Volpone By Ben Johnson

Volpone By Ben Johnson , Volpone Summary , Volpone Play , Volpone Critical Analysis Volpone is today Ben Jonson’s most performed play, and its savage portrayal of human greed, self-interest, selfishness and lust is as biting because it was in 1606. Set in Venice, the play is both a city comedy and a kind of beast fable, during which the wily and gold-obsessed trickster Volpone, or ‘fox’, dupes a variety of foolish Venetians and foreigners with the assistance of his clever servant Mosca (‘fly’ or ‘parasite’).

Volpone pretends to be a wealthy old man who is bedridden and shut to death, and courts the attentions of three eager gold-diggers, the merchant Corvino (‘crow’), the lawyer Voltore (‘vulture’) and therefore the elderly gentleman Corbaccio (‘raven’), who believe that they need an attempt at being made heir to his immense fortune. He extracts extravagant gifts from Corvino and Voltore, and persuades Corbaccio to disinherit his own son, Bonario, in favour of Volpone. Learning that Corvino features a beautiful wife, Celia, Volpone visits her in disguise and decides to seduce her. He convinces Corvino that his illness will only be cured by sleeping with a girl . The greedy Corvino agrees to ‘lend’ him Celia, because Volpone promises to form him his heir. When Celia isn't seduced by Volpone’s offers of wealth, he attempts to rape her, but is interrupted by Bonario. within the ensuing court case Mosca and Voltore conspire to acquit Volpone, and it's Celia and Bonario who are arrested for adultery. Bound up within the play’s ‘cross-plots’ (Volpone, ‘Argument’) are a foolish English couple, Sir and woman Politic Would-Be, and their savvier acquaintance Peregrine, a newly arrived traveller from England. Mosca and Volpone manipulate the vain and simply deceived Would-Bes for his or her own benefit.

Volpone, a Venetian nobleman, has no relative to form his heir; he must name someone his beneficiary. Several rivals attempt to attain his favor by bringing the sick Volpone gifts that they hope are going to be returned tenfold. Mosca, an ingenious parasite to Volpone, encourages the three major gulls to offer until it hurts. These birds of prey are Voltore, a lawyer; Corbaccio, an old miser close to die himself; and Corvino, an upscale merchant and husband to Celia, a gorgeous lady of Venice. Also naively competing for Volpone's wealth is Lady Would-be, the affected wife of an English knight, Sir Politic Would-be. After each gull is fleeced before our eyes, Mosca encourages Volpone to consider seeking a greater treasure than gold: the wife of Corvino. After a sensuous description by Mosca, Volpone resolves to ascertain this paragon of beauty.

As the second act begins, Volpone appears beneath Celia's window disguised as a mountebank. Jealous Corvino drives him away upon discovering his wife in an upper window. While Corvino threatens his wife with closer incarceration, Volpone sings to Mosca of her beauty and his desire. Mosca hatches a plot to secure Celia for his master. He tells Corvino that the mountebank's oil, purchased for Volpone by Corbaccio, has revived the flagging health of the fox. However, if Volpone is to measure on, he must roll in the hay some girl . The others are seeking the cure for Volpone, and Corvino must hurry or lose his investment. Corvino wisely suggests a courtesan, but Mosca slyly rejects this plan, reasoning that an artful quean might cheat all of them . Finally, Corvino offers his wife. he's convinced that she is safe, and Mosca is shipped to inform Volpone the great news.

Act III reveals Mosca and Bonario conversing within the street. for a few reason, Mosca is telling Bonario of Corbaccio's intention to disinherit him and alluring the son to witness the deed at Volpone's house. Meanwhile, Lady Would-be visits Volpone and nearly talks him to death. Mosca gets obviate her by saying that Sir Politic was lately seen rowing during a gondola with a cunning courtesan. Corvino arrives, dragging his unwilling wife into the fox's lair; Volpone, left alone with the shrinking lady, isn't successful in his persuasive attempts to seduce her. even as he's close to take her by force, Bonario leaps from his topographic point and denounces Volpone and spirits the woman to safety.

Mosca saves Volpone from the police by explaining the incident to the three gulls and persuading them to inform his contrived story in court. Mosca says that Bonario, impatient to ascertain Volpone, discovered the fox with Celia, seized the woman , and made her swear that Volpone had attempted to rape her. The plan is to urge an injunction against Bonario.

Act IV begins with the subplot of Sir Politic Would-be and Peregrine. Sir Politic is discovered entertaining his fellow Englishman together with his naive understanding of politics. Lady Would-be interrupts the conversation and mistakes Peregrine for the courtesan. She apologizes upon discovering her mistake, but Peregrine leaves during a huff and promises to require his revenge for the affront. 

At the court, Voltore succeeds in making Celia and Bonario appear as if lovers. Mosca persuades Lady Would-be to testify that Celia was the bawd within the gondola together ith her husband. Volpone makes his entrance on a stretcher to demonstrate his impotence.

All augurs well for the rogues because the fifth act begins. But Volpone cannot leave tolerably alone. He sends his servants to announce his demise and waits for the gulls to return to say their inheritance. Mosca is that the heir! The parasite flaunts his knowledge of their wrongdoing to the birds of prey and that they leave in despair. Disguised as a policeman , Volpone follows them to taunt them further.

Meanwhile, Peregrine, disguised as a merchant, involves Sir Politic's house and tells the knight that the police are seeking him because he has plotted to overthrow the Venetian state. When Sir Politic hides during a tortoise shell, Peregrine calls in another merchants to mock and humiliate the foolish Englishman.

At the court, the three gulls, enraged by Mosca and Volpone and therefore the loss of their hopes, plan to tell the reality . They accuse Mosca of being the lying villain who created the entire plot. Mosca is summoned and arrives with another plot in mind. He will extricate Volpone from this predicament, but the fox must remain dead and he, Mosca, must continue because the heir. Volpone throws off his disguise and therefore the entire intrigue is revealed.

The court sentences Mosca to the galleys; Volpone is bereft of his goods and sent to a hospital for incurables. The gulls are bereft of a legal practice, a wife, and a fortune. Celia returns to her father together with her dowry trebled, and Bonario is his father's heir immediately.

As a parting trick, Volpone has Mosca announce his death which he (Mosca) is his heir, in order that he can gloat at the fortune-hunters’ disappointment in disguise. But this last scam spirals out of control. the reality of the sooner court case starts to be revealed, and Mosca refuses to offer up Volpone’s fortune: Volpone is ‘dead’, after all! Volpone decides that he must reveal everything to the authorities, and everybody is roundly punished.

The play is about in Renaissance Italy; the characters take their names from animals and birds. The plot grew out of a beast fable popular within the Elizabethan oral tradition. Volpone (volpe) means fox in Italian; Mosca is that the word for parasitic gadfly. Mosca depends upon the goodwill of the sly Volpone. Volpone's genius lies in his ability to fleece the greedy rich, the covetous wealthy, without resort to trade, venture, or product, the standard methods of economic advancement. Furthermore, no poor, ignorant person is harmed, and a number of other parasites are maintained in husbanding the gold.

Two sorts of parasites or fools are found within the courts of Renaissance gentlemen: the natural idiots or deformed fools (for example, the dwarf, eunuch, and fool who entertain Volpone) and therefore the obsequious but clever fools (for example, Mosca). The others are fools by nature; Mosca plays the fool by choice. It is important to notice that although Volpone may be a gentleman and not a parasite, he's nonetheless making his living by employing the methods of such fools. Despite his noble heritage, Volpone chooses the occupation of a parasitic fool. this means that he's to be a comic book and not a significant figure.

The locale of Scene 2 is that the same as that of Scene 1. Each scene begins on the doorway of a replacement character. These are often called "French scenes," and their unity rests within the revelation of the standard of a replacement character, the demonstration of his chief characteristics by example, and therefore the contribution he will subsequently make to the play's conflict.


Character List

Volpone A rich Venetian nobleman who compounds his wealth by feigning fatal illness while promising several greedy friends he will make them his heir.

Mosca A parasite, Mosca is a fellow of no birth, without hope of worldly advancement beyond sharing the ill-gotten gains of his master. He is Volpone's chief minister and plot-maker.

Voltore This vulture is an advocate who can speak well in any cause. He aids Mosca to fleece others, thinking that the wealth will eventually come to him.

Corbaccio An extremely old gentleman, Corbaccio expects to dance on Volpone's grave. He disinherits his son to make his position as Volpone's heir secure.

Corvino A typical jealous husband who is persuaded by his greed to look like a cuckold.

Celia Corvino's beautiful wife.

Bonario A young gentleman of Venice, son to Corbaccio, and an honest man.

Sir Politic Would-be An English knight whose mind and notebooks are filled with naive intrigues and political plots.

Lady Would-be Sir Politic's loquacious and homely wife, who attempts to join the greedy gulls in fleecing Volpone.

Peregrine An English tourist in Venice.

Nano Volpone's dwarf.

Androgyno A hermaphrodite and professional fool employed in Volpone's household.

Castrone Volpone's servant, a eunuch.

Four Avocatori, a Notario, Officers of the Court, and three Mercatori These extras round out the persons needed to conduct the business of the court and expose the plotters.


Important Essay Questions

1. What is the function of the Sir Politic Would-be/Peregrine subplot?

2. What is the dramatic significance of the animal names of Volpone, Mosca, and the three birds of prey?

3. Give an example of implied physical movement and stage fun in the dialogue of the play.

4. Explain Mosca's statement that "almost all the wise world is little else, in nature, but parasites or sub-parasites."

5. What dramatic comic value did Jonson hope to suggest by using the characters of Nano, Androgyno, and Castrone?

6. Give an example of the use of hyperbole to promote dramatic irony in the play.

7. Is Celia's virtue a comic parody, or is it dramatically convincing? Explain.

8. How does the scene-shifting of the last act demonstrate the flexibility of the Elizabethan stage?

9. Why does Volpone throw off his disguise in the last scene?

10. What causes Mosca's sudden failure to understand Volpone's nature in the last scene? Explain.

11. Is the punishment of the company a comic or moral one? Explain.

12. Compare Jacques' statement in Shakespeare's As You Like It that all the world's a stage with Mosca's that all the world is little else but parasites.

13. Compare Niccolò Machiavelli's The Mandrake to Volpone.

14. Compare the savage irony of Jonson's hyperbole and the harsh ending of Volpone with the same elements in Molière's Tartuffe.

15. Describe Mosca's physical appearance, age, and voice, and support your casting with textual references. Contrast this exercise with a similar one of Volpone.


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