Ben Jonson


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Volpone Summary

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Volpone, Italian for sly fox, is a comedy play by Ben Jonson, first produced in 1605 – 6. A satire about greed and lust, it remains Jonson’s most performed play, and is considered one of the finest Jacobean era comedies.

Volpone is a wealthy, childless con artist. The play begins with him worshipping his gold in a soliloquy. His servant Mosca, or Parasite, periodically interrupts him with flattery. Volpone’s buffoons, Nano, Castrone, and Androgyno, enter and perform a sarcastic skit about the transmigration of Pythagoras’ soul.

Volpone pretends to be on his deathbed to attract legacy hunters. These “clients,” among them Corvino, Corbaccio, Voltore, and Lady Would-be Politic, bring him presents, hoping to be included in his will. The first three bring gifts, and are each told they will be the sole heir to Volone’s fortune. This deception is Mosca’s fault. At the door,the Lady Would-be is told to return later. Mosca speaks of Corvino’s beautiful wife, and Volpone decides to see her for himself. They disguise themselves and head out.

Sir Politic Would-be and Peregrine are in the public square outside Corvino’s house. They gossip about some rumors about animals, which Sir Politic takes as bad omens for the state. Mosca and Nano appear, and set up a stage. Volpone arrives disguised as a mountebank, and delivers a sales pitch for an elixir. He asks for a handkerchief, and Celia, Corvino’s wife, throws one to him. Corvino is furious and disperses the crowd.

Back at his house, Volpone lusts after Celia. He tells Mosca to use his fortune in whatever way necessary to woo Celia. At Corvino’s house, Corvino scolds Celia for showing her favour to the mountebank. He threatens her with a sword and abuse before Mosca knocks. Mosca says Volpone is in need of a female companion to regain his health. Corvino decides to offer Celia, and tells her to prepare for a feast at Volpone’s house.

Mosca soliloquies about the supposed superiority of natural-born parasites compared to learned ones. Bonario, Corbaccio’s son, enters, and scorns Mosca. Mosca tells Bonario that Corbaccio plans to disinherit Bonario, and offers to let Bonario hear it for himself.

At the feast, the buffoons’ entertainment is interrupted by Lady Would-be, who arrives, chats non-stop to Volpone, and brings him a cap. Mosca enters, hiding Bonario, and dispatches Lady Would-be. He tells her he saw her husband Sir Politic on a gondola with another woman. He must quickly relocate Bonario when Corvino and Celia arrive early. Celia and Volpone are alone together, and Volpone reveals that he is not actually sick. He offers her the fortune, but she declines. He is about to force himself on her, but Bonario leaps out and rescues Celia. They exit through the window. Mosca, injured by Bonario, tends to Volpone. Mosca convinces Corbaccio and Voltore to go after Bonario.

Sir Politic and Peregrine discuss the ways of a gentleman. Sir Politic has a scheme for quick riches, to sell the Venetian state to the Turks. Lady Would-be enters, accusing Peregrine of being the woman who seduced her husband. Mosca enters, and tells Lady Would-be her husband’s seducer is actually Celia. Peregrine vows revenge on Sir Politic for this humiliation, despite the Lady’s apology.

Mosca, Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino side against Bonario and Celia.Voltore argues that Bonario was adulterous with Celia, and tried to kill his father. Lady Would-be testifies that Celia is a seductress. Bonario and Celia have no witnesses, so they lose the case.

Volpone complains that he is feeling pains that he had previously been faking. He has a glass of wine, and Mosca enters to celebrate. He tells Volpone to cozen his clients, and Volpone writes his will with Mosca as the sole heir. He spreads word that he is dead. The clients enter and realize they have been duped; Mosca berates them while Volpone hides.The two decide to disguise themselves and continue with the torment.

Peregrine has revenge on Sir Politic in way of a practical joke. Sir Politic leaves Venice forever, after his reputation is ruined.

Volpone torments Corbaccio, Corvino, and Voltore in disguise. He tells them they have inherited a fortune. Voltore goes back to court and admits he lied during the case. Volpone, disguised, then tells him that Volpone is still alive, so Voltore retracts his statement. Volpone discovers Mosca has locked him out of his own house. Mosca is summoned to court, and confirms that Volpone is dead. Volpone pleads with him to say he is alive, but Mosca demands half of the fortune. They cannot agree, so Volpone is taken away by officers. He quickly unmasks himself and brings Mosca down with him. The court then hands punishments to everyone involved. Finally, Volpone speaks to the audience and asks for applause.