Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 3

— 5.3 —

Surly said sarcastically to Sir Epicure Mammon, “No, sir, he was a great physician. This, it was no bawdy house, but an absolute church! You knew the lord and his sister.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Good Surly —”

Surly continued, “The happy word, BE RICH —”

Sir Epicure Mammon continued, “Don’t play the tyrant.”

Surly continued, “— should be today pronounced to all your friends. And where are your andirons now? And your brass pots that should have been golden flagons and great wedges of precious metals — large ingots of gold and silver?”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Let me just say something. What! They have shut their doors, I think!”

“Yes, now it is holiday with them,” Surly said.

Sir Epicure Mammon and Surly began to knock on the doors.

“Rogues, cheaters, impostors, bawds!” Sir Epicure Mammon shouted.

Face asked, “What do you mean by knocking at this house, sir?”

Face was freshly shaven and he was wearing a servant’s livery, and so Sir Epicure Mammon and Surly did not recognize him.

Sir Epicure Mammon replied, “To enter it if we can.”

“Another man’s house!” Face said. “Here is the owner, sir: turn to him, and state your business.”

“Are you, sir, the owner?” Sir Epicure Mammon asked Lovewit.

“Yes, sir,” Lovewit replied.

“And are those knaves within your cheaters?”

“What knaves? What cheaters?”

“Subtle and his Lungs,” Sir Epicure Mammon replied.

“The gentleman is distracted, sir!” Face said. “No lungs nor lights have been seen here for the past three weeks, sir, within these doors, upon my word.”

The word “lights” was a pun. In this society, it meant “lungs.”

Surly said, “Do you swear to that, arrogant groom!”

“Yes, sir, I am the housekeeper,” Face said, “and I know the keys have not been out of my hands.”

“This is a new Face,” Surly said.

He did not recognize Face; he meant that here was a new person who was as arrogant as Face.

“You have mistaken this house for another, sir,” Face said. “What sign was the one you are seeking?”

Brothels and taverns and ordinaries had signs hanging outside.

“You rascal!” Surly said.

He said to Sir Epicure Mammon, “This is one of the confederacy of villains. Come, let’s get police officers and force open the doors.”

Lovewit said, “I ask you to wait, gentlemen.”

“No, sir,” Surly said. “We’ll come back with a warrant.”

Sir Epicure Mammon said, “Yes, and then we shall have your doors opened.”

Sir Epicure Mammon and Surly exited.

Lovewit asked Face, “What is the meaning of this?”

“I cannot tell, sir,” Face replied.

Neighbor #1 said, “These are two of the gallants whom we think we saw.”

“Two of the fools!” Face said. “You talk as idly as they do.”

He said to Lovewit, “Truly, sir, I think the Moon has crazed them all.”

Seeing Kastril coming, he said to himself, “Oh, me, the angry boy has come, too! He’ll make a noise, and never go away until he has betrayed us all.”

Kastril knocked on the doors and shouted, “Rogues, bawds, slaves! You’ll open the door, immediately! Punk, cockatrice, my suster! By this light I’ll fetch the marshal to you. You are a whore to keep your castle —”

“Cockatrice” is a slang word for a whore, perhaps because the word contains the words “cock” and “trice.” The word “trice means “very quickly,” so the word “cockatrice” can be understood as meaning “cock in a very short time.”

Kastril was afraid that his sister had slept with the Spanish Don — or with someone else.

The freshly shaven Face asked, “Who would you speak with, sir?”

Kastril said, “The bawdy Doctor, and the cheating Captain, and puss my suster.”

Lovewit said, “There’s something to this, surely.”

Face said, “Upon my trust, the doors were never open, sir.”

Kastril said, “I have heard all their tricks told me twice over by the fat Knight and the lean gentleman. They have told me the cons going on here.”

Sir Epicure Mammon and Surly were the fat Knight and the lean gentleman. Surly had worn padding as part of his disguise as the Spanish Don.

Lovewit said, “Here comes another group.”

Ananias and Tribulation Wholesome walked over to the group.

Face said to himself, “Ananias, too! And his pastor!”

Tribulation Wholesome knocked loudly on the doors and said, “The doors are shut against us.”

“Come forth, you seed of sulphur, sons of fire!” Ananias shouted. “Your stench of evil has broken forth; abomination is in the house.”

“Yes, my suster’s there,” Kastril said.

Ananias said, “The place, it has become a cage of unclean birds.”

Kastril said, “Yes, I will fetch the scavenger and the constable.”

The scavenger was a public official who hired people to clean the streets.

Tribulation Wholesome said to Kastril, “You shall do well if you do that.”

Ananias said, “We’ll join together in order to weed them out.”

Kastril shouted, “You will not come then, punk-device, my sister?”

“Punk” means “whore.” “Point-device” means “perfect attention to detail.” By calling his sister a punk-device, Kastril was calling her a “whore in every detail.”

Ananias said, “Don’t call her ‘sister’; she’s a harlot verily.”

To Ananias, a “sister” was a “female Puritan.”

Kastril said, “I’ll raise the street — I’ll call people here to help us.”

Lovewit said, “Good gentleman, a word.”

Ananias said, “Satan, leave us, and do not hinder our religious zeal!”

Ananias, Tribulation Wholesome, and Kastril exited.

“The world’s turned Bedlam,” Lovewit said. “Everyone’s gone crazy.”

Face said, “These people have all broken loose out of St. Katherine’s Hospital, where they are accustomed to keep the better sort of mad-folks.”

Neighbor #1 said, “All these persons we have seen going in and out of here.”

Neighbor #2 said, “Yes, indeed, sir.”

Neighbor #3 said, “These were the parties.”

“Silence, you drunkards!” Face said.

Then he said to Lovewit, “Sir, I wonder at this. If it would please you to give me permission to touch the door, I’ll test it to see if the lock has been changed.”

“This amazes me!” Lovewit said.

Face went to the door and said, “Truly, sir, I believe there’s no such thing. This is all deceptio visus — a hallucination.”

Deceptio visus is Latin for “the deception of sight.”

Face thought, I wish could get my master away from here.

From inside the house, Dapper shouted, “Master Captain! Master Doctor!”

Lovewit asked Face, “Who’s that?”

Face thought, He’s Dapper, our clerk within, whom I forgot about!

He replied, “I don’t know, sir.”

From inside the house, Dapper shouted, “For God’s sake, when will her grace be at leisure?”

He was referring to the Queen of Fairy.

Face said, “Ha! Illusions! Some spirit of the air!”

He thought, Dapper’s gag of gingerbread has melted, and now he is displaying his throat by shouting.

From inside the house, Dapper shouted, “I am almost stifled —”

Face thought, I wish you were entirely stifled.

Lovewit said, “The shouting is from inside the house. Ha! Listen.”

Face said, “Believe me, sir. The shouting is in the air. It’s spirits.”

“Be silent, you,” Lovewit said.

From inside the house, Dapper shouted, “My aunt’s grace is not treating me well.”

From inside the house, Subtle said, “You fool, be quiet. You’ll ruin everything.”

Face spoke to Subtle through the keyhole, “If he doesn’t, you will.”

Unfortunately, Lovewit had moved closer to the door and Face had spoken loudly enough for Lovewit to overhear him.

“Oh, is that so?” Lovewit said. “Then you converse with spirits! Come, sir. No more of your tricks, good Jeremy. Tell me the truth, the shortest way — quickly and directly.”

Face requested, “Dismiss this rabble, sir.”

He was referring to the remaining neighbors.

Face thought, What shall I do? I have been caught!

Lovewit said, “Good neighbors, I thank you all. You may depart.”

The remaining neighbors exited.

Lovewit then said to Face, “Come, sir, you know that I am an indulgent master, and so therefore conceal nothing. What’s your medicine that can draw so many several sorts of wild fowl here?”

The medicine was a quack remedy that could be sold to “wild fowl” such as geese, aka fools. Without intending or knowing it, Lovewit was also referring to the alchemical medicine known as the elixir of life.

Face said, “Sir, you have been accustomed to appreciate mirth and wit — but in the street is no place to talk. Just give me leave to make the best of my fortune, and only pardon me the abuse of your house: It’s all I beg. In recompense for your forgiveness, I’ll help you to a widow, whom you shall give me thanks for. She will make you seven years younger, and she will make you a rich man. All that you will have to do is put on a Spanish cloak. I have the widow inside the house. You need not fear entering the house; it was not visited by the plague.”

Lovewit replied, “But it was visited by me, who came sooner than you expected.”

Face said, “That is true, sir. I ask that you forgive me.”

Lovewit said, “Well, let’s see your widow.”

They went inside the house.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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