Feb 3: Jacobean wisenheimers

It’s post-Super Bowl, and I’m feeling lazy, even though I didn’t watch it, except for the end as I was fixing dinner. Even though sports is far bigger than it was in the days of the HC, whoever made the selections must have been feeling lazy too, for we go all the way from Volume 46 to 47, from Shakespeare to…Jonson.

One of the advantages of using the physical book instead of the online version is that all the other stuff swims into your vision. Did you know Ben Jonson worked as a bricklayer? I don’t know why it would matter, but it is interesting.

Also around, but not included in the reading (which is act I scenes I-II of “The Alchemist”), is the “Argument” and the “Prologue”. This thing has more pregame than the Super Bowl (trying to keep topical here).

Oh, the argument is one of those acrostic poems where the first letters of the lines all spell “The Alchemist.” There is no end to the ingenuity of mankind deprived of TV.

I’ll also excerpt these four lines from the prologue because – if I am reading them right – they form a comedy writer’s creed:

..But when the wholesome remedies are sweet,
And in their working gain and profit meet,
He hopes to find no spirit so much diseas’d,
But will with such fair correctives be pleas’d.
As poetry I don’t think so much of it (the last line seems to clump a little), I just like the idea that the writer is pleased when his satire not only corrects people but makes some money.

-- OK, here’s the dramatis personae. The Alchemist is called Subtle. That’s probably the only thing that will be -- what kind of person will “Pertinax Surly” be, do we think? How about Tribulation Wholesome (which could have been the name of an XFL player)? Could you even get away with this nowadays? Sure you could, I realize – wasn’t there just a hit show called “Will & Grace”?

-- By the way, we’re promised “boisterous and ludicrous happenings,” so expect the unexpected! We join Subtle, Face (the housekeeper) and Dol Common mid-argument, so points for that. I think my sitcom background helps me here at the beginning, because the first thing I want to know is what they’re doing, not so much what they’re saying. They’re arguing, I can tell, and I’m not worried what the words are, because there aren’t enough of them to be expositional. So when Subtle says, “I’ll gum your silks/With good strong water, an you come,” I think “yada yada yada” – I’m waiting for the pipe to be laid.

-- Face then asks Subtle, out of anger, “Who am I, my mongrel, who am I?” A great way to get the pipe out! I have a feelling that this year’s readings, with their emphasis on the beginnings of plays, will actually be a master class for me in exposition.

-- “Suburb-captain” is an insult. The suburbs have never gotten respect.

-- Jonson also gives them a device whereby Face wants the volume of the conversation turned down and Subtle wants it louder, which could be funny to play, although I am easily amused.

-- Although he drops it as the two men fight, calling each other a “dog-leech” and “the vomit of all prisons”. It’s like you're practically at the Renaissance Faire right now!

-- I get it now (because the lady is cursing them out) – the three of them have a con going. They set up young Dapper, a lawyer (get it? He's a lawyer, and his name is Dapper.) and, again,, it’s something that would play much better than it reads (although it’s full of alchemical references, so who would want to see it, but this end, where Subtle is setting up the mark, reminds me of various New Age stuff one hears about:
Sir, against one o’clock prepare yourself;
Till when you must be fasting; only take
Three drops of vinegar in at your nose,
Two at your mouth, and one at either ear;
Then bathe your fingers’ ends and wash your eyes,
To sharpen your five senses, and cry hum
Thrice, and then buz as often.


The out, too, seems almost like Billy Wilder:
Well then, away. It is but your bestowing
Some twenty nobles ’mong her grace’s servants,
And put on a clean shirt. You do not know
What grace her grace may do you in clean linen.

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