A House of Mirth and Revelry

February 03, 2020

Benjamin Jonson

Ben Jonson (1572–1637).  The Alchemist.
Vol. 47, pp. 543-558 of The Harvard Classics

While the cat's away the mice will play. Boisterous and ludicrous happenings occur in a house left in charge of a servant. But in midst of merriment the master returns.
(Ben Jonson receives life pension from James 1, Feb. 3, 1619.)

Act I
Scene I

[Enter]  FACE  [in a captain’s uniform, with his sword drawn, and]  SUBTLE  [with a vial, quarrelling, and followed by]  DOL COMMON 1

  FACE.  BELIEVE ’t, I will.
  SUB.        Thy worst.
  DOL.  Have you your wits? why, gentlemen! for love——
  FACE.  Sirrah, I’ll strip you——
  SUB.        What to do?
  FACE.  Rogue, rogue!—out of all your sleights. 2
  DOL.  Nay, look ye, sovereign, general, are you madmen?
  SUB.  O, let the wild sheep loose. I’ll gum your silks
With good strong water, an you come.
  DOL.        Will you have
The neighbours hear you? Will you betray all?
Hark! I hear somebody.
  FACE.        Sirrah——
  SUB.        I shall mar
All that the tailor has made if you approach.
  FACE.  You most notorious whelp, you insolent slave,
Dare you do this?
  SUB.        Yes, faith; yes, faith.
  FACE.        Why, who
Am I, my mongrel, who am I?
  SUB.        I’ll tell you.,
Since you know not yourself.
  FACE.        Speak lower, rogue.
  SUB.  Yes, you were once (time’s not long past) the good,
Honest, plain, livery-three-pound-thrum, 3 that kept
Your master’s worship’s house here in the Friars, 4
For the vacations——
  FACE.        Will you be so loud?
  SUB.  Since, by my means, translated suburb-captain.
  FACE.  By your means, doctor dog!
  SUB.        Within man’s memory,
All this I speak of.
  FACE.        Why, I pray you, have I
Been countenanc’d by you, or you by me?
Do but collect, sir, where I met you first.
  SUB.  I do not hear well.
  FACE.        Not of this, I think it.
But I shall put you in mind, sir;—at Pie-corner,
Taking your meal of steam in, from cooks’ stalls,
Where, like the father of hunger, you did walk
Piteously costive, with your pinch’d-horn-nose,
And your complexion of the Roman wash, 5
Stuck full of black and melancholic worms,
Like powder-corns 6 shot at the artillery-yard.
  SUB.  I wish you could advance your voice a little.
  FACE.  When you went pinn’d up in the several rags;
You had rak’d and pick’d from dunghills, before day;
Your feet in mouldy slippers, for your kibes; 7
A felt of rug, 8 and a thin threaden cloak,
That scarce would cover your no-buttocks——
  SUB.        So, sir!
  FACE.  When all your alchemy, and your algebra,
Your minerals, vegetals, and animals,
Your conjuring, coz’ning; and your dozen of trades,
Could not relieve your corpse with so much linen
Would make you tinder, but to see a fire;
I ga’ you count’nance, credit for your coals,
Your stills, your glasses, your materials;
Built you a furnace, drew you customers,
Advanc’d all your black arts; lent you, beside,
A house to practise in——
  SUB.        Your master’s house!
  FACE.  Where you have studied the more thriving skill
Of bawdry since.
  SUB.        Yes, in your master’s house.
You and the rats here kept possession.
Make it not strange. 9 I know you were one could keep
The buttery-hatch still lock’d, and save the chippings,
Sell the dole beer to aqua-vitae men, 10
The which, together with your Christmas vails 11
At post-and-pair, 12 your letting out of counters, 13
Made you a pretty stock, some twenty marks,
And gave you credit to converse with cobwebs,
Here, since your mistress’ death hath broke up house.
  FACE.  You might talk softlier, rascal.
  SUB.        No, you scarab,
I’ll thunder you in pieces: I will teach you
How to beware to tempt a Fury again
That carries tempest in his hand and voice.
  FACE.  The place has made you valiant.
  SUB.        No, your clothes.
Thou vermin, have I ta’en thee out of dung,
So poor, so wretched, when no living thing
Would keep thee company, but a spider or worse?
Rais’d thee from brooms, and dust, and wat’ring-pots,
Sublim’d thee, and exalted thee, and fix’d thee
In the third region, 14 call’d our state of grace?
Wrought thee to spirit, to quintessence, with pains
Would twice have won me the philosopher’s work?
Put thee in words and fashion, made thee fit
For more than ordinary fellowships?
Giv’n thee thy oaths, thy quarelling dimensions,
Thy rules to cheat, at horse-race, cock-pit, cards,
Dice, or whatever gallant tincture 15 else?
Made thee a second in mine own great art?
And have I this for thanks! Do you rebel?
Do you fly out i’ the projection? 16
Would you be gone now?
  DOL.        Gentlemen, what mean you?
Will you mar all?
  SUB.  Slave, thou hadst had no name——
  DOL.  Will you undo yourselves with civil war?
  SUB.  Never been known, past equi clibanum,
The heat of horse-dung, under ground, in cellars,
Or an ale-house darker than deaf John’s; been lost
To all mankind, but laundresses and tapsters,
Had not I been.
  DOL.        Do you know who hears you, sovereign?
  FACE.  Sirrah——
  DOL.  Nay, general, I thought you were civil.
  FACE.  I shall turn desperate, if you grow thus loud.
  SUB.  And hang thyself, I care not.
  FACE.        Hang thee, collier,
And all thy pots and pans, in picture, I will,
Since thou hast mov’d me——
  DOL.  [Aside]        O, this’ll o’erthrow all.
  FACE.  Write thee up bawd in Paul’s, have all thy tricks
Of coz’ning with a hollow coal, dust, scrapings,
Searching for things lost, with a sieve and shears,
Erecting figures in your rows of houses, 17
And taking in of shadows with a glass,
Told in red letters; and a face cut for thee,
Worse than Gamaliel Ratsey’s. 18
  DOL.        Are you sound?
Ha’ you your senses, masters?
  FACE.        I will have
A book, but barely reckoning thy impostures,
Shall prove a true philosopher’s stone to printers.
  SUB.  Away, you trencher-rascal!
  FACE.        Out, you dog-leech!
The vomit of all prisons——
  DOL.        Will you be
Your own destructions, gentlemen?
  FACE.        Still spew’d out
For lying too heavy on the basket. 19
  SUB.        Cheater!
  FACE.  Bawd!
  SUB.        Cow-herd!
  FACE.        Conjurer!
  SUB.        Cutpurse!
  FACE.        Witch!
  DOL.        O me!
We are ruin’d, lost! Ha’ you no more regard
To your reputations? Where’s your judgment? ’Slight,
Have yet some care of me, o’ your republic——
  FACE.  Away, this brach! 20 I’ll bring thee, rogue, within
The statute of sorcery, tricesimo tertio
Of Harry the Eighth: 21 ay, and perhaps thy neck
Within a noose, for laund’ring gold and barbing it. 22
  DOL.  You’ll bring your head within a cockscomb, 23 will you?  She catcheth outFACE his sword, and breaks SUBTLE’S glass.
And you, sir, with your menstrue! 24—Gather it up.
’Sdeath, you abominable pair of stinkards,
Leave off your barking, and grow one again,
Or, by the light that shines, I’ll cut your throats.
I’ll not be made a prey unto the marshal
For ne’er a snarling dog-bolt of you both.
Ha’ you together cozen’d all this while,
And all the world, and shall it now be said,
You’ve made most courteous shift to cozen yourselves?
  [To FACE.]  You will accuse him! You will “bring him in
Within the statute!” Who shall take your word?
A whoreson, upstart, apocryphal captain,
Whom not a Puritan in Blackfriars will trust
So much as for a feather: and you, too,  [to SUBTLE.]
Will give the cause, forsooth! You will insult,
And claim a primacy in the divisions!
You must be chief! As if you only had
The powder to project 25 with, and the work
Were not begun out of equality!
The venture tripartite! All things in common!
Without priority! ’Sdeath! you perpetual curs,
Fall to your couples again, and cozen kindly,
And heartily, and lovingly, as you should,
And lose not the beginning of a term,
Or, by this hand, I shall grow factious too,
And take my part, and quit you.
  FACE.        ’Tis his fault;
He ever murmurs, and objects his pains,
And says, the weight of all lies upon him.
  SUB.  Why, so it does.
  DOL.        How does it? Do not we
Sustain our parts?
  SUB.        Yes, but they are not equal.
  DOL.  Why, if your part exceed today, I hope
Ours may to-morrow match it.
  SUB.        Ay, they may.
  DOL.  May, murmuring mastiff! Ay, and do. Death on me!
Help me to throttle him.  [Seizes SUB. by the throat.]
  SUB.        Dorothy! Mistress Dorothy!
’Ods precious, I’ll do anything. What do you mean?
  DOL.  Because o’ your fermentation and cibation? 26
  SUB.  Not I, by heaven——
  DOL.        Your Sol and Luna——help me.  [To FACE.]
  SUB.  Would I were hang’d then! I’ll conform myself.
  DOL.  Will you, sir? Do so then, and quickly: swear.
  SUB.  What should I swear?
  DOL.        To leave your faction, sir,
And labour kindly in the common work.
  SUB.  Let me not breathe if I meant aught beside.
I only us’d those speeches as a spur
To him.
  DOL.  I hope we need no spurs, sir. Do we?
  FACE.  ’Slid, prove today who shall shark best.
  SUB.        Agreed.
  DOL.  Yes, and work close and friendly.
  SUB.        ’Slight, the knot
Shall grow the stronger for this breach, with me.  [They shake hands.]
  DOL.  Why, so, my good baboons! Shall we go make
A sort of sober, scurvy, precise neighbours,
That scarce have smil’d twice sin’ the king came in, 27
A feast of laughter at our follies? Rascals,
Would run themselves from breath, to see me ride,
Or you t’have but a hole to thrust your heads in, 28
For which you should pay ear-rent? 29 No, agree.
And may Don Provost ride a feasting long,
In his old velvet jerkin and stain’d scarfs,
My noble sovereign, and worthy general,
Ere we contribute a new crewel 30 garter
To his most worsted 31 worship.
  SUB.        Royal Dol!
Spoken like Claridiana, 32 and thyself.
  FACE.  For which at supper, thou shalt sit in triumph,
And not be styl’d Dol Common, but Dol Proper,
Dol Singular: the longest cut at night,
Shall draw thee for his Dol Particular.  [Bell rings without.]
  SUB.  Who’s that? One rings. To the window, Dol:  [Exit DOL.]—pray  heav’n,
The master do not trouble us this quarter.
  FACE.  O, fear not him. While there dies one a week
O’ the plague, he’s safe from thinking toward London.
Beside, he’s busy at his hop-yards now;
I had a letter from him. If he do,
He’ll send such word, for airing o’ the house,
As you shall have sufficient time to quit it:
Though we break up a fortnight, ’tis no matter.

Re-enter DOL.

  SUB.  Who is it, Dol?
  DOL.        A fine young quodling. 33
  FACE.  O,
My lawyer’s clerk, I lighted on last night,
In Holborn, at the Dagger. He would have
(I told you of him) a familiar,
To rifle with at horses, and win cups.
  DOL.  O, let him in.
  SUB.        Stay. Who shall do’t?
  FACE.        Get you
Your robes on; I will meet him, as going out.
  DOL.  And what shall I do?
  FACE.        Not be seen; away!  [Exit DOL.]
Seem you very reserv’d.
  SUB.        Enough.  [Exit.]
  FACE.  [aloud and retiring.]  God be wi’ you, sir,
I pray you let him know that I was here:
His name is Dapper. I would gladly have staid, but——

Note 1. A room in Lovewit’s house.
Note 2. Drop your tricks.
Note 3. Poorly paid servant.
Note 4. The precinct of Blackfriars.
Note 5. I. e., sallow.
Note 6. Grains of powder.
Note 7. Chilblains.
Note 8. A hat of coarse material.
Note 9. Don’t pretend to forget.
Note 10. Sell the beer intended for the poor to liquor-dealers.
Note 11. Tips.
Note 12. A game of cards.
Note 13. I. e., to the card-players.
Note 14. Technical jargon of alchemy.
Note 15. Accomplishment.
Note 16. At the moment when success is near.
Note 17. Astrological tricks.
Note 18. A notorious highwayman.
Note 19. Eating more than his share of rations.
Note 20. Bitch.
Note 21. Henry VIII, the first act against witchcraft in England.
Note 22. “Sweating” and clipping the coinage.
Note 23. Halter.
Note 24. A liquid which dissolves solids.
Note 25. Transmute metals.
Note 26. Alchemical terms.
Note 27. Seven years before.
Note 28. In the pillory.
Note 29. Have your ears cut off.
Note 30. Familiar puns.
Note 31. Familiar puns.
Note 32. The heroine of the “Mirror of Knighthood.”
Note 33. Green apple, a youth.

Act II

FACE, alone 1

  DAP.  [Within.]  Captain, I am here.
  FACE.        Who’s that?—He’s come, I think, doctor.

[Enter DAPPER.]
Good faith, sir, I was going away.
  DAP.        In truth
I am very sorry, captain.
  FACE.        But I thought
Sure I should meet you.
  DAP.        Ay, I am very glad.
I had a scurvy writ or two to make,
And I had lent my watch last night to one
That dines today at the sheriff’s, and so was robb’d
Of my pass-time. 2

[Re-enter SUBTLE in his velvet cap and gown]

        Is this the cunning-man?
  FACE.  This is his worship.
  DAP.        Is he a doctor?
  FACE.        Yes.
  DAP.  And ha’ you broke 3 with him, captain?
  FACE.        Ay.
  DAP.        And how?
  FACE.  Faith, he does make the matter, sir, so dainty, 4
I know not what to say.
  DAP.        Not so, good captain.
  FACE.  Would I were fairly rid on’t, believe me.
  DAP.  Nay, now you grieve me, sir. Why should you wish so?
I dare assure you, I’ll not be ungrateful.
  FACE.  I cannot think you will, sir. But the law
Is such a thing——and then he says, Read’s 5 matter
Falling so lately.
  DAP.        Read! he was an ass,
And dealt, sir, with a fool.
  FACE.        It was a clerk, sir.
  DAP.  A clerk!
  FACE.        Nay, hear me, sir. You know the law
Better, I think——
  DAP.        I should, sir, and the danger:
You know, I show’d the statute to you.
  FACE.        You did so.
  DAP.  And will I tell then! By this hand of flesh,
Would it might never write good courthand more,
If discover. 6 What do you think of me,
That I am a chiaus? 7
  FACE.        What’s that?
  DAP.        The Turk was, here—
As one would say, do you think I am a Turk?
  FACE.  I’ll tell the doctor so.
  DAP.        Do, good sweet captain.
  FACE.  Come, noble doctor, pray thee let’s prevail;
This is the gentleman, and he is no chiaus.
  SUB.  Captain, I have return’d you all my answer.
I would do much, sir, for your love—— But this
I neither may, nor can.
  FACE.        Tut, do not say so.
You deal now with a noble fellow, doctor,
One that will thank you richly; and he is no chiaus:
Let that, sir, move you.
  SUB.        Pray you, forbear——
  FACE.        He has
Four angels here.
  SUB.        You do me wrong, good sir.
  FACE.  Doctor, wherein? To tempt you with these spirits?
  SUB.  To tempt my art and love, sir, to my peril.
’Fore heav’n, I scarce can think you are my friend,
That so would draw me to apparent danger.
  FACE.  I draw you! A horse draw you, and a halter,
You, and your flies 8 together——
  DAP.        Nay, good captain.
  FACE.  That know no difference of men.
  SUB.        Good words, sir.
  FACE.  Good deeds, sir, doctor dogs’-meat. ’Slight, I bring you
No cheating Clim o’ the Cloughs 9 or Claribels, 10
That look as big as five-and-fifty, and flush; 11
And spit out secrets like hot custard——
  DAP.        Captain!
  FACE.  Nor any melancholic underscribe,
Shall tell the vicar; but a special gentle,
That is the heir to forty marks a year,
Consorts with the small poets of the time,
Is the sole hope of his old grandmother;
That knows the law, and writes you six fair hands,
Is a fine clerk, and has his ciph’ring perfect.
Will take his oath o’ the Greek Xenophon, 12
If need be, in his pocket; and can court
His mistress out of Ovid.
  DAP.        Nay, dear captain——
  FACE.  Did you not tell me so?
  DAP.        Yes; but I’d ha’ you
Use master doctor with some more respect.
  FACE.  Hang him, proud stag, with his broad velvet head!—
But for your sake, I’d choke ere I would change
An article of breath with such a puck-fist 13
Come, let’s be gone.  [Going.]
  SUB.        Pray you le’ me speak with you.
  DAP.  His worship calls you, captain.
  FACE.        I am sorry
I e’er embark’d myself in such a business.
  DAP.  Nay, good sir; he did call you.
  FACE.        Will he take then?
  SUB.  First, hear me——
  FACE.        Not a syllable, ’less you take.
  SUB.  Pray ye, sir——
  FACE.        Upon no terms but an assumpsit. 14
  SUB.  Your humour must be law.  He takes the money.
  FACE.        Why now, sir, talk.
Now I dare hear you with mine honour. Speak.
So may this gentleman too.
  SUB.        Why, sir——  [Offering to whisper FACE.]
  FACE.        No whispering.
  SUB.  ’Fore heav’n, you do not apprehend the loss
You do yourself in this.
  FACE.        Wherein? for what?
  SUB.  Marry, to be so importunate for one
That, when he has it, will undo you all:
He’ll win up all the money i’ the town.
  FACE.  How?
  SUB.        Yes, and blow up gamester after gamester,
As they do crackers in a puppet-play.
If I do give him a familiar,
Give you him all you play for; never set 15 him:
For he will have it.
  FACE.        You’re mistaken, doctor.
Why, he does ask one but for cups and horses,
A rifling 16 fly; none o’ your great familiars.
  DAP.  Yes, captain, I would have it for all games.
  SUB.  I told you so.
  FACE.  [taking DAP. aside.]  ’Slight, that is a new business!
I understood you, a tame bird, to fly
Twice in a term, or so, on Friday nights,
When you had left the office; for a nag
Of forty or fifty shillings.
  DAP.        Ay, ’tis true, sir;
But I do think, now, I shall leave the law,
And therefore——
  FACE.        Why, this changes quite the case.
Do you think that I dare move him?
  DAP.        If you please, sir;
All’s one to him, to see.
  FACE.  What! for that money?
I cannot with my conscience; nor should you
Make the request, methinks.
  DAP.        No, sir, I mean
To add consideration.
  FACE.        Why then, sir,
I’ll try.  [Goes to SUBTLE.] Say that it were for all games, doctor?
  SUB.  I say then, not a mouth shall eat for him
At any ordinary, 17 but on the score, 18
That is a gaming mouth, conceive me.
  FACE.        Indeed!
  SUB.  He’ll draw you all the treasure of the realm,
If it be set him.
  FACE.        Speak you this from art?
  SUB.  Ay, sir, and reason too, the ground of art.
He is of the only best complexion,
The queen of Fairy loves.
  FACE.        What! is he?
  SUB.        Peace.
He’ll overhear you. Sir, should she but see him——
  FACE.  What?
  SUB.        Do not you tell him.
  FACE.        Will he win at cards too?
  SUB.  The spirits of dead Holland, living Isaac, 19
You’d swear, were in him; such a vigorous lack
As cannot be resisted. ’Slight, he’ll put
Six of your gallants to a cloak, 20 indeed.
  FACE.  A strange success, that some man shall be born to!
  SUB.  He hears you, man——
  DAP.        Sir, I’ll not be ingrateful.
  FACE.  Faith, I have confidence in his good nature:
You hear, he says he will not be ingrateful.
  SUB.  Why, as you please; my venture follows yours.
  FACE.  Troth, do it, doctor; think him trusty, and make him.
He may make us both happy in an hour;
Win some five thousand pound, and send us two on’t.
  DAP.  Believe it, and I will, sir.
  FACE.        And you shall, sir.
You have heard all?
  DAP.        No, what was’t? Nothing, I, sir.  FACE takes him aside.
  FACE.  Nothing!
  DAP.        A little, sir.
  FACE.        Well, a rare star
Reign’d at you birth.
  DAP.        At mine, sir! No.
  FACE.        The doctor
Swears that you are——
  SUB.        Nay, captain, you’ll tell all now.
  FACE.  Allied to the queen of Fairy.
  DAP.        Who! That I am?
Believe it, no such matter——
  FACE.        Yes, and that
You were born with a caul on your head.
  DAP.        Who says so?
  FACE.        Come,
You know it well enough, though you dissemble it.
  DAP.  I’ fac, 21 I do not; you are mistaken.
  FACE.        How!
Swear by your fac, 22 and in a thing so known
Unto the doctor? How shall we, sir, trust you
I’ the other matter; can we ever think,
When you have won five or six thousand pound,
You’ll send us shares in’t by this rate?
  DAP.        By Jove, sir,
I’ll win ten thousand pound, and send you half.
I’ fac’s no oath.
  SUB.        No, no, he did but jest.
  FACE.  Go to. Go thank the doctor: he’s your friend,
To take it so.
  DAP.        I thank his worship.
  FACE.        So!
Another angel.
  DAP.        Must I?
  FACE.        Must you! ’slight,
What else is thanks? Will you be trivial?—Doctor,  [DAPPER gives him the money.]
When must he come for his familiar?
  DAP.  Shall I not ha’ it with me?
  SUB.        O, good sir!
There must a world of ceremonies pass;
You must be bath’d and fumigated first:
Besides, the queen of Fairy does not rise
Till it be noon.
  FACE.        Not if she danc’d to-night.
  SUB.  And she must bless it.
  FACE.        Did you never see
Her royal grace yet?
  DAP.        Whom?
  FACE.        Your aunt of Fairy?
  SUB.  Not since she kist him in the cradle, captain;
I can resolve you that.
  FACE.        Well, see her grace,
Whate’er it cost you, for a thing that I know.
It will be somewhat hard to compass; but
However, see her. You are made, believe it,
If you can see her. Her grace is a lone woman,
And very rich; and if she take a fancy,
She will do strange things. See her, at any hand.
’Slid, she may hap to leave you all she has:
It is the doctor’s fear.
  DAP.        How will’t be done, then?
  FACE.  Let me alone, take you no thought. Do you
But say to me, “Captain, I’ll see her grace.”
  DAP.  “Captain, I’ll see her grace.”
  FACE.        Enough.  One knocks without.
  SUB.        Who’s there?
Anon.—  [Aside to FACE.]  Conduct him forth by the back way.
—Sir, against one o’clock prepare yourself;
Till when you must be fasting; only take
Three drops of vinegar in at your nose,
Two at your mouth, and one at either ear;
Then bathe your fingers’ ends and wash your eyes,
To sharpen your five senses, and cry hum
Thrice, and then buz as often; and then come.  [Exit.]
  FACE.  Can you remember this?
  DAP.        I warrant you.
  FACE.  Well then, away. It is but your bestowing
Some twenty nobles ’mong her grace’s servants,
And put on a clean shirt. You do not know
What grace her grace may do you in clean linen.  [Exeunt FACE and DAPPER.]

Note 1. The Same. The scene-divisions are Jonson’s.
Note 2. Watch.
Note 3. Opened the matter.
Note 4. Has such scruples.
Note 5. A magician recently convicted.
Note 6. Reveal.
Note 7. A Turkish interpreter, like the one who had recently cheated some merchants.
Note 8. Familiar spirits.
Note 9. An outlaw hero.
Note 10. Probably a hero of romance. The name occurs in Spenser.
Note 11. Five-and-fifty was the highest number to stand on at the old
Note 12. The Quarto reads Testament.
Note 13. Niggard.
Note 14. That he has undertaken the affair.
Note 15. Stake against.
Note 16. To be used in raffles.
Note 17. Table d’hote restaurant.
Note 18. The gamblers (who frequented ordinaries) will be so impoverished through his winnings that they will have to eat on credit.
Note 19. Supposed to refer to two alchemists, but the dates do not agree.
Note 20. Strip to the cloak.
Note 21. Faith.
Note 22. Faith.

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