Volpone Summary

Volpone is a story of one day from life of aforementioned Volpone - a nobleman living in seventeenth-century Venice and a con artist. The play starts at his house when he leads his “parasite” Mosca (who may be a slave or a servant or a mix of both) to the secret room in the house, where Volpone keeps his fortune. We learn from Volpone’s boasting that all his gold isn’t earned: he tricked people into giving it to him. Now he is going to buy fancy things and pull some more tricks.

His later con is quite ironic. For the whole three years Volpone, who doesn’t have a family and is obviously rich, teases and plays with three people who are desperate to charm him and become his heirs. These people are old and respected Corbaccio, Corvino, a skilled merchant and Voltore, a lawyer. He deliberately spreads rumors about his terminal illness, so all the legacy hunters praise him and present him luxurious gifts, hoping to earn his trust. Surely, Volpone isn’t ill at all, moreover, he doesn’t promise anything and doesn’t ask for gifts, just pretending he doesn’t understand the reasons of such generosity.

We see the legacy hunters coming to him one by one to ask about his health and present their gifts. Corbaccio, though, presents him a medicine that is so obviously poisoned, that he blatantly states that he’ll come again in the evening so that Volpone can sign his will. When they all leave Volpone and Mosca mock them and laugh at them and praise each other for the excellent plan. Later, the wife of one of the English knights, Lady Politic Would-be, asks for the audience, but Volpone says her to come again in three hours. Volpone is interested in another woman though: Corvino’s wife Celia, who is told to be so beautiful that the merchant actually keeps her imprisoned at home with ten guards always around. For Volpone it sounds as an excellent challenge.

Later we see Sir Politic Would be, talking to Peregrine, a young Englishman who is new to Venice. Sir Politic behaves very fatherly towards Peregrine, giving him some advices and hints about the city and its inhabitants and even promises to keep an eye on him for a while until Peregrine gets used to Venice. Peregrine, as vain as he is, proudly thinks that this is greeting he fully deserves. The men are taking a walk to the main square where they see a travelling drug merchant presenting his new medicine (Volpone in disguise). He advertises his magic oil that can cure everything almost instantly. To demonstrate the power of it he offers everyone to give him their handkerchiefs, so he can put some oil on it. Celia, who isn’t allowed to go outside, but watches from the window, is amused and also throws her handkerchief to the merchant. Suddenly, Corvino arrives and starts an ugly tantrum, so loud that he scares crows off the square. He accuses Celia of infidelity, saying that giving a handkerchief to other man is too intimate. He says that he punishes her with a complete imprisonment: no more visits to the church, no more standing near windows and talking to anyone and - just to torture her a bit more - from now on poor Celia has to walk and talk backwards. Suddenly, Mosca comes to the square, saying to Corvino that he would be the heir if he allows Celia be Volpone’s “remedy” (e.g. will give her to Volpone for a night). Immediately, Corvino stops his demonstration of jealousy and promptly agrees.

In the third act we see Mosca boasting about his power over Volpone alone. We learn that they are more like partners in their cons. Continuing his plan, Mosca comes to Corbaccio’s son to have a talk. The deal between Corbaccio and Volpone is whoever dies first leaves his fortune to the other - so Mosca is going to tell young Bonario that his father wants to disinherit him in favor of Volpone, hoping that Bonario will kill Corbaccio and then Volpone will get his inheritance. While Mosca is away, Lady Politic returns to Volpone, he lets her in, but is completely disinterested in her chatter, thinking only about Celia. Mosca comes back and, seeing his master’s struggles, “accidentally” says that he has just seen Sir Politic with a courtesan. Lady Politic immediately storms off the house to find her husband.

Knowing that Corbaccio shall come before Corvino and his wife, Mosca agrees to hide Bonario under the bed in Volpone’s bedroom, so that the young man can make sure that his father is indeed plotting to disinherit him. But everything goes wrong when Corvino, impatient to get Volpone’s fortune, brings Celia first. Celia wails and laments her fate - she is a good Christian and a chaste woman and her husband sells her like a prostitute - but Corvino rudely orders her to shut up and sleep with Volpone. He leaves the woman to Volpone, who, to her surprise, doesn’t look like an old sick man. Instead, the handsome and able-bodied con artist starts to passionately seduce her. Celia though isn’t aroused by this situation, obviously and refuses his advances. Volpone’s courtesy disappears this very moment and he blatantly says that he doesn’t care and will rape her on the spot there. Bonario, who is still under the bed, can’t stand this, leaps out and rescues poor Celia, fighting his way out and even wounding Mosca. Finally, Corbaccio arrives and everything becomes a complete mess.

In the meantime, Sir Politic enjoys the talk with Peregrine. The knight shares some schemes (that are also very close to cons) that allowed him to make money in Venice and encourages Peregrine to try the same. Suddenly, Lady Politic appears and decides that young and pretty Peregrine is a courtesan in disguise. But Mosca appears just in time and says that the courtesan she searches for is now running to the Senate (he means Celia who is finally going to seek justice). Lady Politic immediately and very flirty apologizes, saying Peregrine that she hopes they would meet again under other circumstances. Shocked by all the situation, Peregrine decides that he is offended and declares that he obliged to have revenge on Sir Politic. Meanwhile, in Senate Celia and Bonario come to the judges and tell everything they witnessed: Volpone’s cons, his attempted rape, Corbaccio’s betrayal of his family and Corbino selling his wife. But the trouble is that this judge is Voltore, who knows quite well about Volpone and doesn’t want this case to reveal his own involvement. So, instead of investigating, he accuses Celia of adultery with Bonario. Then Lady Politic comes and very conveniently accuses Celia of being a courtesan who seduced her husband. Volpone, who pretends to be ill again, slowly walks into the courtroom, also giving his evidences of Celia being a prostitute. The poor woman is disgraced and imprisoned along with Bonario, who is obviously put into a separate cell.

After this performance Volpone returns home and surprisingly discovers that now he has for real some symptoms he faked. Horrified, he immerses even deeper in inventing pranks. He sends Mosca to spread a rumor about his death and he, Mosca, being the new heir. All the three legacy hunters are devastated and Volpone, disguised as a city guard, talks to each of them, gloating and mocking them. But Mosca suddenly understands that legally Volpone is now dead and he is the real heir. He doesn’t want the situation to return to its previous state. He decides to say to Volpone that he won’t let him “resurrect” until he gets a fair share of fortune they worked together for.

It’s time for Peregrine’s revenge. He uses Volpone’s con, dressing up as a merchant and comes to Sir Politic, saying that he heard the rumors that Venice is going to be sold to Turks. Sir Politic, who discussed the idea of betraying the city with Peregrine before, freaks out. He understands that the disclosing of the idea may have dire consequences of him. When three other merchants Peregrine invited to Sir Politic’s house knock the door simultaneously, Sir Politic decides that they are guards who came to arrest him. Still disguised, Peregrine offers him to hide in a big tortoise-like wine chest. Sir Politic does it, his arms and legs now sticking from the chest like that of real tortoise. Peregrine lets the fellow merchants in and says that he wants to sell them an exotic tortoise. They all laugh at poor Sir Politic, trying to crawl out of his trap and moving like a real animal. Having enough fun, they leave and Sir Politic laments the situation, saying that his wife was right in her desire to stay in England.

Volpone is still having fun, disguised as a guard and saying that everyone now lost to the miserable parasite such as Mosca. Voltore, driven mad with taunting, decides to reveal everything to the Senate, effectively accusing himself, but Mosca too. Corvino interferes, accusing Voltore of being a sore loser and ruining the possibilities of the other two fortune seekers. Volpone, shocked by the fact that his death is becoming too real, tries to say that he saw Volpone still alive, but Mosca, who arrives to the Senate, almost faints from the shock and says that he doesn’t know where Volpone is, the last time Mosca saw him his behaviour mostly resembled a demonic possession. He confirms that Volpone wasn’t dead when he saw him and leaves just to make sure. But then, when everything seems fine, Mosca makes a final decision, returning and saying that his master is dead. He brings Volpone’s will (Volpone indeed wrote it to make the prank more plausible) and shows his signature and words stating that Mosca is the new heir. Mosca gloats, telling the disguised Volpone that no way he gives something back to him. Volpone, though, decides to take Mosca with him rather than let him live a wealthy live. He uncovers himself, revealing the whole plan before the judges. He is immediately imprisoned and Mosca is sent to a slave galley. Voltore is stripped of his judge title, Corbaccio’s wealth immediately passes to Bonario (he and poor Celia are released). Celia’s husband Corvino is publicly humiliated - the gondola with him wearing the donkey’s ears, swims across all the canals of Venice.

The last note from the playwright humbly asks the audience to applaud if they liked the play.