Volpone Sparknotes

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This essay sample essay on Volpone Sparknotes offers an extensive list of facts and arguments related to it. The essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion are provided below.

The play `Volpone’; written by Ben Jonson in 1606 centres itself around a conflict between moral purpose. The play itself contains so many un-likable characters that it is difficult at first to see how everyone can receive their “just desserts” as befitting of Jacobean drama. Does this play however have a final moral direction? At the end of the play; all concerned are judged by one means or another.

However the punishments arguably do not fit the crimes and so therefore can we say that the play has a moral purpose?

The play itself begins with Volpone seemingly unable to simply enjoy his wealth and prosperity. He and his servant Mosca have a plan already formed to increase Volpone’s wealth by pretending that he is dying in order to draw forth various prospective heirs.

Who in their avaricious aspirations will bring Volpone gifts. `Now, now my clients / Begin their visitation! Vulture, kite, / Raven, and gor – crow, all my birds of prey.’ (Volpone, Act I, Sc 2, ln 87-89, Norton 7th Edition.) Immediately we have a scene which should be quite settled, yet it is not. Each of the `harpies’ {Volpone, Act I Sc 2 ln 122) refers to one of Volpone’s potential heirs. ‘They are like birds of prey waiting to swoop on the corpse.’ (Peck And Coyle, Practical Criticism, pp 185.)

Volpone Summary Pdf

Throughout the first Act we are introduced to all four scavengers.

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Voltore, the vulture; Corbaccio, the raven; Corvino, the crow and Lady Politic Would-Be, the kite. It takes us until Act II to meet anyone who possesses any morality whatsoever. This we have in the form of the unfortunate Celia. She is wife to the jealous Corvino who compares himself to `the Pantalone di Bisognosi’ (Volpone Act II sc 3 ln 7.) This was a man `in perpetual fear of being cuckolded’ (Norton 7th Edition footnote pp1332.) However `Did e’er man haste so for his horns?’ (Volpone, Act III Sc 7 Ln 4 Norton 7th Edition) In his greed Corvino attempts to force his own wife to have intercourse with Volpone in order that he will then become his heir.

This goes beyond simple immorality. It shows the mental state of the main characters and their ideology that everything (including those they are supposed to love) is there for them to possess. Jonson shows us the way in which avarice has begun to consume the lives of the main characters thus `emphasizing that the play’s stance on greed is a didactic one, intended to teach the audience what greed’s real consequences are.’ (http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/volpone/themes.html)

However, let us consider the fourth act trial. This is where morality meets immorality in court over Volpone’s attempted rape of Celia; (only prevented by Corbaccio’s son Bonario who is disinherited by his father.) The trial `starts with justice and concludes with a perversion of it.’ (The Double Plot In Volpone, Barish, Modern Philology.) Here immorality triumphs; albeit not for very long as we see in the final act; yet the message conveyed to the audience is that it is possible for these characters evade punishment for their despicable actions.

Why is it then that Jonson has another trial sequence in Act V in which to finally punish the immoral and reward the virtuous? What moral purpose does it serve to see Celia and Bonario punished while the `animalia’ (http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/volpone/themes.html) of fox, fly, vulture, raven, crow and kite are free to continue with their own avaricious purposes? We must remember that it is not the greed of Corbaccio, Corvino and Voltore that bring about their own downfall; it is that of Mosca and the stupidity of Volpone that construct this.

It is Mosca’s greed and lust for power that leads to the downfall of all as he becomes Volpone’s heir and when pronouncing Volpone dead, becomes the lord and master. It is in his greed that he will not relinquish his power. To a certain extent; has he not earned this power? Mosca `the parasite’ (Volpone Act V Sc 12 Ln 107 Norton 7th Edition); has been the most cunning of all and played on the sinful nature of the wealthy to feed his own designs for prosperity. He is willing however, to share with Volpone; it is this transaction that forces Mosca to attempt to seize control of all Volpone’s wealth as oppose to the half which he desires.

In order to answer the question “does the play Volpone have a moral purpose” ; we need to consider the conclusion. All punishment is distributed at the very end of the play. Mosca is deemed to be `the chiefest minister, if not plotter, / In all these lewd impostures; and now, lastly, / Have with your impudence abused the court, / And habit of a gentleman of Venice, / Being of no birth or blood: / For which our sentence is, first, thou be whipped; / Then live perpetual prisoner in our galleys.’ (Volpone Act V Sc 12 Ln 108 – 114 Norton 7th Edition.) His greatest crime appears to be that he has impersonated a gentleman when he is not one. `Mosca’s sentence is most severe because of his class’ (Norton 7th Edition footnote no.6 pp1392)

Volpone is not punished in the same way as he is a gentleman. However he is led away to the prisons of Venice until he is `sick and lame indeed’ (Volpone At V Sc12 Ln 124.) However if we take a look at the footnotes in the Norton Anthology we are told that `the dungeons of Venice were reputed to be the most horrible in Europe, neither Mosca or Volpone is long for this world.’ (Norton 7th Edition footnote no. 8 pp 1392.) Our two main characters have virtually been sentenced to death for their crimes.

Consider their fates against those of Corbaccio and Corvino. Corbaccio attempts to disinherit his son in his greed for Volpone’s wealth, destroys his family, nearly has his son sent to prison with Celia. Corbaccio’s punishment is to surrender his wealth to his son and live in a monastery. Corvino, who agreed to the very near rape of his own wife, is sent to the pillory and his wife is returned to her father. A reasonably light punishment for the most immoral man of them all.

On the surface the play does have a moral purpose in the sense that all immoral characters are punished and the moral characters are rewarded. As we are told at the end of the play `Mischiefs feed / Like beasts, till they be fat, and then they bleed.’ (Volpone Act V Sc 12 Ln 150 – 151 Norton 7th Edition.) Is it not true that apart from his attempted rape of Celia, he has really only acted on the greed of others; immorality that was already present. Yet Volpone is virtually sentenced to death whilst Corvino the man who would have allowed his wife to be raped by this man simply has to spend a little time in the pillory.

Celia herself who has been through the biggest trial of all receives her freedom as her compensation. Her dowry money is trebled when she is returned to her father yet she would not be the one to use it. Bonario by comparison receives the entirety of his father’s wealth.

This is of course, a mere reflection on social ideology of the period. Women would have been second rate citizens without question. However it does illustrate that although the moral purpose in Volpone is apparent in the traditional way that the play ends ie the moral prosper, the immoral do not; it is done to a questionable extent. The punishments given out undermine true morality, certainly biblical morality – a sin is a sin in any guise and the conventional morality we have now. There may have been a moral purpose to the play; yet there is no moral relevance to today.

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Volpone Sparknotes. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/paper-on-central-tension-volpone-involves-conflict-moral-immoral-behaviour/

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