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Volpone

Ben Jonson

Important Quotations Explained

Act V, scene x–scene xii

Key Facts

Volpone: Hail to the world's soul, and mine. More glad than is The teeming earth to see the longed-for sun Peep through the horns of the celestial ram, Am I, to view they splendour, darkening his: That lying here, amongst my other hoards, Show'st like a flame by night; or like the day Struck out of chaos, when all darkness fled Unto the center. Oh, thou son of Sol (But brighter than thy father) let me kiss, With adoration, thee, and every relic Of sacred treasure in this blessed room.

These lines are spoken at the beginning of the play (I.i.3–13). It is early morning, Volpone stands in front of his shrine, which he has collected through confidence tricks like the one he now plays with Corbaccio, Corvino and Voltore. Volpone praises the treasure in ecstatic religious terms, calling it "sacred", and "blessed", and exclaiming with hyperbole that his gold is brighter than the sun. This establishes two of Volpone's key character traits: his intense energy, and his worship of money (which we will soon see extends to all other means of self-gratification).

Mosca: I am so limber. Oh! Your parasite Is a most precious thing, dropped from above, Not bred 'mongst clods and clot-poles, here on earth. I muse, the mystery was not made a science, It is so liberally professed! Almost All the wise world is little else, in nature, But parasites, or sub-parasites.

Mosca speaks these lines in soliloquoy in Act III, scene i, lines 7–13. Mosca is Volpone's "parasite", a lackey or servant almost completely dependent on Volpone for his livelihood. But in these lines, he professes that what defines him as a parasite-the fact that he must live off the wealth of another, instead of working hard to produce his own-is in fact characteristic of most "wise" (or intelligent) people in the world. The play will prove him right in claiming that parasitism is widespread, at least in Venetian society; Volpone, Voltore, Corbaccio, Corvino all are "parasites" to some extent. But the play's moral satire will attempt to refute his claim that this parasitism is, in fact, wise.

Celia: Oh, God and his good angels! Whither, whither Is shame fled human breasts? That with such ease, Men dare put off your honours and their own? Is that, which ever was a cause of life, Now placed beneath the basest circumstance? And modesty an exile made, for money?

These lines are spoken in Act III, scene vii, just before Volpone's attempted seduction and then attempted rape of Celia. Celia's husband has effectively prostituted to Volpone, so that he might inherit Volpone's forunte. Celia here effectively Jonson's mouthpiece, citing what might be considered the thesis of the play. Namely, that even love and sex, the most intimate acts in human life, that create life, are now held to be less valuable than money; and that this inverted value-system has made men dishonorable and shameless in their pursuit of money.

Volp.: See, here, a rope of pearl; and each, more orient Than the brave Egyptian queen caroused: Dissolve, and drink 'em. See, a carbuncle, May put out both the eyes of our St. Mark; A diamond would have bought Lollia Paulina, When she came in, like star-light, hid with jewels That were the spoils of provinces; take these, And wear, and lose 'em: yet remains an ear-ring To purchase them again, and this whole state.

These lines, again spoken in Act III, scene vii, might be considered Volpone's apotheosis. This is high point the play, and the fullest expression of his system of values. He offers Celia a life full of constant, yet expendable, pleasures; pearls one can drink, jewels one can lose, without a thought; unbridled hedonism without any care for the future. But when he runs up against Celia's steadfast Christian virtue, Volpone reacts with angry violence. But Bonario rescues Celia; Volpone panics, knowing he has been discovered, and begs Mosca to help him. It is the beginning of his downfall, for the increasingly dominant Mosca will eventually come to challenge Volpone for his estate.

1st Avo: And these are all your judgments.

All.: Honoured fathers.

1st Avo: Which may not be revoked. Now you begin, When crimes are done and past, and to be punished, To think what your crimes are: away with them. Let all that see these vices thus rewarded Take heart, and love to study 'em. Mischiefs feed Like beasts. Till they be fat, and then they bleed.

These are the final lines in the play, spoken in Act V, scene xii. They neatly summarize the play's didactic purpose. Volpone, and the legacy hunters, have all been made examples of through their punishment at the hands of the Venetian court. The judge advises all those present at the hearing in the Scrutineo (including those in the audience) that they should take care to learn the lesson well, that vice is inevitably punished, no matter how much it may enjoy itself beforehand.

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Correction

by zwibble-dibble, December 10, 2013

In the final paragraph, when discussing the second court scene, it says

"Mosca pretends to faint and claims to the Senate that he does not know where he is"

However, it is Voltore who does this, not Mosca.

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