As noted above, The Alchemist is a perfect example of adherence to the classical unities of place, time and action. The permanent interior of the play is the first witnessed on the English stage. All the action takes place between around nine o'clock in the morning and five in the afternoon, well within the twenty four hour time frame recommended by Aristotle. This period is also about the length of an English November day, the month in which the play was first performed. Perhaps the greatest and most interesting achievement of the play, however, is its unity of action. The entire plot is a consequence of a single action, that being the plans of three thieves to rob their neighbourhood. There is nothing in the play which is extraneous to this, and the various separate actions which result from this are interwoven masterfully. As T S Eliot describes it, "the plot is enough to keep the players in motion; it is rather an 'action' than a plot. The plot does not hold the play together; what holds the play together is a unity of inspiration that radiates into plot and personages alike".

The Characters

It is often argued that Jonson's comedy of 'humours' has the effect of simplifying characterisation. The characters are presented as caricatures, as personifications of the excess of certain humours. E M Forster has suggested that the kind of characters that he calls "flat" derived ultimately from the Renaissance notion of humours. Indeed when compared with the characters of Shakespeare, Jonson's character's, with their obsessive single focus can appear two dimensional. This, however, must be borne in mind with his theory of comedy which of necessity needed caricature. It has also been pointed out that we don't dismiss a caricature in a newspaper for its lack of accurate representation, it's purpose being to highlight salient features of human life so that we may be made more aware of our defects.

The Alchemist

is indeed a masterful piece of caricature, of biting satire of the society of the time and of timeless human traits. It is also, as Jonson believed, the most perfect expression of his theory of comedy and should be viewed as not without educative possibility even today. After all, it would take a naive person to suggest that we, in our twenty first century sophistication, are beyond being gulled and have vanquished the enemy of greed from our balance of humours. The confidence tricks and selfish dreams of Jonson's time are still very much with us and The Alchemist serves as a warning to all that a 'voluptuous mind' can only lead to ruin.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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