Tamburlaine's Malady: And Other Essays on Astrology in Elizabethan Drama

By Johnstone Parr | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
NON-ALCHEMICAL PSEUDO-SCIENCES IN The Alchemist

SUBTLE, the ringleader of the tricksters in Ben Jonson The Alchemist, occasionally cozened his clients with pseudo-scientific lore other than alchemical. An analysis of Subtle's remarks on physiognomy, chiromancy, metoposcopy, and astrology in the light of contemporary texts on these pseudo-sciences reveals that Subtle was usually (but not always) technically accurate when he threw together impressively various bits of pseudo-scientific lore.

Abel Drugger--the second dupe whom Subtle's procurer, Face, brings into the snares of the tricksters--eagerly expects to learn how to be successful in his tobacco business and avowedly wishes that the door of his newly-erected shop be constructed by the laws of necromancy.1 Immediately Subtle pronounces unctuously that Drugger is "a fortunate fellow" and "in right way to'ward riches"2 and when Face cunningly asks in pretended amazement how so much fortune can be remarked so soon, Subtle retorts knowingly:

By a rule, Captaine, In metoposcopie, which I doe worke by, A certaine starrc i'the fore-head, which you see not. Your chest-nut, or your olive-colour'd face Do's never faile: and your long care eare promise. I knew't, by certaine spots too, in his teeth, And on the naile of his mercurial finger.

Face: Which finger's that?

Subtle: His little finger. Looke.

Yo'were borne upon a wensday?

Drugger: Yes, indeed, sir.

Subtle: The thumbe, in chiromantie, we give VENUS;

____________________
1
I.ii.II (Herford and Simpson edition).
2
I.iii.33-35.

-107-

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