Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

Outside the house, Lovewit — the master of the house — was talking with several neighbors.

Lovewit said, “Has there been such visiting, you say?”

Neighbor #1 said, “Daily, sir.”

Neighbor #2 said, “And nightly, too.”

Neighbor #3 said, “Yes, and some visitors were dressed as splendidly as lords.”

Neighbor #4 said, “There were ladies and gentlewomen.”

Neighbor #5 said, “Citizens’ wives.”

Neighbor #1 said, “And Knights.”

Neighbor #6 said, “In coaches.”

Neighbor #2 said, “Yes, and women who sell oysters.”

Neighbor #1 said, “Beside other gallants.”

Neighbor #3 said, “Sailors’ wives.”

Neighbor #4 said, “Tobacco men.”

Neighbor #5 said, “Another Pimlico!”

Pimlico was a crowded tavern in a resort area.

Lovewit asked, “What would my servant Jeremy the butler advertise to draw this large company of people? Did he hang out any banners advertising a strange calf with five legs to be seen, or a huge lobster with six claws?”

Neighbor #6 said, “No, sir.”

Neighbor #3 said, “We would have gone in the house if he had, sir.”

Lovewit said, “He has no gift of teaching in the nose that I ever knew of.”

Puritans were reputed to preach — a kind of teaching — with a nasal twang.

Lovewit asked the neighbors, “Did you see any bills set up that promised the cure of fevers or the toothache?”

Neighbor #2 said, “We saw no such thing, sir.”

Lovewit asked, “Did you ever hear a drum struck to advertise the chance to see baboons or puppets?”

Neighbor #5 said, “We never have, sir.”

Lovewit said, “What kind of a scheme did Jeremy the butler bring forth now? I love an abundant wit and intelligence as I love my nourishment. I pray to God that Jeremy the butler has not kept such open house that he has sold my hangings and my bedding! I left him nothing else that he could sell. If he has ‘eaten’ them, then I say, ‘A plague on the moth!’ Or surely he has gotten some bawdy pictures to call together all this gang of people. He has been showing a bawdy picture of the friar and the nun, or a bawdy picture of the Knight’s courser sexually covering the parson’s mare, or a bawdy picture of a six-year-old boy with an enormous penis. Or perhaps, he has a flea circus in which fleas run at full tilt upon a table, or he has a dancing dog.”

He then asked, “When did you last see him?”

Neighbor #1 asked, “Who, sir, Jeremy?”

Neighbor #2 said, “Jeremy the butler? We haven’t seen him at all this month.”

“What!” a shocked Lovewit said.

Neighbor #4 said, “Not for the past five weeks, sir.”

Neighbor #6 said, “For the past six weeks at the least.”

“You amaze me, neighbors!” Lovewit said.

Neighbor #5 said, “To be sure, if your worship doesn’t know where he is, he’s slipped away.”

Neighbor #6 said, “Pray to God that he has not been made away. Pray to God that he has not been murdered.”

Lovewit said, “In that case, it’s not the time to ask questions.”

He knocked on the door of his house.

Neighbor #6 said, “About three weeks ago, I heard a doleful cry as I sat up mending my wife’s stockings.”

“It is strange that no one will answer the door!” Lovewit said. “Did you hear a cry, did you say?”

Neighbor #6 said, “Yes, sir, it was like the cry of a man who had been strangled for an hour and could not speak.”

Neighbor #2 said, “I heard it, too, exactly three weeks ago at two o’clock this coming morning.”

Lovewit said, “These are miracles, or you make them seem like miracles! A man was strangled for an hour and could not speak, and yet both of you heard him cry out?”

Neighbor #3 said, “Yes, downward, sir.”

Neighbor #3 may have meant that the cry came from the cellar.

Lovewit said, “You are a wise fellow. Give me your hand.”

They shook hands, and Lovewit asked, “Please, what is your trade?”

Neighbor #3 said, “I am a blacksmith, if it pleases your worship.”

“A blacksmith!” Lovewit said. “Then lend me your help to get this door open.”

Neighbor #3 said, “That I will immediately, sir, but let me fetch my tools.”

He exited.

Neighbor #3 said, “Sir, it’s best to knock again, before you break down the door.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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