The Alchemist (Jonson): Act 3, Scene 1

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Act 3, Scene 1

 

Summary of Act 3, scene 1
 
In the last scene Subtle had sent Ananais away to fetch the elders of his religious sect. He wanted more money from them and realizes he has to deal with the people at the top. Ananais is too naïve. Now he returns with his senior, Tribulation Wholesome.
 
Tribulation explains to Ananais that they must bear the “chastisements” “common to the saints” (line 1) because their sect is radically dissenting from the established church. Ananais insists he does not like Subtle, but Tribulation attributes his fiery temper to working near furnaces. They must “bend unto all means” (line 11) for “the holy cause” (line 12). Ananais logically argues that a holy cause should use holy means, but Tribulation argues that even the wicked are instruments for their good. The alchemical gold will hasten their cause. Ananais apologizes for his zeal.
 
Commentary on Act 3, scene 1 
 
Jonson makes both Puritan figures obnoxious, but at least Ananais is innocent and consistent in his belief. The scene reveals Tribulation to be a hypocrite. Ananais’s point that a holy brotherhood should use holy means in their work is overruled by Tribulation’s blatant confession that the only way to succeed is to bribe “the civil magistrate” (line 42) with gold. He couches this idea in alchemical jargon, comparing the gold to the elixir that cures all diseases. Ananais gives in, claiming to be “edified” by his elder (line 45).
 
Jonson by this time was a member of the Anglican Church and opposed to the extremism of Catholicism on the one hand and Puritanism on the other hand. He adheres to the classical virtue of moderation.
 
 

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