Ben Jonson (15721637). The Alchemist. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
BEN JONSON was born of poor parents at Westminster in 1573. Through the influence of Camden, the antiquary, he got a good education at Westminster School; but he does not seem to have gone to a University, though later both Oxford and Cambridge gave him degrees. In his youth he practised for a time his stepfathers trade of bricklaying, and he served as a soldier in Flanders.
It was probably about 1595 that he began to write for the stage, and within a few years he was recognized as a distinguished playwright. His comedy of Every Man in His Humour was not only a great immediate success, but founded a school of satirical drama in England. Sejanus and Catiline were less popular, but are impressive pictures of Roman life, less interesting but more accurate than the Roman plays of Shakespeare.
The Alchemist is perhaps the most perfect technically of Jonsons plays, and is an admirable satire on the quacks and humbugs of the day. It contains, at the same time so much universal human nature, and is so excellent in art, that it holds a place among the first of those Elizabethan works that have held the interest of posterity.