The Alchemist (Johnson): Act 4, Scene 2

Summary of Act 4, scene 2

Now Kestrel and his sister, the widow, Dame Pliant, arrive. Face and Subtle argue over who is to win Dame Pliant for a wife. They speak of drawing lots as they do for the prostitute Doll.
Kestrel is looking for the Captain but Face has to go change into costume so Subtle gives the advice on fashionable quarreling: Kestrel must know “modes, degrees and differences” (line 24). Subtle’s attention soon turns to the young widow. He predicts she will soon be a “lady”; he knows this by her look and taste (he kisses her). He looks at her hand and says her husband will be a man of art. Face enters as the Captain and also kisses the widow addressing her as “lady.” The widow, only nineteen, is not very bright—naïve, like her country brother. Subtle takes the young man for his quarreling lesson and will send for the young lady afterwards to read her fortune.
Commentary on Act 4, scene 2

The conflict between Face and Subtle heats up again over the widow. Subtle gets the first opportunity with her since Face has to dress as the Captain. He has to attend to the “Spanish Count” at the door (Surly in disguise). Subtle entertains brother and sister, and it is clear he means to predict the widow’s future husband as someone like himself. Dame Pliant is a name for a dumb type. She believes anything she is told.