Alchemist as an Allegory
An allegory is an extended metaphorical narrative in which a figure stands for a specific quality. It is a story or narrative, usually of some length, which carries a second meaning or relevance, as well as that of its surface story; It is usually a method of telling one story whilst seeming to tell another. Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist is a comedic expose in which the fabric of society is inextricably linked to the status-quo and its ravenous desire for wealth and power.
Through the characters in the play, Jonson presents an allusive manifestation of Elizabethan society, and a clairvoyant analysis of human vices. On the surface, it is a story that makes use of the alchemical powers of fiction to put a bleakly humorous spin on foolish people and those who greedily exploit them. However, through deeper inference it is obvious that what Jonson is proposing is not merely a portrait of the status-quo in his own society, but of the maleficent faults apparent in human nature.
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These conditions are deeply rooted and historically enduring. Ultimately, Ben Jonson’s critique of the Elizabethan status-quo is relevant to our own society in which wealth, power, and the desire for status casts a shadow over a dismal human reality in desperate need of reform. The characters of the play are all spellbound with greed and in pursuit of some form of wealth or power. In The Alchemist, Ben Jonson presents the interesting idea that not only the Plague thrives within the populated city, but vice also flourishes.
Since urban areas historically house more poor people than rural areas, a desire for money may understandably become associated with the inner city. This greed, as Jonson illustrates with his plot and characters, leads to people’s immoral activities. Jonson purposefully provides a wide span of immoral characters to satirize, as he demonstrates in his statement that “No clime breeds better matter [than London], for your whore, / Bawd, squire, impostor, [and] many persons more