The Alchemist (Jonson)

Gulls Onstage, and in the Audience: Perspective in The Alchemist 11th Grade

“The gulls in the alchemist do not deserve wealth so much as a perfected image of themselves.”

There are two groups of gulls in The Alchemist; on the evidence of Jonson’s commentary on his own work, he presented the image that the gulled characters deserved neither of two typical narrative rewards (namely, wealth and self-refinement) unless they would undergo significant changes. Naturally, we have our Dapper, Drugger, and Mammon in the early acts of the play as the standard "gulls" or dupes within Jonson's satiric action. However, arguably the real gulls in The Alchemist are the paying audience members themselves, and Jonson encourages the audience’s mental participation in the venture of the play in a manner that creates exactly this ironic relationship.

Why are the audience members gulls? Surely they would think themselves intelligent enough not to be tricked - after all, the wealthy would have paid for their shilling seat in the Blackfriars theatre. But as Jonson relates to the audience in the prologue, ‘fortune favours fools,’ suggesting the wealthy audience to be fools themselves. As promoted in ‘To the Reader’ we may be the ‘reader,’ but we may not also be the ‘understander,’ of Jonson’s work. Material wealth does not...

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