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Volpone, wealthy and childless, is a con artist who attracts legacy hunters

by pretending to be on the verge of death. Volpone's "clients" including Corvino, Corbaccio, Voltore, and Lady Would-bePolitic bring him presents in the hopes of being included in his will. At the
opening of the play, Volpone delivers a soliloquy in which he literally
worships his gold while his servant Mosca, often called his Parasite, flits
around and periodically interrupts him with flattery.Nano, Castrone,
and Androgyno - Volpone's buffoons - enter and perform a skit which
gives a sarcastic account of the transmigration of Pythagoras's soul. The
entrance of Voltore, a lawyer, dispatches the buffoons. Voltore brings an
antique plate and is told he will be Volpone's sole heir. Corbaccio and
Corvino enter in succession, bringing a bag of gold coins and a pearl,
respectively, and are also told that they will be heir to Volpone's fortune.
Mosca is responsible for their deception, including Corbaccio's false
belief that disinheriting his son Bonario will eventually pay dividends.
Lady Would-be also comes to the door but is told to return later. Mosca
describes the beauty of Corvino's wife Celia to Volpone, who decides he
must see her for himself. They agree to go to her house in disguise.
Fellow Englishmen Sir Politic Would-be and Peregrine are seen in the
public square outside Corvino's house at the opening of Act Two. They
discuss a series of rumors involving animals which Sir Politic interprets
as bad omens for the English state. Mosca and Nano interrupt their
discussion as they enter to set up a stage. Volpone, disguised as a
mountebank, takes the stage and delivers a sales pitch for an elixir.
When he asks for a handkerchief from the audience, Celia throws hers
down to him. Corvino enters and furiously disperses the crowd.
Back at his house, Volpone swoons for Celia. He gives Mosca
permission to use his fortune in whatever way is necessary to woo Celia.

At Corvino's house, Corvino sharply reprimands Celia for showing favor

to a mountebank. He brandishes his sword and threatens her with
physical violence before Mosca knocks on the door. Mosca tells Corvino
that Volpone is on the mend but is in need of a female companion to
maintain his health. After due consideration, Corvino offers Celia and
goes to tell her to prepare for a feast at Volpone's house.
Act Three begins in the street with a soliloquy from Mosca regarding the
supposed superiority of natural-born parasites compared to learned
parasites. Bonario enters and scorns Mosca, who breaks down crying.
Mosca then tells Bonario that Corbaccio plans to disinherit Bonario.
Mosca offers to bring Bonario hear it for himself. Back at Volpone's
house, the entertainment provided by Nano, Castrone, and Androgyno is
interrupted by the entrance of Lady Would-be, who talks Volpone's ear
off and brings him a cap she made herself. Mosca enters and dispatches
with her by telling her he saw her husband Sir Politic on a gondola with
another woman. Mosca hides Bonario so that he may witness the
conversation with Corbaccio. However, Corvino and Celia arrive early
and Mosca is forced to move Bonario to the gallery. After considerable
deliberation, Celia is forced to be alone with Volpone, who reveals to her
that he is not actually sick. Volpone offers her his fortune, but she
declines. Just as he begins to force himself on her, Bonario leaps out and
rescues Celia, exiting through the window. Mosca, who has been
wounded by Bonario, enters and attends to Volpone. Mosca then
convinces Corbaccio and Voltore to go after Bonario.
At the opening of Act Four, Sir Politic and Peregrine discuss the ways of
a gentleman. Sir Politic details his get-rich-quick schemes, one of which
involves selling the Venetian state to the Turks. Lady Would-be enters
and accuses Peregrine of being a woman who is seducing her husband.
Mosca enters and convinces Lady Would-be that her husband's seducer

is actually Celia. Though Lady Would-be apologizes to him, Peregrine

vows revenge on Sir Politic for his humiliation.
At the Scrutineo, Voltore, Corbaccio, Corvino, and Mosca get their story
straight. Though they side with Bonario and Celia at the opening of the
case, the Avocatori eventually align themselves with Voltore, who argues
that Bonario committed adultery with Celia and attempted to kill his
father. Lady Would-be testifies that Celia seduced her husband. Bonario
and Celia have no witnesses of their own, so they lose the case.
Volpone's soliloquy at the beginning of Act Five foreshadows his
punishment at the end of Act Five. He complains that, during the court
case, he began to feel the pains which he has been faking for so long. He
downs a glass of wine to "shake it off" (5.1.8) and Mosca enters to
celebrate their unsurpassable masterpiece. Mosca goads Volpone to
begin cozening his "clients," so Volpone writes a will naming Mosca as
heir and spreads the word that he is dead. When Volpone's "clients" enter
and discover that they have been duped, Mosca berates them one by one
as Volpone looks on from behind the curtain. Volpone and Mosca decide
to disguise themselves and continue tormenting the "clients" in the
At Sir Politic's house, Peregrine plays a practical joke on Sir Politic. Pretending to be a
messenger, Peregrine tells Sir Politic that he has been reported for his plan to sell Venice to the
Turks. Sir Politic panics, instructs his servants to burn his notes, and hides under a large tortoise
shell just as three merchants, dressed as statesman, enter the house. Once the merchants discover
Sir Politic under the shell, Peregrine tells him they are even and leaves. Sir Politic decides to
leave Venice forever since his reputation has been so damaged.
In the street, Volpone, disguised as a commendatore, torments Corbaccio, Corvino, and
Voltore by pretending he has heard news that they inherited a fortune. Voltore cracks and goes to
theScrutineo to confess that he lied during the previous court case. He gives his notes to the
Avocatori but when Volpone, still disguised, tells him that Volpone is still alive, Voltore retracts
his confession and pretends he was possessed while making it. While debating over whether to
turn himself in, Volpone discovers that Mosca has locked him out of his own house. After being
summoned by the Avocatori, Mosca arrives at the Scrutineo and affirms that Volpone is dead.

Volpone beseeches him to say that Volpone is still alive, but Mosca demands half of his fortune.
When Mosca and Volpone cannot agree to share the fortune, Volpone is apprehended by officers
of the court. Before he is led away, however, Volpone unmasks himself and brings Mosca down
with him. The Avocatori then hand down punishments to Volpone, Mosca, and the rest of the
"clients." To conclude the play, Volpone speaks to the audience and asks for applause.

"a Magnifico," or nobleman of Venice, the namesake of the play. Volpone is a con artist who
feigns illness to attract legacy hunters. He embodies greed and obsesses over gold. His love of
watching others' greed and flattery tends toward voyeurism. By the play's end, it is clear that
Volpone is hardly the brains behind his own scheme - he is quite susceptible to Mosca's

"his Parasite," i.e. Volpone's servant. Mosca is bothersome, obsequious, and conniving. Though
he is lower than Volpone in birth, Mosca is effectively the master of the scam. Volpone is the star,
but Mosca is the manipulator, the one who plays the legacy hunters against each other. Like
Volpone's, Mosca's greed is all-consuming, and even more than his master, Mosca operates on
pure strategy, never displaying the least remorse for his deceit and chicanery.

"an Advocate," or lawyer. Among the legacy hunters, Voltore is distinguished by his profession.
Mosca tells Voltore that he will be heir because Volpone admires lawyers. Mosca also singles
him out for punishment because of his exceptional performance in the defense of Volpone.
Voltore's intelligence gives him an air of superiority but also a capacity for remorse. It is
Voltore's confession that ultimately ruins Volpone and Mosca.

"an old Gentleman." Corbaccio is a decrepit miser. His hearing, his vision, and his gait are all
impaired, yet he plans to outlast Volpone. Corbaccio commits his treachery with reasonably good
intentions - that is, to increase his son's wealth - but only his greed could've led him to seek
Volpone's fortune in the first place. Ultimately, the false accusation Corbaccio makes against his
son is one of the more abominable acts of the play.

"a Merchant." Besides being greedy, Corvino is tempestuous and ill-tempered. His treatment of
his wife is horrifying. He epitomizes carnal desire. Since he is the most subject to his passions,
Corvino is the most credulous of the legacy hunters. Hence, he is duped in the worst way.

"four Magistrates," or the judges from the Scrutineo. For representatives of order and justice,
the Avocatori are dangerously gullible. They switch sides in the court case based not on concrete
evidence but on their impressions of the defendants and the prosecutors. What's worse, the
Avocatori are just as shallow and self-absorbed as the other characters in the play. Even when
lives are at stake, the Avocatori are concerned only with marrying their daughters off to Mosca.


"the Register," or officer of the Scrutineo. The Notario acts something like a bailiff would in a
modern court of law. He summons witnesses, swears them in, and, in general, runs errands for
the Avocatori.

"a Dwarf." One of the three servants whom Volpone keeps for entertainment. Their performances
mostly involve slapstick humor, which serves as a commentary on Elizabethan theater. They also
run errands for Volpone, for instance spreading the false news that he has died.

"an Eunuch." One of the three servants whom Volpone keeps for entertainment, who are also,
allegedly, his illegitimate children.

"a Hermaphrodite." The third of Volpone's servant players.

Sir Politic Would-be

"a Knight." Sir Politic is a traveler from England who prides himself on knowing the ways of a
gentleman. He is a know-it-all who in fact knows not very much at all. He puts tremendous stake
in his reputation and in many ways acts as a foil for Volpone. Unlike Volpone's, however, Sir
Politic's get-rich-quick schemes are not exploitative.

"a Gentleman-traveller." Like Sir Politic, Peregrine is a visitor from England who thus serves to
connect the storyline to Jonson's home country. Peregrine also embodies the theme of Vengeance
and symbolizes the Knowledge aspect of the Knowledge/Ignorance theme.

"a young Gentleman, son of Corbaccio." Bonario is upstanding, noble, and unfortunately
gullible. His honesty and his desire to do right make him one of the more righteous characters in
the play. However, perhaps because he believes so strongly in good, he is too trusting of others
and is exploited as a result.

Lady Would-be
"the Knight's wife." Lady Would-be is the garrulous, vain, and jealous companion of Sir Politic.
Though she is herself independent, Lady Would-be begrudges Sir Politic his freedom, becoming
irrationally exasperated when Mosca tells her that Sir Politic is with another woman. We know
also that Lady Would-be's greed rivals that of Corvino, Corbaccio, and Voltore since Mosca tells
us that she offered him her body in order to be Volpone's heir.

"the Merchant's wife." Despite her sadomasochistic desire, Celia, along with Bonario, stands for
righteousness amidst corruption. Her innocence is debatable, but Celia, unlike nearly every other
character in the play, is at least unspoiled by greed.

"Officers." The Commendatori are the court officers who detain Corbaccio, Corvino, Voltore,
Mosca, and Volpone once their punishments have been handed down. Also, Volpone disguises
himself as a commendatore in order to taunt Corbaccio, Corvino, and Voltore in the streets.

"three Merchants." The Mercatori are Peregrine's accomplices in the practical joke he plays on
Sir Politic. They pretend to be representatives of the Venetian state who have come to apprehend
Sir Politic.

"a servant."

"crowd." The throng that gathers in the public square around Volpone when he pretends to be a

Lady Would-be's servants.

Volpone Themes
The theme of greed pervades the entire play. It is embodies byVolpone, Mosca, and all the
"clients." In his opening soliloquy, Volpone displays how utterly consumed by greed he is. In a
sense, greed defines the major conflict of Volpone. Volpone's scam is born of his own greed
and fed by the greed of his "clients." After Mosca compares Celia's beauty to that of gold,
Volpone's greed inspires unconquerable desire for her. Because greed is all that he knows,
Volpone even resorts to it as a tactic for seducing Celia. Ultimately, it is greed which causes
Volpone and Mosca's downfall. Because they cannot agree to share the fortune in 5.12, Volpone
unmasks himself and brings Mosca down with him.

Animalization, that is, Jonson's representation of characters as their namesake animals,
transforms Volpone into a kind of fable. Arguably, the characters are not as one-dimensional as
their names might suggest, but their names are fitting, memorable, and, most importantly,
descriptive. If the names of Jonson's characters can be considered predictors of their actions, then
the majority of the play's action comes as no surprise to the audience. Combined with the
Argument, the Animalization theme reveals the motivations of every character. As a result, the
audience can focus more readily on the underlying meaning of the play instead of the how and
the what.

Although Mosca is the foremost parasite in the play, Corvino,Corbaccio,
and Voltore might well be considered parasites as well. Certainly, Volpone's entire scam
depends on Mosca's keen ability to leech his clients, but if not for the clients' desire to leech
Volpone, the scam would fall flat. Volpone, Mosca, and all the clients are, in fact, competing
Parasitism is an explicit theme of the play as it emerges from Mosca's soliloquy in 3.1. Here,
Mosca expresses his opinion that parasitism is a universal guiding principle: that is, everyone is a
parasite, but some are better at it than others. In the case of Volpone, this principle rings true.
Few characters in the play act honestly; all seem willing, instead, to use any means to secure
Volpone's fortune. They are all parasites, flies and carrion birds competing over Volpone's dying
carcass. Only Mosca, however - the cleverest parasite of all - is fully aware of his parasitic status.
Thus, arguably, he is best able to manipulate others.

The theme of metatheatricality is revealing. Although there are only a few scenes which qualify
as plays-within-a-play, Jonson's criticism of Elizabethan theater emerges from each. In 1.2,
Mosca's account of the transmigration of Pythagoras's soul is truly obscene. In order to produce a
few chuckles from Volpone, Mosca debases an unparalleled philosopher and mathematician.
From Jonson's perspective, as expressed in the Epistle and the Prologue, this kind of lowbrow
humor is a travesty. Volpone, who appears to enjoy theater, is without a doubt in desperate need
of moral education. Jonson argues that Volpone's love of theater provides the perfect opportunity
to "inform [him] in the best reason of living." As shown by the low quality of Nano's recitation,
Jonson believes that the Jacobean theater is lacking in this function. Volponeis intended to
demonstrate refined, serious, Classically-influenced comedy that might instruct rather than
simply amuse. Of course, ironically, that does not make his plays-within-the-play any less

Though it is sparingly present in the main plot, the theme of Vengeance is much more prominent
in the subplot of Volpone. The story of Sir Politic and Peregrine, besides being a warning to
the English state, points out the ludicrousness of traditional vengeance. Peregrine, who only

thinks he has been wronged, drives Sir Politic to leave Venice merely for the satisfaction of
saying "Now, we are even" (5.4.74). If nothing else, this parable teaches us that vengeance is a
childish pursuit.

Like greed, deception pervades the entire play. As a theme, deception has the effect of marking
characters for punishment. In the main plot of Volpone, Jonson's sense of poetic justice is such
that any character who deceives another is ultimately punished. Bonario and Celia, who never
engage in deception but who are honest to the last, are exempted from punishment. Meanwhile,
Mosca, Volpone, and the rest of the clients all get their comeuppance.

At any given time during the course of the play's action, no characters on stage know as much as
the audience; they are all thus ignorant, though some are more ignorant than others. Jonson's
extensive use of dramatic irony ensures that only the audience is fully aware of each character's
situation. Not even Mosca, the master puppeteer, knows that Corvino and Celia will come to the
door earlier than expected and that, as a result, Bonario will leap out and discover Volpone's
scam. Jonson plays with the knowing position of the audience, inviting us to consider their moral
failings from an unsurprised position. Thus he equates ignorance with moral chicanery and
knowledge with moral instruction.
This knowledge-ignorance dialectic develops the conflict of both the main plot and the subplot.
Sir Politic, who epitomizes ignorance, and Peregrine, who epitomizes knowledge, clash in
predictable ways. On the subject of the mountebanks, for example, Peregrine has his reservations
but Sir Politic declares that "They are the only knowing men of Europe!" (2.2.9). And, however
ironically, Peregrine is supposedly being instructed by Sir Politic in the ways of a gentleman
traveler. Sir Politic and Peregrine's interaction might best be summarized by the maxim which
says, "Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise."

Undoubtedly, Jonson and Shakespeare knew each other personally. The King's Men - who, as
mentioned in the "About Volpone" section, put on the first performance of Volpone in 1605
or 1606 - was the company which acted many of Shakespeare's plays and in which Shakespeare
himself acted. Shakespeare is even thought to have acted in one of Jonson's plays, Every

Man In His Humour.

Jonson's relationship with Shakespeare was primarily one of respectful competition. Though he
was tapped to write a poem introducing Shakespeare's First Folio, Jonson had previously
commented that Shakespeare "wanted art" and, in response to claims that Shakespeare never
blotted, or erased, a line, retorted "Would he had blotted a thousand." Jonson also once remarked
that Shakespeare knew "small Latine and less Greek."
However, Jonson's main quarrel with Shakespeare was not personal but rather stylistic. Whereas
Jonson prided himself on following the classical rules of dramaturgy (see the Epistle and the
Prologue), Shakespeare relished just the opposite - breaking the classical rules of dramaturgy.
Still, Jonson respected Shakespeare's natural genius. In the second folio of his work, published
after his death, Jonson was magnanimous in his remarks on Shakespeare: "I loved the man, and
do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any."