The Alchemist (Jonson): Act 1, Scene 3

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Summary of Act 1, scene 3
 
Abel Drugger, the tobacconist, wants Subtle’s help to make his shop more successful. Subtle tells him his horoscope shows he is a good businessman, but he advises on a few alterations for layout of the door and shelves. Subtle predicts Drugger will be a sheriff by spring. Face asks him how he knows that. Subtle says he can see a star on the forehead, which others can’t see, and by certain spots on Drugger’s teeth. He tells Drugger he might be one of those able to obtain the philosopher’s stone! Drugger offers him a crown for this and Face chides him for such a cheap offer. Drugger gives a gold coin instead and begs for Subtle to tell him which days are good for bargaining. He is to come back for this later in the day.
 
Commentary on Act 1, scene 3
 
Again, these masters of imposture are dealing with small fry. Drugger cannot conceive of anything as grand as the philosopher’s stone and wishes to know merely how to lay out his shelves or which days to bargain. Subtle tells him to do ridiculous things to improve business such as burying a lodestone under the threshold to attract “gallants that wear spurs” (line 70).
 
After these two easy marks, Face is jubilant about his own skill and points out to Subtle that he may be clever, but he must have stuff brought home to work on. In other words, without the clients that Face finds, Subtle would be nothing. Face is the one who recognizes the potential victims and gets them to come. He pays the daily costs as well. He feels he invests more in the project than Subtle and deserves more share of the profits. The running hostility between the two comes out directly in such moments, but also in the sarcastic undercurrent and asides as they work the gulls.
 

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