The Alchemist (Jonson)

The Alchemist (Jonson) Summary and Analysis of Act 5, Scenes 1, 2, and 3

Lovewit stands outside the house with the Neighbors, who complain to him of all the people who have been going in and out of the house. When Lovewit asks where Jeremy the Butler has been, they say they have not seen him for five or six weeks. Lovewit, worried, sends for a locksmith, and then knocks one more time.

Face, now “clean-shaven as Jeremy,” opens the door and tells Lovewit to back away from the door because the plague has been in the house. Lovewit asks Face if he has had the plague, and when he says he has not, Lovewit asks who has—only Face had been left in the house. “The cat,” replies Face, somewhat bemused, but Lovewit is suspicious. When he repeats what the neighbors have just said, Face denies it outright, without explanation.

This may be a stalemate, but Surly and Mammon arrive, complaining bitterly about the treatment they have had from the conmen, barging past Lovewit to hammer on the door. Lovewit questions them, and they talk of “Subtle and his Lungs.” Face tries to laugh it off as madness, but Surly is suspicious, as well: “This’s a new Face?” he asks. Surly and Mammon exit, promising to return with a search warrant.

“What means this?” asks Lovewit. Face continues to deny all knowledge, but the Neighbors claim to recognize Surly and Mammon. Kastrill now enters and furiously knocks on the door, and he shouts for his sister, who is still inside the house. Before long, he is joined by Ananias and Tribulation. “The world’s turned Bedlam,” says Lovewit, and at that, the final straw breaks the camel’s back. Dapper, having been forgotten in the privy, shouts, “Master Captain, master Doctor!” Inside, Subtle runs to try to shut him up.

Face tries to improvise an answer, telling Lovewit that it is the voice of a spirit, but this is no good. Lovewit marches Face inside and instructs the neighbors to depart. “I am an indulgent master,” Lovewit says, and he instructs Face to reveal all. Face asks him to pardon “th’abuse of your house,” and he promises to help Lovewit “to a widow that … will make you seven years younger.” Amazingly, Lovewit seems pleased, and the two exit together.


After such a tightly wound build-up, the plot of The Alchemist unravels in minutes, and with one final arrival into the scene which Face’s improvisation cannot explain away. Face tries many tactics: straightforward lying, locking the door, claiming that the plague has been to the house, and–in the end–arguing that Dapper’s voice is that of a spirit. But Lovewit seems wiser than the gulls of the play, and he is capable of putting two and two together in a way that many other characters fail to do. His reasoning throughout this scene is what trips Face up. Face, too, does not attempt to hoodwink him at the very end; he seems honest in giving up the widow as a compromise.

What Face does not mention, however, is what will happen to the money left over from the cons. One option, I suggest, is that it is stored in a trapdoor in the stage. This could be the “pelf” to which Face refers in his epilogue.

With the return of the gulls, this is a more intense version of Act 4, Scene 7, with the new presence of Lovewit. Lovewit prevents the possibility of drawing out or delaying the con, for Face cannot surmount its difficulties. It is brilliant that Jonson reintroduces Dapper, who has been entirely forgotten by the conmen and the audience. One of the exciting features of the play is its accuracy in terms of time and Jonson’s painstaking care in picking up all the loose ends in the denouement. Lovewit, mentioned in the first scene, returns for the play’s final scenes, and Dapper, left in the privy to await the Fairy Queen, is not lost.

This is, incidentally, the only part of the play not set inside Lovewit’s house, and therefore it is something of a staging challenge. It presents a real difficulty to directors. Sam Mendes’s RSC production of 1993 used the same set, with Face entering through the same door he had just exited, employing another aspect of meta-theater.