The Alchemist (Jonson): Act 1, Scene 2

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Dapper, who is a lawyer’s clerk, comes to ask the “Doctor” for help. He wants Subtle to raise him a “familiar” or spirit to give him luck when he gambles. Subtle pretends to be shocked by Dapper’s request. It is against the law to practice sorcery, after all! Face pretends to lose his temper with Subtle as he takes Dapper’s part. When Dapper offers more money, Subtle gives in, but he worries about the consequences of what is going to happen. He predicts Dapper will be very wealthy and no other card players will have a chance. He will even be loved by the Queen of Fairy. A rare star at Dapper’s birth allies him to the Queen of Fairy, who is his aunt. He must prepare to meet her by performing such ceremonies as fasting, bathing in vinegar and other silly rituals. He cannot win his familiar spirit until he is blessed by the Queen of Fairy. Dapper agrees and exits as another client appears.

 
Commentary on Act 1, Scene 2
 
Dapper is very simple-minded and not much of a challenge for these two. It’s a classic con game where the go-between begs for the “client” to be given what he wants. Subtle holds back until he is bribed with more money. Each time he pretends he sees more and more alarming things about Dapper’s overwhelming good fortune. He is even allied to the Queen of Fairy! Behind his back, Face makes fun of Dapper’s small life and pretensions: he “consorts with the small poets of the time,/ Is the sole hope of his old grandmother” (lines 52-53). Face says Dapper only wants a spirit to help him with his recreational card games “on Friday nights” (line 89), but Dapper gets so excited about winning he says he wants the spirit “for all games” (line 85). That will of course cost more, but Dapper begins to dream that “I shall leave the law” (line 91) and retire on the winnings. Ironically, the law clerk is not worried about doing something illegal if he can get rich. He is made ridiculous when he believes he is related to the Fairy Queen and prepared to do humiliating rituals.
 
In the previous scene Face admits he met Dapper the night before in a tavern where he recruited him. He gives Subtle one cue: “Seem you very reserved” (line 198 in 1.1), as though he has already figured out how to play Dapper. The rest is an improvisation with these master con artists. Their “gulls” will get more sophisticated and challenging as they go.
 
 

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