Ben Jonson animates The Alchemist with an intersection of languages. In this moral satire, he captures the layered dialects, specialized vocabularies, and social desires of London and holds them up for view. This essay examines the play’s negotiation of ‘vertical’
and ‘horizontal’ modes of translation, also with reference to Shakespeare’s treatment of overlapping languages, and to the use of multiple languages in a contemporary Catholic treatise on translation, A Discoverie of the Manifold Corruptions of the Holy Scriptures.
Jonson’s conclusion is that the friction between languages offers opportunities for cheats to thrive onstage and off, and that the predominant language of this world is sin, from which only lucid repentance can ‘translate’ us. His satire may stand on godly ground, but his
insight is also useful for the current study of translated and adapted literature, particularly Shakespeare. Keywords: The Alchemist; Ben Jonson; William Shakespeare; interlinguicity; translation Shallow: It is well said, in faith, sir, and it is well said indeed, too. “Better
accomodated” – it is good; yea, indeed is it. Good phrases are surely, and ever were, very commendable. “Accomodated” – it comes of “accommodo”. Very good, a good phrase. (2 Henry IV 3.2.63–66)Falstaff: This same starved justice
hath done nothing but prate to me of the wildness of his youth and the feats he hath done about Turnbull Street; and every third word a lie… (2 Henry IV 3.2.277–279)Duchess of York: No word like “Pardon” for kings’ mouths so meet.York: Speak it in French,
King: say “Pardonnez-moi”. (Richard II 5.3.116–117)