. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the word, Kastril, is thought to be a derivative of Kestrel, a type of small hawk that is most noted for its ability to hold itself in the same place in the air with its head turned into the wind.
Lovewit is master of the house. Because of the plague that has hit London in 1610, he has left town and taken refuge in the country. He returns home earlier than expected and interrupts the swindle that his butler, Jeremy, has undertaken. He decides to forgive his butler in exchange for his assistance in marrying a rich widow who will make him feel seven years younger. Lovewit's departure from London permits the knavery to begin; his return brings the trickery to a close. He forgives his butler for allowing his master's house to be used in the deceptions, hence the love origin of Lovewit's name.
See Jeremy Butler
See Dame Pliant
Dame Pliant is a soft and buxom widow, who just happens to be rich and whom Drugger seeks to marry. Surly also wishes to marry her, but in the end, Dame Pliant weds Lovewit. Although she is engaged to Drugger she is willing to marry another man, hence the meaning of her name ("pliant" meaning flexible).
See Pertinax Surly
Subtle is a swindler who poses as an alchemist. He is disreputable and uses his persuasive abilities to cheat his gullible victims. Subtle has a talent for language and so presents a sort of pseudo-science that convinces his willing victims to part with their money. When Lovewit returns, Subtle is forced to flee without his gains. Subtle fits the definition of his name: he is cunning and crafty, difficult to discern or perceive, and a skillful, clever liar.
Surly is experienced with swindlers and he immediately suspects that Face, Dol, and Subtle are conducting a swindle. He is unconvinced at the evidence, and so Sir Mammon attempts to persuade Surly with documents. Surly, however, is unconvinced. He is finally sent off on an errand. When Surly returns in Act IV, he is dressed as a Spaniard who cannot speak English. The swindlers heap insults upon Surly when they think he cannot understand English. When left alone in the garden with Dame Plaint, Surly reveals the swindlers' purpose and proposes marriage to the widow.
As his name suggests, Surly is a menacing threat to Subtle and his partners. He is unfriendly and rude, and as his first name (probably derived from pertinacious) alludes, he is tenacious in his quest to expose the swindlers.
Wholesome is a church elder who accompanies Ananias on his second trip to see the swindlers. He promises more money and when he is told that he and Ananias might transform pewter into money, he finds he must debate the ethics of coining foreign money. Like Ananias, Wholesome represents Jonson's use of satire to poke fun at Puritanism. Wholesome is the opposite of his name. He is much more willing that Ananias to forget ethical concerns when the question becomes one of compromise and profit or conscience.