Volpone Study Guide

Volpone Study Guide

Original title:
Volpone or The Foxe: A Comedie

Volpone is a satirical comedy by Ben Jonson that laughs off human greed and immorality. Even the names of the characters that can be translated as “sly fox” and “fly” hint us that they aren’t the people, but more of an embodiment of the vices the author wants to show. Volpone is a skilled and rich con artist who uses his looks and manners to lure rich people and take their money. His current con is to play a terminally ill man with great fortune but without heirs and put himself onto an improvised auction. The greedy people of the city try to please him in every way possible, hoping to win his heart and be appointed his heirs. While the “illness” progresses the suitors gradually lose their humanity, starting to commit atrocities, encouraged by Volpone. They disinherit their own kids in favor of him, they trade their wives as prostitutes and even try to kill him to hasten the process of inheritance. It seems that nothing can stop Volpone from mocking all the city and living like a king, having everything he may ever wish.

The characters who aren’t involved in this race are shown as incredibly dumb. They play their own plots and fail constantly, because their intrigues are used by the much more clever Volpone to his own benefit. He plays them like pawns, clashing their interests for his own amusement and redirecting the justified anger to them. Everything in the book makes the audience wish Volpone finally be captured and punished.

Volpone is called one of the best comedies of Jacobean era for a reason. Despite using all the classical literature devices of the genre it is very original. The author manages to raise the tension, showing the more and more disgusting actions of Volpone and his admirers, and this exaggeration leads to a powerful feeling of relief and satisfaction, when all the involved get the most justified punishment possible.

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