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BEN JONSON stands at the head of that school of dramatists who take for their Dramatis Persona not individuals but conventional types, and who somewhat ignore the complexities of human nature. No argument is wanted to show that Shakspere's method of truly holding the mirror up to nature is the higher, the greater, and the truer method, but Jonson has ancient tradition in favour of his view of the dramatic art. Actors, authors, and audiences have always been in a conspiracy to accept the conventional types-the stock stage characters-as a saving of time, trouble, and imagination; and Molière himself, in his 'Misanthrope,' in 'L'Avare,' in 'L'École des Femmes,' and in 'Tartuffe,' ranges himself among the typists. The French playwright, however, by reason of his great dramatic genius, his inexhaustible fancy and fertility of resources, is continually carried beyond the region of mere typical representation. Not so with Ben Jonson, who seldom departs from the strict tradition: his cowardly braggarts are most inveterate cowards and braggarts, his knaves most arrant knaves, his fools have no redeeming touch of good sense, and his misers are grasping and avaricious beyond all human precedent and possibility. Nevertheless, the magnificent genius of the man-chiefly a literary geniustakes the reader's judgment by storm; and if the reader's, how much more would the hearer be captivated by the broad persistent humour of Bobadill and the mordant cynicism of Mosca and Volpone !
LOVEWIT, a gentleman of middle age, 'wont to affect
mirth and wit,' forsakes his London house on account of the Plague, leaving it in charge of Jeremy Face, his servant. Face falls in with Subtle, a charlatan and pretended seeker after the philosopher's stone, and Dol Common, his accomplice, who induce him to enter into partnership with them.
They take up their abode in Lovewit's house, and under pretence of practising alchemy and soothsaying draw thither a great number of dupes; among others Sir Epicure Mammon, with his friend Pertinax Surly (who, however, holds them to be impostors), Abel Drugger, a tobacconist, and Lady Pliant, a rich young widow.
The master of the house unexpectedly returning, the alchemist and his confederates are exposed, but Lovewit pardons Face's misconduct in consideration of his having brought him acquainted with Lady Pliant, whom he marries.
A Room in LovEWIT'S House.
SUBTLE, in his velvet cap and gown, followed by
Subtle. What is your name, say you, Abel Drugger? Drugger. Yes, sir.
Subtle. A seller of tobacco?
Drugger. Yes, sir.
Free of the grocers?
Drugger. Ay, an 't please you.
Your business, Abel?
Drugger. This, an't please your worship; I am a young beginner, and am building Of a new shop, an 't like your worship, just At corner of a street :-Here is the plot on 'tAnd I would know by art, sir, of your worship, Which way I should make my door, by necromancy, And where my shelves; and which should be for boxes, And which for pots. I would be glad to thrive, sir: And I was wish'd to your worship by a gentleman, One Captain Face, that says you know men's planets, And their good angels, and their bad.
Subtle. I do,
If I do see them
Face. What! my honest Abel?
Thou art well met here.
Drugger. Troth, sir, I was speaking
Just as your worship came here, of your worship:
I pray you speak for me to master doctor.
Face. He shall do anything. Doctor, do you hear !
This is my friend, Abel, an honest fellow;
Nor washes it in muscadel and grains,
A neat, spruce, honest fellow, and no goldsmith.
Subtle. He is a fortunate fellow, that I am sure on. Face. Already, sir, have you found it? Lothee, Abel ! Subtle. And in right way toward riches
Subtle. This summer
He will be of the clothing of his company,
And next spring call'd to the scarlet; spend what he can. Face. What, and so little beard?
Subtle. Sir, you must think,
He may have a receipt to make hair come :
But he'll be wise, preserve his youth, and fine for 't;
His fortune looks for him another way.
Face. 'Slid, Doctor, how canst thou know this so soon?
I am amused at that!
Subtle. By a rule, captain,
In metoposcopy, which I do work by ;