This essay contextualizes Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist in relation to the social controversy generated by London’s rich runaways in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Reading the surviving playtext as a record of a site-specific performance at London’s Blackfriars playhouse in November 1610, I argue that the notable presence of the Blackfriars’ stage-sitters is a crucial dimension of Jonson’s dramaturgy, one previously unconsidered in scholarship on the play. Occupying a contradictory play space that is informed by contemporary theories positing a material connection between playgoing and the threat of plague exposure, on the one hand, and the emergent public awareness of plague mortality as a class-based phenomenon, on the other, The Alchemist ironically stages the hazardous proximity of other bodies as a provocation to its socially privileged audiences, especially those seated onstage at the Blackfriars playhouse in November 1610.


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pp. 505-523
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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