7 down…9 to go!
So, Ben Jonson’s Volpone was the latest read on my list and unlike the last two from the Renaissance Drama module, I actually quite liked this one. Volpone is a play that takes place in seventeenth-century Venice and is about a nobleman, Volpone, who is a con-artist whilst the plot revolves around deception, disguise and greed.
Volpone, with the help of his servant Mosca, tries to deceive several other noblemen in order to guarantee their estates and wealth when they die. His plan is to get them to write him into his will, with the idea that he will soon die and they therefore will not lose anything as to get them to agree Volpone will make them his heir as he lay bedridden dying. Volpone and Mosca target three men that are described as carrion birds, Voltore (Vulture), Corvino (Crow) and Corbaccio (Raven) as their targets. The targeting of these three separate men adds to the comedic elements of the play. The idea of these three circling the predator Volpone (Fox) due to greed is an element that adds to the beast fable idea of the play. Obviously this is quite ironic as Volpone is motivated by greed just as Voltore, Corvino and Corbaccio are and are therefore all as guilty as each other.
I don’t know whether it is just me but at the start of the play in the first few acts I feel like I am actually supporting Volpone and Mosca even though what they are doing is morally wrong. This is due to the way in which Jonson presents himself and his work and rather than forcing his audience to see that what these characters are doing is wrong, he waits, letting his audience see sense and for me this came with the unfair downfall of Celia and Bonario. It was when these events unfolded in the play that I realised that Jonson did not set out for Volpone and Mosca to be his well-loved, moral characters.
This led me to start thinking…is it really a comedy? Or is it actually a tragedy? Is there actually a protagonist? Is it Volpone? Mosca? Or Bonario and Celia? All the characters at the end that have sinned are punished for their greed and Bonario and Celia are the only characters to live happily. Therefore it has all the elements of a comedy but Volpone and Mosca are the characters that we have followed throughout the play and they are basically sentenced to death. Jonson possibly does this to add to the confusion that the deception and disguise also creates before the end of the play. By defining the punishments at the end of the play, Jonson clearly outlines his own views and redefines what is morally right.
This play was rather enjoyable and what I really liked was how the downfall of Volpone and the rise of Mosca coincided with their appearance on the stage. This play gets a 7/10 as I enjoyed how it constructed the characters and paralleled them to animals. The deception that Jonson makes his character use is also very clever and adds to the whole aspect of intelligence that the play introduces with the court of law and the symbolism of the will. If you are looking for a good renaissance play that discusses deception, disguise and social class then this is definitely one to read or see, enjoy!