Skip over navigation

Volpone

Ben Jonson

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

Analyze the use of songs in Volpone. How does Jonson use them to create tone? What other purposes do they serve in the play?

Tone is defined as the author's attitude towards the subject he is dealing with. This question asks us to look at the songs in Volpone, and describe how Jonson uses them to indicate to the reader what he thinks of the events of the play. If we do so, we note, first of all, the songs are all light in tone, jovial, and tend to celebrate trickery and roguery; for example, Scoto's songs to sell his medicinal oil, or Nano's song about the life of the fool. Or there is Volpone's song to Celia in III.vii, which lyrically describes the life of sensuous pleasure he envisions for them. And finally, there are no songs after Volpone's attempted rape of Celia. The last one, Volpone's, comes right before that event. This suggests that the presence of song is directly linked to how we should view Volpone; the light-hearted songs encourage a similarly light-hearted attitude towards Volpone and his trickery. But after the attempted rape, the songs disappear, and the attitude of the play in general changes, and becomes much harsher towards Volpone; the sudden lack of song helps signal this to the reader. Other purposes the songs may serve include characterization and the exploration of the themes of parasitism and "gulling."

Sometimes in Volpone, it seems that disguises can reveal more truth than they conceal. Give an example of a disguise that reveals a hidden truth about the character wearing it, and describe how it does so.

There are at least two good examples to choose here: Volpone's disguise as Scoto Mantua, or Sir Politic Would-be's disguise as a tortoise. When thinking about why these disguises are each a "good fit" for the person wearing them, we should think about what the associations each disguise has. Volpone disguises himself as a mountebank. A job description of a mountebank could be as follows: deceive people into giving you money with the promise of good health contained in his medecine. Substitute "money" for "good health" and "inheritance" for "medecine", and the description now applies to Volpone. Furthermore, Scoto's personality is much more like the Volpone we see in Act One, presumably Volpone's real personality, than the one he deceptively presents when dealing with the legacy hunters in Act One. As for Sir Politic, the tortoise is traditionally thought of as being dim-witted and slow, a wandering animal that carries its house on its back. The similarities between the tortoise and Politic can be elaborated with textual analysis and an attempt to fit Sir Politic into the "fable" of Volpone, the animal understory that Jonson creates by naming the principal characters after a fox, a fly, and three carrion birds.

Jonson seems to use Volpone both as a mouthpiece for his satirical message, but also as an object lesson. How does Jonson reconcile these two conflicting attitudes towards his main character?

The key to answering this question is first asking a related question: what makes us closer to a character, and what pushes us farther away? To see a character behave cleverly, heroically, to share a secret with them, or to see them victimized draws us closer. To see the character behave violently or to see him made the subject of irony pushes us further away. Jonson paints Volpone as a character whose energy and lack of self-restraint makes him prone to all these different events. And he organizes the play in such a way that our distance to Volpone is initially small; we identify with Volpone, and take what he says to be true. But this distance gradually increases over the course of it, until the final Act when we again draw closer to him due to his victimization by Mosca. But by now our picture of Volpone has radically changed from our first picture; Jonson has qualified and changed his initial portrait to such an extent that he can now subject Volpone to satire without danger of appearing self-contradictory. A good answer will detail the precise sequence of these events, and should make reference to Volpone's attempted rape of Celia in Act III, scene vii.

Suggested Essay Topics

Analyze the relationship between the subplot—the story of Sir Politic Would-be—and the main plot. How are they connected in the play? How are they thematically related?

In Act One, each legacy hunter comes to Volpone's house to present a separate gift. Discuss Jonson's use of repetition: what affect does it have on our impression of each legacy hunter?

Volpone and Corvino are both prone to extreme, over-the-top statements, especially in their dealings with Celia. Compare and contrast Jonson's use of hyperbole, or poetic exaggeration, in defining both Corvino's character and Volpone's.

All of the main characters in the play are named after animals. Describe in detail the animal imagery in Volpone, and discuss the affects it has on our perception of the play. How is it related to the main plot, and does it provide any element of foreshadowing?

More Help

Previous Next
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.

0 Comments

1 out of 2 people found this helpful

Follow Us