ALCHEMIST, The. In (The Alchemist,' the crowning composition of that second period of Jonson's comedy which began about 1605, we have, in Coleridge's judgment, one of the three perfect plots of all literature, revolving around characters whose very extravagances broaden our knowledge of human nature. The first of modern critics, Jonson subjected every thing, his own work and that of his fellows, as well as the life of his times to the censure of a method." This critical faculty in Jonson explains both the rigors of his technical codes and the note of conscious didacticism with which his work is sharpened. As an artist Jonson reprehended those who come in cro bustiously,° those who to do more than enough," who cutter all they can, however un fitly." In observing his ideal of and mean" he clings to the unities of time, place and action.
Jonson's moral passions are the outgrowths of his rugged honesty of temper. His gallery of humors varies as it goes back to one of two sides of dishonesty and pretense, the com manding side which preys upon the weaknesses of its fellows; the weaker side of gulls and sycophants. Of the two it is not difficult to see for which Jonson has the greater sympathy. The dignity of Subtle's pretensions demands and secures a dignified going-out; and Face comes off scot-free because he has wit. Only the gulls are punished without pity. The per sonages of such a play as
Subtle, the Alchemist, belongs to an ancient order of cheaters that had been attacked by Chaucer as well as by Lyly. Alchemy as a science was no more believed in by London than were ghosts. To Jonson it meant the preten sions of learning, cozening the avaricious and fools. Subtle is the magnificent cheater. Face
belongs to a very old family of sycophants in the history of comedy. Sir Epicure Mammon is a burlesque Jew of Malta brought under the sway of the cheater and revelling in the poetry of avarice. Dapper and Abel Drugger, Kastrill and the men of the church, are figures from contemporary life. The two in the play who are neither cheaters nor cheated are appro priately enough Surly and Lovewit. Like Shakespeare's women Jonson's women were written for men actors. He had none of Shakespeare's witching power for putting womanhood over through the disguise. Dol Common, perhaps on account of her jovial mas culinity, is a real character.
In its main features