The Alchemist (Ben Jonson)

Title page - The Alchemist.jpg


As a satire published later in his life and often considered one of his best dramatic works, The Alchemist (1610) signals Ben Jonson's departure from a critique of the portrayal of humoural science, to a critique of the follies of English society itself. Jonson’s over-drawn characters reflect a less playful and more sardonic mockery of the vices and cruelties he considered rampant in his time, and may also signal his ridicule of English society's continued fixation on the humours as a means to describe or explain behaviours or personas.

The fluctuating presentation of humoural science within dramatic work, between authors and even within a single author's body of works, seems to reflect a societal shift in theories of melancholy. As the seventeenth century progressed, a new dialogue developed around the concept of humoural science. If early dramatists envisioned melancholy on a personal level, Jonson in The Alchemist starts to contemplate: what are the implications of the humours to medicine, religion and nationhood? 

A Look Inside

Bibliographical Information

FULL TITLE: THE ALCHEMIST. A Comedy. Acted in the yeere 1610. By the Kings MAIESTIES SERVANTS. With the allowance of the Master of REVELLS. The Author B. J.

DATE: 1640

PLACE: London

PUBLISHER: Printed by Richard Bishop, and are to be sold by Andrew Crooke in St. Paules Church-yard. An. D. 



NOTE: STC records 10+ copies. ESTC records 40 copies. "Mostly in verse. The title page is engraved and signed 'Guliel[mus] Hole fecit.' The subsidiary plays each have separate dated title pages. That to 'Poetaster' has imprint 'London, printed by Robert Young. M. DC. XL.' 'Epigrammes' begins new pagination and register; otherwise pagination and register are continuous. The portrait is signed: Ro: Vaughan fecit" (EEBO). "Entered to R. Bishop 4 March 1639" (ESTC). 


[2Y4]-[2Y6], 2Z6-3D6, 3E1-3E2. [$3]. [2] 525-590 [1] pp. Boards measure 27.5 x 17.1 cm. Leaves measure 26.9 x 17.2 cm.

TYPE: Roman; Italic

LANGUAGES: English; Latin; Greek

DEDICATIONS: Various; individula dedications precede each play or set of poems; various dedicatory sonnets at the opening.

TABLES AND INDEXES: Catalogue of volume contents on A3.

ILLUSTRATIONS: Ornamented and historiated initials, head and tail pieces. Printer's devices: Every Man in His Humour, Every Man Out of His Humour, Cynthia's Revels, Sejanus His Fall, Volpone, Epicoene, The Alchemist, Cateline: his Conspiracy: McKerrow #379 (without initials; see note in Additions to McKerrow's Devices, Lavin). Every Man Out of His Humour: McKerrow #379. 

The humours and the arts
The Alchemist (Ben Jonson)