The protagonist of the play. Volpone's name means "The Fox" in Italian. He is lustful, lecherous, and greedy for pleasure. He is also energetic and has an unusual gift for rhetoric, mixing the sacred and the profane to enunciate a passionate commitment to self-gratification. He worships his money, all of which he has acquired through cons, such as the one he now plays on Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino. Volpone has no children, but he has something of a family: his parasite, Mosca, his dwarf, Nano, his eunuch, Castrone, and his hermaphrodite, Androgyno. Mosca is his only true confidante, and he begins to lust feverishly after Celia upon first setting eyes on her.
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Mosca is Volpone's parasite, a combination of his slave, his servant, his lackey, and his surrogate child. Though initially (and for most of the play) he behaves in a servile manner towards Volpone, Mosca conceals a growing independence he gains as a result of the incredible resourcefulness he shows in aiding and abetting Volpone's confidence game. Mosca's growing confidence, and awareness that the others in the play are just as much "parasites" as he—in that they too would rather live off the wealth of others than do honest work—eventually bring him into conflict with Volpone, a conflict that destroys them both.
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The voice of goodness and religiosity in the play, Celia is the wife of Corvino, who is extremely beautiful, enough to drive both Volpone and Corvino to distraction. She is absolutely committed to her husband, even though he treats her horribly, and has a faith in God and sense of honor, traits which seem to be lacking in both Corvino and Volpone. These traits guide her toward self- restraint and self-denial. Her self-restraint makes her a foil for Volpone, who suffers a complete absence of that quality.
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One of the three legacy hunters or carrion-birds—the legacy hunters continually circle around Volpone, giving him gifts in the hope that he will choose them as his heir. Voltore is a lawyer by profession, and, as a result, he is adept in the use of words and, by implication, adept in deceit, something he proves during the course of the play. He is also something of a social climber, conscious of his position in his society and resentful at being overtaken by others on the way up.
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An extremely vicious and dishonorable character, Corvino is Celia's jealous husband. He frequently threatens to do disgusting acts of physical violence to her and her family in order to gain control over her. Yet he is more concerned with financial gain than with her faithfulness, seeing her, in essence, as a piece of property. Corvino is another one of the "carrion-birds" circling Volpone.
The third "carrion-bird" circling Volpone, Corbaccio is actually extremely old and ill himself and is much more likely to die before Volpone even has a chance to bequeath him his wealth. He has a hearing problem and betrays no sign of concern for Volpone, delighting openly in (fake) reports of Volpone's worsening symptoms.
The son of Corbaccio. Bonario is an upright youth who remains loyal to his father even when his father perjures against him in court. He heroically rescues Celia from Volpone and represents bravery and honor, qualities which the other characters seem to lack.
Sir Politic Would-be
An English knight who resides in Venice. Sir Politic represents the danger of moral corruption that English travelers face when they go abroad to the continent, especially to Italy. He occupies the central role in the subplot, which centers on the relationship between himself and Peregrine, another English traveler much less gullible than the good knight. Sir Politic is also imaginative, coming up with ideas for moneymaking schemes such as using onions to detect the plague, as well as the idea of making a detailed note of every single action he performs in his diary, including his urinations.
Lady Politic Would-be
The Lady Politic Would-be is portrayed as a would-be courtesan. She was the impetus for the Would-bes move to Venice, because of her desire to learn the ways of the sophisticated Venetians. She is very well read and very inclined to let anyone know this, or anything else about her. She is extremely vain.
Peregrine is a young English traveler who meets and befriends Sir Politic Would- be upon arriving in Venice. Peregrine is amused by the gullible Would-be, but is also easily offended, as demonstrated by his adverse reaction to Lady Politic Would-be's suggestive comments.
Nano, as his named in Italian indicates ("nano" means "dwarf"), is a dwarf. He is also Volpone's fool, or jester, keeping Volpone amused with songs and jokes written by Mosca.
The only notable fact about Castrone is that his name means eunuch ("castrone" means "eunuch" in Italian). There is not much else to say about Castrone, as he has no speaking lines whatsoever.
"Androgyno" means "hermaphrodite" in Italian, and as in the case of Nano and Castrone, the name rings true. Androgyno apparently possesses the soul of Pythagoras, according to Nano, which has been in gradual decline ever since it left the ancient mathematician's body.