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Volpone

Ben Jonson

Act III, scene vi and scene vii

Act III, scene iii–scene vi

Act III, scene viii and ix

Summary

Act III, scene vi

Mosca and Bonario enter. Mosca tells Bonario to hide so that he can watch his father disinherit his son and make Volpone his heir. Bonario agrees but, after Mosca leaves, says that he still can't believe that what Mosca says is true.

Act III.vii

Mosca, Corvino, and Celia enter. Mosca tells Bonario that Corbaccio will soon arrive. Celia begs not to be forced to sleep with Volpone. Corvino tells her that his decision is final, and that he does not want any protest in terms of "honour"; "honour", according to Corvino, does not exist in reality, and the loss of it cannot harm anyone. Mosca informs Volpone that the pair has arrived; Volpone professes himself past the point of no return but thanks Corvino greatly, implying that Corvino will be his heir. Celia begs a final time to be spared having to sleep with Volpone, but Corvino insists, and threatens to drag her through the streets and—ironically—proclaim her a whore if she does not comply. The act, he says, is not important, since Volpone is old, and will not take much advantage of her; in any case and it will benefit him greatly in financial terms. As soon as Volpone and Celia are alone, Volpone leaps off of his bed, and begins his seduction. He tells Celia that she is heavenly to him, and that he is a far more worthy lover than is Corvino. He details all the sensuous pleasures she will have if she becomes his lover. But Celia is unmoved; she refuses his advances, asking him to stop, offering to never speak of what happened. Volpone is enraged by her refusal, and tells her that if she won't make love to him willingly, then he will take her by force. She cries out to God; Volpone tells her she does it in vain, but just at that moment, Bonario jumps out from behind his hiding place and rescues Celia, spiriting her away. Volpone laments that his con has been exposed.

Analysis

Throughout the play up to this point, Volpone has seemed both a likeable and sympathetic protagonist and a sociopath. He exposes moral folly, but his glee in doing so can at times seem malicious. And he also makes no pretensions that morality is his main motivation. Instead, the money he gains from his con is a means to an end, and the end is the satisfaction of his appetites and desires. This section of the play emphasizes that Volpone will satisfy these desires at any cost, even if it hurts innocent people, such as Bonario and Celia. These scenes, especially III.vii, thus form a turning point in the main plot's storyline and in our perception of Volpone. Alone with Celia for the first time, his "seduction speech" firmly unites the contradictory parts of his character through his description of his love for her.

In this passage, Volpone articulates what amounts to an alternate conception of morality and sacredness hinted at earlier in the play, a conception where the highest form of spiritual fulfillment is attained through the satisfaction of every conceivable desire for pleasure. The imagery Volpone employs in his seduction speech is rich in both hyperbole and religious imagery; Celia's love is compared to "heaven," "a plot of paradise." But Volpone's picture of paradise is sensual; he offers to Celia a catalogue of an extravagant feast, from pearls dissolved in wine to "the heads of parrots" and "the tongues of nightingales." It is also a bath in flowers, "unicorn milk," "panther's breath" and "Cretan wines." He also emphasizes the disposability of this paradise; pearls are dissolved, and jewels lost, without a second thought. It seems that as soon as one pleasure is expended, the next one is pursued.

Volpone's use of allusion in his catalogue of famous lovers throughout history serves a two-fold purpose: it widens and elevates his discussion, giving him and Celia immediate historic significance through association with these names, while at the same time making explicit Volpone's desire to make love to Celia in a stylish, erudite way. Jonson uses alliteration to heighten the poetic quality of the speech, and at one point Volpone bursts into song. He conveys the sensuousness of the imagined feast through the sensuousness of his language. And his catalogues of sensual delights and romantic disguises provide a feast of imagery for the reader, underscoring Volpone's imaginativeness and liveliness in our minds. He is "hot," not "frozen and impotent." His paradise is that of an imaginative hedonist, continually and consistently searching for pleasure and new forms of pleasure. And as Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino are, he too is greedy, except his greed is for pleasure and is presented in such a seductive way that it seems very attractive—the key word is "seems."

Against this hedonism, this greed for pleasure, Celia and Bonario are posited as the twin voices of moral criticism, represting both the codes of religion and those of honor. They serve as foils to Volpone, exposing his ruthlessness; even though neither are guilty of any moral transgression; he will hurt them if necessary in order to gratify himself. Whereas Corvino's ugliness seems to stem from a disrespect for honor, Jonson seems to attribute Volpone's ruthlessness to a lack of religious feeling. Celia tries to appeal to whatever trace of "holy saints, or heaven" (III.vii.243) Volpone has within him; her complete lack of success implies that he has none. And when Celia cries out to God for help as Volpone prepares to rape her, Volpone says she cries "In Vain," just before Bonario leaps out to save Celia. That moment is a direct refutation, on the part of Bonario and Celia, of Volpone's inverted value-system, where he values immediate self-gratification, over God. This is the turning point of the play; it is at this moment that Volpone begins to lose control over the situation, after having lost control over himself.

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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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