The Alchemist (Johnson): Act 3, Scene 4

Summary of Act 3, scene 4

Face greets Dapper telling him he will be a successful gambler because of his aunt’s (the Fairy Queen’s) blessings. Just then Drugger and Kestrel enter. Drugger brings tobacco as a gift and introduces his friend Kestrel. Kestrel wants to be like the “angry boys” (line 22) of London, the smart set who smoke and swagger. He will learn such ways so he can go home and be worldly in the country. He is promised a precise manual of how to provoke and settle quarrels. Face says he himself was only a pimp, but the Doctor made him into a captain! Face brags that Dapper only makes forty marks a year, but will be made into a successful gambler, so it will cost him nothing to live. In like manner, Subtle will show Kestrel how to get free goods from merchants. He can also make matches for rich widows like Kestrel’s sister, and cast their horoscopes. Kestrel decides the Doctor shall advise his sister and goes to find her. Face tells Drugger privately he’ll get the widow if he brings damask silk next time. Drugger leaves.
Dapper says he has performed all the ceremonies of purification and is ready to see his “aunt.”
Commentary on Act 3, scene 4
We admire Face for being the master of ceremonies capable of keeping all the stories straight with clients coming and going. He is so adroit he can handle spontaneously any challenge, as when Kestrel asks him bluntly, “Do you not gull one?” (line 74). Face makes up a fictitious rule of quarreling based on geometry—Kestrel will learn how to respond with a “right line” or a “half-circle.” He claims the whole town studies the Doctor’s “theorems” (lines 30-41). He shows him Dapper who is “to be initiated” (line 57) into how to live like a gentleman “on nothing a year” as the later satirist, William Makepeace Thackeray would name this concept. Kestrel too will be given everything for free if he just knows how to live like a London gentleman. Face gives further proof of the Doctor’s omniscience by telling about Drugger’s health problems. Face thus gulls several people at the same time, turning finally to Dapper to get all his loose change. The audience wonders how long Face’s luck will hold. Although Face offers the widow to Drugger, he already knows he and Subtle will “wrestle” for her (line 135).