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The Alchemist Ben Jonson Essays


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=Student Essay
THE PLAYS:

Dissertation: "Falling to a devilish exercise": Magic and Spectacle on the Renaissance Stage - Shayne Confer
Dissertation: Health Imagery and Rhetoric in the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson - Leona F. Dale [.pdf]
Thesis: Dramatic Functions of Costuming in Plays by Ben Jonson - Emmett W. Cook [.pdf]
The Trickster-figure in Jacobean City Comedy - William R. Dynes
Stuart Civic Pageants and Textual Performance - David M. Bergeron


The Alchemist
Thesis: Counterpoint: Its Use in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist - Gary Nored [.pdf]
Thesis: "There's Magic in the Web of It": White and Black Magic in Jonson, Marlowe and Shakespeare - Marnie Findlater [.pdf]
Suspense is Believing: The Reality of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist - Donald Beecher
Jonson's Satire of Puritanism in The Alchemist - Jeanette D. Ferreira-Ross [.pdf]
The Repudiation of the Marvelous: Jonson's The Alchemist and the Limits of Satire - Ian McAdam [.pdf]
From Costiveness to Comic Relief: Purgation in The Alchemist - Tony Perrello
The Alchemist and the Emerging Adult Private Playhouse - Anthony J. Ouellette
Explication of the Opening of The Alchemist - Nathan Cervo
Erasmus's 'Beggar Talk' and Jonson's Alchemist - Eric Sterling and Robert C. Evans
Imagining Alchemists and Magicians in New Atlantis, The Tempest, and The Alchemist - David Hurley
Dynamic Linguistic and Artistic Patterns in Jonson's The Alchemist - Amra Raza [.pdf]


Bartholomew Fair
'A more familiar straine': Puppetry and Burlesque, or, Translation as Debasement in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair - Rui Carvalho Homem [.pdf]
The Use of Booths in the Original Staging of Jonson's Bartholomew Fair - Gabriel Egan [.pdf]
The Puritan Dialectic of Law and Grace in Bartholomew Fair - Ian McAdam
Bartholomew Fair and Jonsonian Tolerance - G.M. Pinciss
The Law versus the Marketplace: Spontaneous Order in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair - Paul A. Cantor [.pdf]
The (Self)-Fashioning of Ezekiel Edgworth in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair - Jean MacIntyre
Ben Jonson's 'Civil Savages' - Rebecca Ann Bach
Jonson at the Fair: A Playwright's Career in Review - David Reinheimer
Ben Jonson Unmasked - Kathleen A. Prendergast
The Widow Hunt on the Tudor-Stuart Stage - Ira Clark


Epicoene
Thesis: Men Disguised as Women in Elizabethan Drama - Marion S. Karr [.pdf]
Dumb Reading: The Noise of the Mute in Jonson's Epicene - Adrian Curtin
Jonson's Gossips and the Stuart Family Drama - Kristen McDermott
"Things like truths, well feigned": Mimesis and Secrecy in Jonson's Epicoene - Reuben Sanchez
"On forfeit of your selves, think nothing true": Self-Deception in Ben Jonson's Epicoene - J. A. Jackson
Masculine Silence: 'Epicoene' and Jonsonian Stylistics - Douglas Lanier
Refashioning Society in Ben Jonson's Epicoene - Marjorie Swann
The Classical Context of Ben Jonson's "other youth" - Bruce Boehrer
Cross Dressing with a Difference: The Roaring Girl and Epicoene - David Cope
Epicoene's Cosmetic Contingencies - Mary E. Brooks and Jenna H. Sharp


Every Man Out of His Humour
Jonson's Every Man Out and Commentators on Terence - Matthew Steggle


New Inn
'Wardrobe Stuffe': Clothes, Costume and the Politics of Dress in Ben Jonson's The New Inn - Julie Sanders
Some Uses for Romance: Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Jonson's The New Inn - Andrew Stewart
Ben Jonson's 'Civil Savages' - Rebecca Ann Bach


The Poetaster
Undergrad Thesis: Gallimaufray and Hellebore: Spenser and Jonson in Dialogue with the Past - Ruth M. McAdams [.pdf]
The Pleasures of Restraint: The Mean of Coyness in Cavalier Poetry - Joshua Scodel
Ben Jonson Unmasked - Kathleen A. Prendergast


Sejanus
Thesis: Complexity of Character in Jonson's Sejanus - Jennifer D. Jones [.pdf]
Censorship and Representation in The Stuart Era: Three Roman Plays - David Cope [.pdf]
Jonson and the Neo-Classical Rules in Sejanus and Volpone - David Faley-Hills


Volpone
The Intertextualities of Ben Jonson's Volpone - James Tulip [.pdf]
Instances of Verbal Fraud in Jonson's Volpone - Elsa Simões Lucas Freitas [.pdf]
Volpone and the Ends of Comedy - Ian Donaldson [.pdf]
The Circle Pattern in Ben Jonson's Volpone - Jesús Cora Alonso [.pdf]
Volpone as a Non�Comedy - Farida Chishti [.pdf]
The Progress of Trickster in Ben Jonson's "Volpone" - Don Beecher
"In his gold I shine": Jacobean Comedy and the Art of the Mediating Trickster - Alizon Brunning
Jonson's Volpone and Dante - Christopher Baker and Richard Hart
Ben Jonson's Beastly Comedy: Outfoxing the Critics, Gulling the Audience in Volpone - Clifford Davis
In Changèd Shapes: The Two Jonsons' Volpones and Textual Editing - Karen Pirnie
The Setting of "Volpone" - Ralph A. Cohen
"Volpone"and the Old Comedy - P. H. Davison
Jonson and the Neo-Classical Rules in Sejanus and Volpone - David Faley-Hills
Unity of Theme in Volpone - Dorothy E. Litt
Volpone's "Sport" and the Structure of Jonson's Volpone - James D. Redwine, Jr.
Volpone: The Art of Deception - Miranda Johnson-Haddad
Jonson's Romish Foxe: Anti-Catholic Discourse in Volpone - Alizon Brunning
Ben Jonson Unmasked - Kathleen A. Prendergast
Volpone and Stage Androgyny in the English Renaissance - Celeste Collins
Volpone: Jonson's Experimentation with Comedy - Michael Williams
Antitheatricalism in Light of Ben Jonson's Volpone - Joel Culpepper
Shakespeare's Othello Compared to Jonson's Volpone - Jason


Other Plays
"Away, Stand off, I say": Women's Appropriations of Restraint and Constraint in
              The Birth of Merlin and The Devil is an Ass - Sarah E. Johnson
'The top of woman! All her sex in abstract!': Ben Jonson
              Directs the Boy Actor in The Devil is an Ass - Regina Buccola
The Appropriation of Pleasure in The Magnetic Lady - Helen Ostovich



MASQUES & ENTERTAINMENTS:

"The English Masque" - Felix E. Schelling must
Dissertation: Courtly Psychosis: The Rhetoric of Preferment in the Court Masque - Moira E. Phillips [.pdf]
Jonson's Masque Markets and Problems of Literary Ownership - Alison V. Scott
"But why do I describe what all must see?": Verbal Explication in the Stuart Masque - Agnieszka Kolodziejska [.pdf]
Performing Love in Ben Jonson's Masques - Chris Hill [.pdf]
"Native Dyes": Race and Politics in the Jacobean Masque - Weidner & Walravens
Beyond the Emblem: Alchemical Albedo in Ben Jonson's The Masque of Blackness - Rafael Vélez Núñez
Emblems of Darkness: Othello (1604) and the Masque of Blackness (1605) - Manuel José Gómez Lara
Performing Devotion in The Masque of Blacknesse - Molly Murray
Beauty and the Beast: Images of Whiteness and Blackness from Jonson's The Masque of Blackness (1605) to
        Richard Brome's The English Moor, or The Mock-Marriage (1637) - Athéna Efstathiou-Lavabre
Jonson's Gossips and the Stuart Family Drama - Kristen McDermott
The Three Faces of the Goddess in Ben Jonson's Masque of Queens - Maria Salomé Figueirôa Navarro Machado
Amazon Reflections in the Jacobean Queen's Masque - Kathryn Schwarz
Culture de cour et idéologie: de l'usage de la pastorale dans le masque Pans Anniversarie de Ben Jonson - Guillaume Forain [.pdf]
The Performing Heir in Jonson's Jacobean Masques - Jean E. Graham
The Problem in the Middle: Liminality in the Jonsonian Masque - Gregory A. Wilson
The Rhetoric of Place in Ben Jonson's 'Chorographical' Entertainments and Masques - Thomas Worden
Restoring Astraea: Jonson's Masque for the Fall of Somerset - Martin Butler and David Lindley
Marketing Luxury at the New Exchange: Jonson's Entertainment at Britain's Burse and the Rhetoric of Wonder - Alison V. Scott



THE POETRY:

The Poetry of Ben Jonson - G. A. E. Parfitt
The Tone of Ben Jonson's Poetry - Geoffrey Walton
Ben Jonson's Poetry: Pastoral, Georgic, Epigram - Harris Friedberg
Ben Jonson and the Story of Charis - Ian Donaldson [.pdf]
Troping prostitution: Jonson and "The Court Pucell" - Victoria E. Price
'This truest glass': Ben Jonson's Verse Epistles and the Construction of the Ideal Patron - Colleen Shea
Literature as Equipment for Living: Ben Jonson and the Poetics of Patronage - Robert C. Evans
Stoicism and Plain Style in Ben Jonson: An Analysis of Some of His Verse Epistles - José María Pérez Fernández
Liberty and History in Jonson's Invitation to Supper - Robert Cummings
A Case for the Epigram: Ben Jonson's "Inviting a Friend to Supper" - Meredith Goulding [.pdf]
"On the Famous Voyage": Ben Jonson and Civic Space - Andrew McRae
Horatian satire in Jonson's "On the Famous Voyage" - Bruce Boehrer
In the Person of Womankind: Female Persona Poems by Campion, Donne, Jonson - Pamela Coren
Ben Jonson and the 'Traditio Basiorum': Catullan imitation in 'The Forrest' 5 and 6 - Bruce Boehrer
Ben Jonson's 'On My First Son' and the Common Prayer Catechism - Jonquil Bevan
Microhistory and Cultural Geography: Ben Jonson's "To Sir Robert Wroth" and the Absorption of Local Community in the Commonwealth - Martin Elsky
Pirating Spain: Jonson's Commendatory Poetry and the Translation of Empire - Barbara Fuchs
"Man to man": Self-fashioning in Jonson's "To William Pembroke" - William Kolbrener
Ben Jonson's Poems: Notes on the Ordered Society - Hugh MacLean
"There are no accidents": Ben Jonson's construction of "Poet" - Joshua Messer


"To Penshurst"
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Reinterpreting Formalism and the Country House Poem - Heather Dubrow
Appropriating and Attributing the Supernatural in the Early Modern Country House Poem - A. D. Cousins and R. J. Webb
From Common Wealth to Commonwealth: the Alchemy of "To Penshurst" - Hugh Jenkins
Sacramental Dwelling with Nature: Jonson's "To Penshurst" and Heidegger's "Building Dwelling Thinking" - William E. Rogers [.pdf]
Landscape and Property in Seventeenth-Century Poetry - Andrew McRae [.pdf]
Poetry and Place in Drayton and Jonson - Canice J. Egan, S. J. [.pdf]
Ben Jonson and the Good Society - Jeffrey Hart [.pdf]



THE PROSE:

The Prose of Poets: Ben Jonson - Francis Thompson



JONSON & SHAKESPEARE:

Jonson's Ode to Shakespeare: What Was He Actually Saying? - Stephanie Hopkins Hughes[.pdf]
Afterlife: Jonson's "To the Memory... of Shakespeare" - Crystal Bartolovich
Mildmay Fane on Jonson and Shakespeare - Joseph T. Roy, Jr., and Robert C. Evans
Some Uses for Romance: Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Jonson's The New Inn - Andrew Stewart
Emblems of Darkness: Othello (1604) and the Masque of Blackness (1605) - Manuel José Gómez Lara
Disorder in the House of God: Disrupted Worship in Shakespeare and Others - Bruce Boehrer
Ben Jonson and The First Folio - W. Lansdown Goldsworthy



JONSON & THE CLASSICS:

Dissertation: Ben Jonson's Horatian Theory and Plautine Practice - D. Audell Shelburne [.pdf]
Jonson and the Classics - Stephen Dailly
Jonson's Stoic Politics: Lipsius, the Greeks, and the "Speach According to Horace" - Robert C. Evans
Horatian satire in Jonson's "On the Famous Voyage" - Bruce Boehrer
Jonson, Translation, and Horatian Lyric - Daniel Hooley
Ben Jonson and the 'Traditio Basiorum': Catullan imitation in 'The Forrest' 5 and 6 - Bruce Boehrer
Jonson's Every Man Out and Commentators on Terence - Matthew Steggle
Stoicism and Plain Style in Ben Jonson: An Analysis of Some of His Verse Epistles - José María Pérez Fernández
"Powdered with Golden Rain": The Myth of Danae in Early Modern Drama - Julie Sanders
Jonson's Volpone and Dante - Christopher Baker and Richard Hart
The Classical Context of Ben Jonson's "other youth" - Bruce Boehrer



JONSON & OTHER AUTHORS:

Erasmus's 'Beggar Talk' and Jonson's Alchemist - Eric Sterling and Robert C. Evans
Jonson, Marlowe, and Epigram 77 - John Baker
Poetry and Place in Drayton and Jonson - Canice J. Egan, S. J. [.pdf]
Writing in Service: Sexual Politics and Class Position in the Poetry of Aemilia Lanyer and Ben Jonson - Ann Baynes Coiro
'I Exscribe Your Sonnets': Jonson and Lady Mary Wroth - R.E. Pritchard
"But Worth pretends": Discovering Jonsonian Masque in Lady Mary Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus - Anita M. Hagerman
"The strangest pageant, fashion'd like a court": John Donne and Ben Jonson to 1600 -- Parallel Lives - William F. Blissett
Poetomachia and The Early Jonson: The Aesthetics of Topical Satire - David Cope
"Honesty and vulgar praise": The Poet's War and the Literary Field - Edward Gieskes
In the Person of Womankind: Female Persona Poems by Campion, Donne, Jonson - Pamela Coren
Jonson and Carew on Donne: Censure into Praise - John Lyon
Carew's response to Jonson and Donne - Scott Nixon
"By Lucan driv'n about": A Jonsonian Marvell's Lucanic Milton - Andrew Shifflett
'A silenc'st bricke-layer': An Allusion to Ben Jonson in Thomas Middleton's 'Masque.' - Jerzy Limon
Thomas Hobbes in Ben Jonson's 'The King's Entertainment at Welbeck' - A. P. Martinich
A "Double Portion of his Father's Art": Congreve, Dryden, Jonson and
                     The Drama of Theatrical Succession - Harold Weber
Collaborating with the Forebear: Dryden's Reception of Ben Jonson - Jennifer Brady
The Spanish Match Through the Texts: Jonson, Middleton, and Howell - F. Javier Sánchez Escribano
The Court Drama of Ben Jonson and Calderón - José Manuel González Fernández de Sevilla
Ben Jonson y Cervantes - Yumiko Yamada
Ben Jonson and Cervantes - Yumiko Yamada



GENERAL & MISCELLANEOUS:

T. S. Eliot's 1920 Essay on Ben Jonson
A Study of Ben Jonson - Algernon Charles Swinburne
Revaluating Ben Jonson - Laurence Raw
Jonson the Master: Stones Well Squared - Fred Inglis
Tradition and Ben Jonson - L. C. Knights
Thesis: The Influence of Ben Jonson upon Ben Jonson - Leona F. Dale [.pdf]
Chapter 1 of Ben Jonson and Possessive Authorship - Joseph Loewenstein [.pdf]
Marking his Place: Ben Jonson's Punctuation - Sara van den Berg
The Poet of Labor: Authorship and Property in the Work of Ben Jonson - Bruce Thomas Boehrer
'Ut Pictura Poesis': Jonson and the Painted Subject - Gary Ettari [.pdf]
Invading Interpreters and Politic Picklocks: Reading Jonson Historically - Ian Donaldson [.pdf]
Ben Jonson and the Jonsonian Afterglow: Imagemes, Avatars, and Literary Reception - Anthony W. Johnson [.pdf]
Ben Jonson's 1616 Folio: A Revolution in Print? - Lynn S. Meskill [.pdf]
Ben Jonson and His Folio - Clifford Stetner
Jonson and the Motives of Print - Richmond Barbour
Ben Jonson's Head - Jeffrey Masten








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Created by Anniina Jokinenon June 17, 1996. Last updated on June 2, 2010.

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The Alchemist is one of Ben Jonson's four great comedies. The earliest recorded performance of the play occurred in Oxford in 1610. It was also entered into the Stationers' Register in this year, though it might have been written and performed earlier than this date. Critics talk of the play as being written and performed in 1610. It was first printed in quarto in 1612, and it was included in the folio of Jonson's works in 1616.

A second folio edition of Jonson's works came out in 1640. This version included some emendations, many of which had to do with the tightening of regulations about uttering religious material on the stage. "God's will" (1612), for example, became "Death on me" (1640). Jonson's meticulous preparation of his own folio version was unusual, but it gives us greater confidence in the actual text of the play (no similar source history for Shakespeare, for instance, survives). Thus we have a stronger opportunity for insight into the playwright’s sense of humor on the page and on the stage. For example, we infer that it was Jonson who had all the German and Dutch in the play ("Ulen Spiegel," for example) set in black-letter type.

To Jonson's audiences, The Alchemist would have been a modern play, set in Blackfriars in his own day—a town where there also was a famous theatre in which Shakespeare's late plays were performed.

The Folio edition lists as its principal comedians the actors of the King's men, many of whom were also the stars of Shakespeare's comedies. We know that Burbage, Heminges, Condell, and Armin, all lead actors in Shakespeare's company, were also in The Alchemist, and contextual evidence suggests that the Globe company had begun to use Blackfriars (an indoor theatre) as a winter alternative to the Globe (an outdoor theatre) in 1609.

The play is extensively informed by Jonson's wide-ranging learning and reading. It abounds with quotes from other plays and the Old Testament. Dol's "fit of talking" is itself an extensive quotation from A Concent of Scripture by Hugh Broughton. There are also quotations and references to a myriad of other works, such as Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, whose lead character Hieronymo is also winkingly referenced. (Hieronymo is a part, some evidence suggests, that Jonson himself might have played.) There is so much unusual or archaic language, especially in the alchemism scenes, that it could ruin one's enjoyment of the play by repeatedly returning to a glossary--part of the point is to be bowled over by the strange diction of the alchemist.

The play can seem fantastical to a modern audience, and it is often read as a cynical play that argues that even the most obvious illusions are believed by stupid people. Yet there is evidence to suggest that people in Jonson's time really were taken by cons such as that in the play. One man, Goodwin Wharton, was tricked at length into believing he was to be visited by the Fairy Queen some seventy years after the play was published and performed. See the excellent biography of Wharton, a real-life case of Alchemy-conmanship, in the citations for this ClassicNote.

As Jonson has risen to greater prominence, The Alchemist has shaken its reputation as being densely Elizabethan and unfunny, and critics have bolstered its rise into being known as one of the key texts of the Renaissance. Coleridge thought it, along with Oedipus Rex / Oedipus the King and Tom Jones, one of the three "most perfect plots ever planned." Note, though, that the play's plot is linear, with the stories of the seven gulls cleverly intersected to keep tension at the maximum.

Kenneth Tynan thought it a "good episodic play ... bead after bead, the episodes click together upon the connecting string, which is chicanery and chiselry." F. H. Mares led many modern commentators by beginning his essay with the observation that "All through the play there is a disparity between what people are and what they say they are." Such readings have culminated with Anne Barton's excellent chapter in Ben Jonson: Dramatist, which pronounces it "a play about transformation, as it affects not metals, but human beings."

Without doubt, The Alchemist has been restored to prominence since Victorian times. Often in the company of Jonson's other "great comedy," Volpone, it is analyzed with regard to Jonson's cynical and darkly comic views of London in 1610, legality (since justice in Jonson's plays is always an important question), belief, faith, and the sort of people who believe that they will one day secure infinite wealth.