The Alchemist (Jonson)

The Alchemist (Jonson) Glossary


An extensive glossary is available at


The pursuit of the Philosopher's Stone, also called the red stone, which would turn base metal into gold, and other such efforts to produce gold.


A calendar that contains astronomical data and calculations, ecclesiastical and other anniversaries, and astrological forecasts.

Aristotle’s Unities

From Aristotle's Poetics, the classical unities declare that a play should take place in "real time," which means that the length of the play is the same as the timespan it depicts--or no more than a full day, and that the play should be set in one place only. The third unity dictates that there should be just one main plot.


An area of central London in the southwest corner of the city. Today, it is a wealthy area full of investment banks. The term is still known as representing a theater company.


From French "bonne et belle," the word means "good and pretty."


Hugh Broughton, whom Dol's "scholar" has gone mad with studying, was an expert in Judaic history and law. It is from his work that Dol quotes copiously when she is "in her fit of talking" (Act 4, Scene 5).


A ghittern, an instrument like a guitar. Dol plays it in Act 3, Scene 5, during the "Fairy Queen" section.


A rich silk fabric woven with elaborate designs and figures, often of a variety of colors. The term also can be applied to any long, reasonable-quality length of material, including furniture coverings and curtains. "True damasks are wholly of silk, but the term is now applied to any fabric of wool, linen, or cotton, woven in the manner of the first damasks" (Beck, Draper's Dictionary). (Near-verbatim paraphrase of definition at

Feng shui

Literally "wind-water," the ancient Chinese art of arranging items and spaces in harmony with the environment. This is a good analogue of what Drugger asks of the Doctor in his first scene.


"Gambling Fly" or "Gambling Spirit," a spirit, like a fairy, which would provide useful information. Dapper wants a fly that will allow him to always win at gambling.


A person who is credulous and foolish (thus "gullible"). It is common to refer to the victims of the conmen as "gulls" in critical practice; the word also occurs in the play.


Areas for producing hops, an ingredient in beer.


Theater elements that draw attention to its own unreality or its nature as mere theater, reminding the audience that they are watching a play and often asking the audience to consider the play more critically.


A lavatory or latrine.


A formal way of repudiating argument, that is, to aggressively find fault with a person, or to reprove angrily. This is a key pastime of an "angry boy" and one that Kastrill is keen to take up. Compare the youth who follow Socrates around, in Plato's works, because they enjoy learning how to refute opponents.


Codling; a small, unripe apple, or metaphorically a newbie, an unwitting young boy.

The Philosopher's Stone

A long-sought but elusive chemical compound (not always a stone--it could be, and is in the play, a liquid) that could transform base metal into gold.

The Statute of Sorcery

A legal act passed in 1541 that forbade using incantations and divinations to find gold or silver or discover lots or stolen goods. It was repealed in 1863.