Alchemist Annotations



“Will you undo yourselves with civil war?”     (Act 1, scene 1, line 82)


Doll Common reprimands Face and Subtle for fighting over who is the brains of the outfit and who should get the largest share. Doll is the peacemaker, trying to get the men to work together instead of arguing. The image of civil war conveys the self-destructive tendency underlying their partnership. Sometimes they work brilliantly as a team, but there is always the desire to undercut and betray one another.



“. . . prove today who shall shark best.” (Act I, scene 1, line 159)


Face says this as the team prepare for the first victim of the day. Face and Subtle are always in a competition to prove who is the cleverest.


“He’s o’ the only best complexion/ The Queen of Fairy loves.” (Act 1, scene 2, line 105-6)


Subtle in his role as the alchemist pretends to read the fortune of Dapper, the law clerk who wants to win at gambling. Subtle predicts that Dapper has the right complexion or character to draw the attention of the Fairy Queen who will give him fortune. This sets the stage for Doll dressing up as the Fairy Queen to get more money out of the gullible Dapper.



“Nature doth first beget the imperfect, then/ Proceeds she to the perfect.”   

  (Act 2, scene 3, lines 158-9)


Subtle explains the philosophy of alchemy to Sir Epicure Mammon. Alchemy is the art of transforming what is base or imperfect into something perfect (gold). This is the way Nature works to constantly evolve everything; the alchemist just speeds up the process with his art.



“I’ll believe/ That alchemy is a pretty kind of game,/ Somewhat like tricks o’the cards, to cheat a man.” (Act 2, scene 3, lines 179-181)


Surly knows that Subtle and Face are running a con game and compares alchemy to cheating at cards because he himself makes money that way.



“I have heard some speech / Of the angry boys, and seen ‘em take tobacco . . . And I would fain be one of ‘em.”

(Act 3, scene 4, lines 21-23)


The country boy, Kestrel, wants Subtle to make him into one of the “angry boys” of London who take tobacco and are quarrelsome and tough. The angry boys are appealing to him as fashionably cool and belligerent.



“the Fairy Queen dispenses,/ By me, this robe, the petticoat of Fortune.”                   (Act 3, scene 5, lines 5-6)


Subtle makes Dapper put on women’s clothes pretending that it is a gift from the Queen and will bring fortune.



“I am the lord of the philosopher’s stone.”                    (Act 4, scene 1)


The arrogant and deluded Mammon tells Doll he controls the stone because he has commanded the alchemist to make it for him. He can buy whatever he wants, and when he gets the stone he will be even more powerful.



“Casting of dollars is concluded lawful.”                (Act 4, scene 7, line 42).


Ananais the Anabaptist tells Face that his Puritan brotherhood has decided it is morally all right for them to accept “cast” or counterfeit gold coins. He says this innocently, not realizing that the sect is hypocritical for wanting easy money like everyone else.



“You know that I am an indulgent master,/ And therefore conceal nothing.” (Act 5, scene 3, lines 80-81)


Lovewit confronts his butler Jeremy (Face) and tells him to confess what he’s been up to while he was away. He is not a stern master but enjoys Jeremy’s creative wit and scams.