The Alchemist (Jonson): Act 3, Scene 2

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Summary of Act 3, scene 2

 
Subtle treats the Anabaptists, Ananais and his superior, Tribulation, with harsh contempt and aggression. Instead of objecting, the elder (Tribulation) tries to placate the “Doctor” because he wants his gold. Subtle explains that the stone will help their “cause” by healing people of disease and they will become friends. Then Subtle goes on to give other examples of their coming power such as the ability of the Anabaptists to “pay an army,” or “buy the King of France” (lines 47-48).  They will have power to defeat “lords spiritual or temporal” (line 50).
 
Subtle is playing to the elder’s ambition and Tribulation replies, “We may be temporal lords ourselves, I take it” (line 52). Subtle makes little digs at the Puritans while seeming to help them. Ananais for his part continually pounces on the wrong word choice of Subtle. If Subtle says “bell,” Ananais mumbles “Bells are profane” (line 61). This refers to the Puritan dislike of any ritual in a religious service. Subtle pretends every moment that the very presence of the Puritans disturbs the progress of the alchemical work, and he is barely suffering them to remain. Tribulation keeps taking Subtle’s insults and apologizing for Ananais because Subtle offers them a great deal as the broker for some orphans who want him to make their goods into gold (Mammon’s household items). If the brotherhood purchases them he will have enough material to change the objects of gold and everyone will be rich in 15 days. Subtle even offers to make counterfeit coins. When Tribulation appears nervous about this, Subtle tells him it is not “coining” but “casting” (lines 152-3); that is, not counterfeiting but just altering the coins. Both counterfeiting and altering coins were illegal, but the Anabaptists decide to ask the brotherhood about “this case of conscience” (line 156). Meanwhile, they buy the ‘orphans’ goods.
 
Commentary on Act 3, scene 2
 
There is a lot of humor that the audience would have enjoyed against these Puritan hypocrites. They believe that they can bend the law in their holy cause. Ananais says “We know no magistrate” (line 150); that is, they are above the law. When Subtle has agreed to make counterfeit Dutch dollars Ananais thinks it’s all right because it is a foreign currency; therefore, not illegal. Subtle also teases them about their pretentious names such as “Tribulation, Persecution” (lines 93-97).
 
In a long passage detailing Puritan practices (lines 69-82), Subtle says that with the stone, they can leave off their obnoxious petty strategies of getting converts and obtain armies to become a temporal power themselves. This accusation of Puritan political ambition would prove prophetic later in the century with the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Commonwealth in England.
 
 

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