The Alchemist is a sublimely accomplished satirical farce about dreams of self-refinement: people want to transform themselves into something nobler, richer, more powerful, and more virile just as base metal was touted to be transformed into gold in the alchemical process.
First performed in 1610 and set in the same contemporary London time period, the plot revolves around scheming con artists during their master’s absence from the house. Face, Subtle and Doll Common dupe a series of ‘customers’ whose desire for aggrandizement leads them to believe in the existence of the fabled “Philosopher’s Stone”. As their equipment boils over and blows up in the offstage kitchen, so their plot heats up and is exploded by the skeptical Surly and the arrival of their master who quietly pockets their proceeds and marries the rich widow to boot.
The play is generally considered Ben Jonson's best comedy, deftly exposing human foible and foolishness to mockery and has continued to thrive in stage productions.