le 11 octobre 2004
A comedy that reveals some common traits in Ben Jonson plays. The Alchemist is a crook who, with the help of a woman and a servant, tries to get as much money as possible from anyone who is ready to believe brilliant promises founded on myths like turning lead into gold, or ready palms, or ready the stars and predicting the future, or getting married to some nobleman. It is all a bunch of lies wrapped up in beautiful language that uses a lot of Latin and Greek to make the promises both dim and brilliant, dim in meaning and brilliant in sound. It works very well till the neighbours start complaining about the agitation in the street and in the house, and till the owner of the house comes back and finds out what is going on. But the servant, aptly named Face, manages to get out of the trap by providing the owner of the house with a wife in the shape of a widow that had been brought in to marry a hypothetical Spanish count. She takes the first one that is ready to go through the procedure and it is the landlord. Since she brings a good dowry, this landlord keeps the servant Face in his service. On the other side the two other crooks, Subtle, the Alchemist, and Doll, his woman, have escaped through the backyard leaving everything behind, particularly everything they had been able to get from their gullible clients. Face gets the profit and is purified by his new master. The master of the house easily gets everyone out, all the complainers who do not dare go to a court, especially since they have no written evidence of the tricks they have been the victims of, which would mean they would look like fools. They just drop the matter and go away. Crooks once again work in groups and it is the lowest servant of the band that reveals himself to be more intelligent and swift than his own master, so that he cheats him out of the profit, he manages to get clean out of the business, and he even gets a better position than before. All along Ben Jonson ridicules doctors, puritans, rich people who want to satisfy their ambition for power with quick easy and somewhat magical means. Hence the gullible victims of such crooks are definitely made fun of, though Ben Jonson saves morality in a way by punishing the master crook who loses everything, and yet is immoral because the crook apprentice or helper gets all the profit, hence stealing all the victims of what they had paid or given. Rather brilliant though slightly verbose.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU