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Volpone

Ben Jonson

Act III, scene iii–scene vi

Act III, scene i and scene ii

Act III, scene vi and scene vii

Summary

Act III, scene iii

Volpone, his dwarf, his eunuch, and his hermaphrodite enter. Volpone notes that Mosca is late in returning home. To quell his boredom, he asks Nano to entertain him, which he does by discoursing on how fools create more laughter with their faces than with their brains (their wit). A knock is heard at the door; Volpone assumes it must be Mosca. Nano goes out to see who it is, and returns to announce that it is a "beauteous madam." Volpone realizes that it is Lady Politic Would-be. He reluctantly tells Nano to let her in.

Act III, scene iv

Lady Politic Would-be enters into an anteroom with Nano and asks him to tell Volpone she has arrived. She fusses over her own appearance, noting her dress does not show her neck enough but that she is still dressed well. She berates Volpone's servant women for not dressing appropriately and not making themselves up in an appropriate way. Finally, she begins to speak to Volpone. Volpone informs her that he had a strange dream the previous night, that a "strange fury" entered his house and tore his roof off with her voice. She ignores the obvious reference to herself and begins a (very one-sided) conversation, advising Volpone on what medicines he should take to cure his bad dream, discussing the various Italian poets and their relative strengths and weaknesses, before giving a brief lecture on the value of philosophy when dealing with mental disturbances. By the end of the scene, Volpone is begging to be rescued.

Act III, scene v

Volpone's prayers to be rescued from Lady Politic are answered when Mosca finally returns. Volpone demands that he find a way to get rid of Lady Politic. Mosca quickly decides to tell Lady Politic that he recently saw Sir Politic rowing upon the waters of Venice in a gondola with a courtesan. Sir Politic was actually conversing with Peregrine, the young English traveler, but Lady Politic believes Mosca completely and runs off to search for her husband with the dwarf. Mosca then informs Volpone that Corbaccio is about to arrive, so as to make Volpone his heir; Volpone thanks Mosca for his help and lies down to rest.

Analysis

Lady Politic Would-be was identified by her husband, Sir Politic, as the reason the couple came to Venice in the first place, and she serves as his female counterpart in her vanity, continuously minding her appearance and her clothes. She has a bad "reputation." She is the female example of why English people should never go to Italy unprepared, and the moral decadence they can fall into once they reach there. She also embodies the dangers of becoming too engrossed in Italian culture; "I have read them all", she says, after listing off seven Italian poets after Volpone mentions a poet who lived in Plato's time and said that the highest grace of women is silence (quoting the poet Sophocles, who lived in Ancient Greece, like Plato, not Renaissance Italy). She discusses the poet Aretine openly, who is well known for his erotic and obscene poems. To Volpone and the Elizabethan audience, she has obviously missed the benefit of poetry, which is to learn handy maxims such as that women should be quiet.

The idea of satirizing a woman for talking too much and fussing over her appearance are considered are fairly tired clichés and are also sexist. After all, Volpone and Mosca talk a great deal, and no one thinks they should be quiet. There is no threat to Volpone's reputation because of his desire to sleep with Celia. But though it perpetuates some negative stereotypes about women, the conversation's comedy is also based on a trait she shares in common with her husband; she desires to be seen as knowledgeable, to fit in and impress others, and like with her husband, this desire backfires completely. Both because of the fact she talks so much that those around her feel exhausted, intimidated and painfully bored; also because of her obliviousness to those feelings of scorn and contempt and to the fact that she knows much less than she says. For example, her mistake in not realizing that Plato lived nearly two thousand years before any of the poets she names; her inability to pick up on the fact that Volpone's praising of Sophocles' quote is a hint that she should be silent herself; or her failure to realize that when Volpone talks about his "dream" of having his house torn apart by a "strange fury", that he is referring to her. The tone of the scene is farcical-like a farce, it is dominated by extreme, exaggerated, over-the-top behavior from the characters for humorous effect (Lady Politic's complete and utter lack of social skills, Volpone's mugging for the audience with his continual asides and plea for rescue. The extremely light- hearted tone of this scene contrasts with the seriousness of the next few scenes, emphasizing the upcoming shift in tone toward seriousness.

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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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