The Alchemist (Jonson): Act 4, Scene 7

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Act 4, Scene 7

 

Summary of Act 4, scene 7
 
Although Subtle is crumbling under pressure, Face is still alert and thinking in this danger, for he runs off to get Kestrel who has been practicing his quarreling lesson. Face gives him Surly as a test, saying that the Spanish Don has insulted his sister. Kestrel fights with him. Surly tries to get Pliant to speak up for him to her brother. Face takes a moment to encourage Subtle in an aside, “Bear up, Subtle” (line 18). He tells Pliant that Surly is a false Spanish count. The real Spanish count is on his way. Surly is an enemy, he tells her, who wants to destroy the good Doctor’s art. When Kestrel rebukes his sister for protecting Surly, she leaves.
 
Just as the crisis seems under control, Drugger enters. Face in an aside tells him too to attack Surly because Surly is trying to cheat Drugger of the widow. Drugger approaches and says that Surly owes him money. Kestrel and Drugger are trying to get Surly out of the house when Ananais enters and says “Peace to the household” (line 42). He announces that the brotherhood has decided that the casting of dollars is lawful and agrees to it. Kestrel mistakes Ananais for the constable. Everyone breaks out in argument, and Kestrel is delighted to practice being an “angry boy” at last. Ananais denounces Surly as “the Antichrist” (line 55) in his Spanish costume. Surly decides he’s had enough but says he will follow up later. Face sends Kestrel after Surly to continue badgering him.
 
Face tells Drugger that they want him to come in a Spanish suit for the widow. He sends him out to find a Spanish suit. Subtle tells Ananais that the house may be watched, and he does not know if they can do the coin casting. Ananais leaves to tell his brotherhood. They will pray on it.
 
Face accuses Subtle when they are alone of being too easily defeated. He (Face) has single-handedly saved their scheme through his quick thinking. He has sent Drugger for a Spanish suit so that he can take the suit himself and be the Spanish count now.
 
Subtle decides he wants the widow again, now that she is not tainted, but Doll enters to say there is a new hitch in the plans. The master of the house has just returned.
 
Commentary on Act 4, scene 7
 
Jonson masterfully brings together all the gulls in a scene of comic chaos of which he is the master of ceremonies. Face proves his superiority over Subtle by keeping his cool under pressure and turning the tables on Surly by enlisting the aid of all the other gulls. He has to boost Subtle who almost loses it. Face is even more confident after this episode and does not cautiously withdraw. He picks up and continues.
 
Only the announcement of his master’s return might prove the final undoing. The comedy of the scene is that each character perfectly displays his “humor” or temperament to all the others without knowing what is going on. In a way the scene mimics life, with each person talking at others with little understanding of who is in control. The ultimate joke is that those who believe they are in control are the greatest “gulls.” The audience is about to enjoy the gulling of the con men. Like the movie, “The Sting,” the con game has many layers to it, and the final sting is not known until the end.
 

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