The Alchemist (Jonson)

The Alchemist (Jonson) Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Is The Alchemist too cruel to be a comedy?

    This question asks you to consider The Alchemist generically as a comedy, but to weigh its sense of humor with the cruelty of the play towards its characters (and perhaps, towards its audience). How would you define a comedy? Does The Alchemist fit your definition?

  2. 2

    "Believ't, I will." (1.1.1). How important is "belief" to the play as a whole?

    This question invites you to examine the concept of belief (and its synonyms) and relate it to your view of the play. Remember that this is the first line of the play, so it might be particularly significant in the author's view. Consider different modes of belief. Theater, remember, relies on what Coleridge called "the willing suspension of disbelief."

  3. 3

    "Hieronymo's old cloak, ruff and hat will serve" (4.7.71). Analyse Jonson's The Alchemist in the light of what you know about Elizabethan and Jacobean theater.

    This quote asks you to look at the play objectively as a piece of theater from 1610, and to combine insights about the play with opinions about the contemporary theater. Where and how is theater mentioned in the play? Are there specific in-jokes within the play itself? (Looking up "Hieronimo" will give you a further clue.)

  4. 4

    What is the importance of the title of the play?

    Consider why Jonson might have called his play The Alchemist. How does alchemy as an idea relate to the play as you understand it? What part does alchemy play in the play? Who is the alchemist--and in what ways is he really an alchemist?

  5. 5

    "I would be glad to thrive, sir." (1.3.13). Write a character study of Abel Drugger.

    Describe Drugger's role in the play by asking questions such as, What sort of man is he? How is he essential to the plot? Why might this quotation be an appropriate starting point for an answer?

  6. 6

    "His Satire points at no Defect, / But what all Mortals may correct..." (Swift). Do you think The Alchemist's satire is corrective?

    This question invites you to consider the different groups that the play satirizes, looking in detail at how they are satirized. Swift here suggests that satire should only point out things that people could then correct; is that how Jonson's satire works? You also should define satire as you see it in relation to The Alchemist.

  7. 7

    DAPPER: Is this the cunning man?

    FACE: This is his worship. (1.2.8-9).

    Write about the various roles which Face, Subtle, and Dol Common play within The Alchemist and comment on the effect of this role-playing.

    Outline the different roles played by each of the characters (and consider, briefly, why these might be appropriate or humorous characters for them to take on) and then examine why--within the plot and within the play--they might choose to role-play in this way. Why is acting a good method of gulling?

  8. 8

    "... you'll make her royal with the stone / An Empress, and yourself King of Bantam." (2.3.319-20). Write a character analysis of Epicure Mammon.

    There are many possible approaches to this huge question. What is Mammon's purpose in the play? What does his name mean? What sort of character is he? How does he interact with Surly, and what does Surly teach us about Mammon?

  9. 9

    "'Fore God! My intelligence / Costs me more money, than my share oft comes to" (1.4.107-8). How important is money to The Alchemist?

    This question asks you to look at the play through a thematic lens. Money is the reason that Face and Subtle carry out the cons, but it is also the reason many of the gulls want to visit the Blackfriars house. A good answer to this question might consider both angles. Does the play suggest anything about Jonson's financial purpose in writing the play?

  10. 10

    "I fart at thee." (1.1.1). Analyse the continuing quarrel between Face and Subtle in The Alchemist.

    Describe the various points of quarrelling (start at the first scene) during the play, and look at the roles they take in the play as a whole. What is each quarrel about? Especially important might be an interpretation of the ending: how does the quarrel crucially change the final events before Lovewit's re-arrival? For comparison, consider the other quarrels in the play.