David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s VOLPONE: A Retelling — Act 1, Scene 3

— 1.3 —

Mosca returned, leading Voltore, who was holding a large piece of plate.

Mosca said to Voltore, “You still are what you were in Volpone’s affections, sir. Only you, of all the rest, are the man who commands his love, and you do wisely to preserve it thus, with visits early in the morning, and kind gifts that show your good intentions to him, which, I know, cannot but be accepted most gratefully.”

He then said loudly to Volpone, “Patron! Sir! Signior Voltore has come —”

Volpone interrupted with a weak voice, “What did you say?”

Mosca said, “Sir, Signior Voltore has come this morning to visit you.”

“I thank him,” Volpone said.

“And he has brought you the gift of a piece of antique plate, bought from a goldsmith’s shop in the Piazza di San Marco.”

“He is welcome,” Volpone said weakly. “Ask him to come more often.”

“Yes,” Mosca said.

Voltore asked, “What did he say?”

Mosca replied, “He thanks you, and he wants you to see him often.”

“Mosca,” Volpone said.

“My patron!” Mosca replied.

“Bring Voltore near to me,” Volpone said. “Where is he? I long to feel his hand.”

Knowing what Volpone was really interested in, Mosca said, “The plate is here, sir.”

Voltore asked, “How are you, sir? How is your health?”

“I thank you, Signior Voltore,” Volpone said. “Where is the plate? My eyes are bad.”

Voltore put the plate into Volpone’s hands and said, “I’m sorry to see you still this weak.”

Mosca thought, He’s sorry that Volpone is not weaker.

Volpone said, “You are too munificent — too generous.”

“No, sir,” Voltore said. “I wish to Heaven that I could give health to you as well as that plate!”

“You give, sir, what you can,” Volpone said. “I thank you. Your love shows judgment in this, and it shall not be unrewarded. I ask that you see me often.”

“Yes, I shall, sir,” Voltore said.

“Be not far from me,” Volpone said.

“Do you observe that, sir?” Mosca asked Voltore.

Volpone said, “Listen to me carefully; it will concern you.”

Mosca said to Voltore, “You are a happy man, sir; know your good. Know what good thing will happen to you.”

Volpone said, “I cannot now last long —”

Mosca said to Voltore, “You are his heir, sir.”

Voltore asked, “Am I?”

“I feel me going,” Volpone said.

He faked some coughs and groans.

He added, “I’m sailing to my port.”

He faked some more coughs and groans.

He added, “And I am glad I am so near my haven.”

The haven is Heaven, although Volpone may have been optimistic when he called it “my haven.”

“Alas, kind gentleman!” Mosca said, “Well, we must all go —”

Voltore interrupted, “But, Mosca —”

Mosca ignored him and continued, “Age will conquer.”

Voltore said, “Please listen to me. Am I officially made his heir for certain?”

“Are you?” Mosca said. “I beg you, sir, to be pleased to write my name in your list of servants and dependents. All my hopes depend upon your worship: I am lost once Volpone is dead, unless the rising Sun shines on me.”

Volpone’s wealth would make the Sun — Voltore — rise.

“It shall both shine on and warm you, Mosca,” Voltore said.

“Sir, I am a man who has not done your love all the worst services,” Mosca said. “Here I serve you. It is as if I am trusted with your keys so that I can see that all your coffers and all your caskets are locked, and so that I can keep the poor inventory of your jewels, your plate, and your monies. I am your steward, sir. I husband your goods here.”

Mosca claimed to have Volpone’s keys and to take care of Volpone’s wealth — wealth that according to Mosca would soon belong to Voltore.

“But am I the sole heir?” Voltore asked.

“You are the heir without a partner, sir,” Mosca replied. “This was confirmed this morning. The wax of the seal is still warm, and the ink is scarcely dry upon the parchment.”

“Happy, happy me!” Voltore said. “For what reason did he make me his sole heir, sweet Mosca?”

“Your merit, sir,” Mosca said. “You deserved it. I know no second reason.”

“Your modesty won’t allow you to know it,” Voltore said, “but I know the help that you have given to me. Well, I shall requite it.”

He may have meant that Mosca will be well rewarded for his services, but given his greed, he may have simply meant that Mosca would receive a small reward.

Mosca said, “Volpone has always liked your manner of acting, sir. That was what first took his fancy and made you his favorite. I often have heard him say how he admired men of your large profession, who promise much and advocate for every side, right or wrong, and who advocate for things that are complete contradictions, until the lawyers are hoarse again, and yet all that they say is lawful to be said. They take any case and argue any position. Men of your large profession, with very quick agility, are men who turn and re-turn, and who make knots and undo them. Men of your large profession give forkéd-tongued, ambiguous counsel. They take provoking gold [Mosca thought, Either they take a bribe, or they take money to petition a judge to take up a case] from either side of a dispute, and put it away in their pocket. These men, he knew, would thrive with their humility [Mosca thought sarcastically, They must be humble because, like beggars, they accept money from anyone], and for his part, he thought he would be blest to have his heir of such a suffering spirit, so wise, so grave, of so perplexed a tongue, and also so loud, which would not wag, nor scarcely lie still, without a fee, when every word your worship lets fall is a chequin!”

Mosca’s “praise” of the legal profession was hardly praise. A lawyer’s tongue would scarcely lie still — either not move at all or be constantly lying — without a fee. A chequin is a Venetian gold coin.

Loud knocking sounded at the door.

Mosca said, “Who’s that? Someone is knocking. I would not have you seen, sir. And yet — pretend you came and went in haste. I’ll make up an excuse.

“And, gentle sir, when you come to swim in golden lard, up to the arms in honey, so that your chin is held up stiff, with the fatness — richness — of the flood, think about me, your vassal. Just remember me. I have not been your worst of clients.”

Mosca was telling Voltore that soon Voltore would be up to his chin in riches and that he hoped that Voltore would remember him. Once Voltore inherited Volpone’s wealth, Mosca would be out of a job.

Voltore said, “Mosca!”

Mosca asked, “When will you have your inventory brought, sir? Or see a copy of the will?”

The inventory was of Volpone’s goods, goods that Voltore thought he would soon inherit.

The knocking continued, and Mosca shouted, “Coming!”

Mosca then said to Voltore, “I will bring them to you, sir. Leave, be gone, look serious as if you were doing business here.”

Voltore exited.

Volpone jumped out of bed and said, “Excellent Mosca! Come here, and let me kiss you.”

“Keep still, sir,” Mosca said, looking out of a window. “Corbaccio is here to see you.”

Volpone said, “Put the plate away. The vulture’s gone, and the old raven’s come!”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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