David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s VOLPONE: A Retelling — Act 2, Scenes 3-4

— 2.3 —

Corvino arrived. He saw and recognized Celia’s handkerchief, and he was instantly jealous, although she had given him no reason for being jealous.

Corvino finished the disguised Volpone’s sentence for him in his own way: “— blood of the devil, and black as my shame!”

He then ordered the disguised Volpone, “Come down here from the stage! Come down! Have you no house but mine to make your scene?”

Corvino recognized that what he was seeing was like a commedia dell’arte comedy skit that used stock characters. Flaminio was the name of the lover in many skits. Franciscina was the name of the saucy, sexually willing maidservant. Pantalone di Besogniosi (Pantaloon of the Paupers) was the name of the aging, miserly merchant who wore pantaloons (a kind of trouser) and whose young wife often cuckolded him.

Corvino said to the disguised Volpone, “Signior Flaminio, will you come down, sir? Down? What, is my wife your Franciscina, sir? Are there no windows on the whole Piazza here to make your theatrical properties, but mine? None but mine?”

He beat the disguised Volpone and drove him and the disguised Nano and Mosca away. They ran fast.

He then said, “By God’s heart, before tomorrow I shall be newly christened and called the Pantalone di Besogniosi by everyone in town.”

Peregrine asked, “What does this mean, Sir Pol?”

“It is some trick of state, believe it,” Sir Politic Would-be said. “I will go home.”

Peregrine said, “It may be some design on you. Someone may be wanting to trick you.”

The only person wanting to trick Sir Politic Would-be was Peregrine, who wanted to trick him into making more of a fool of himself.

“I don’t know,” Sir Politic Would-be said, “but I’ll be on my guard.”

“It is your best option, sir,” Peregrine said.

Sir Politic Would-be said, “For the past three weeks, all my pieces of intelligence and news — all my letters — have been intercepted.”

Actually, he had recently said that last Wednesday he had received intelligence and news about the Mamuluchi.

“Indeed, sir!” Peregrine said. “You had best be careful.”

“So I will,” Sir Politic Would-be said.

He exited.

Peregrine said to himself, “This knight, I must not lose him — because I want to laugh at him — until night.”

He followed Sir Politic Would-be.

— 2.4 —

Volpone and Mosca talked together in a room in Volpone’s house.

“Oh, I am wounded!” Volpone said.

“Where, sir?” Mosca asked.

“Not on the outside,” Volpone said. “Corvino’s blows were nothing. I could bear them forever. But angry Cupid, shooting arrows like thunderbolts from Corvino’s wife’s eyes, has shot himself into me like a flame. There, now, he flings about his burning heat, just like an ambitious — rising — fire, whose vent is stopped in a furnace. The fight is all within me.”

Stopping the vent would cause the fire to die down through lack of air, so Volpone was saying the opposite of what he meant.

“I cannot live, unless you help me, Mosca. My liver melts, and I, without the hope of some soft air from her refreshing breath am but a heap of cinders.”

Giving a fire more air would reduce the material being burned to a heap of cinders more quickly, so Volpone was saying the opposite of what he meant.

“Alas, good sir,” Mosca said. “I wish that you had never seen her!”

“I wish that you had never told me about her!” Volpone said.

“Sir, it is true,” Mosca said. “I confess I was made unfortunate and you were made unhappy by my telling you about her, but I’m bound in conscience no less than in duty to do my best to bring about the release of your torment, and I will, sir.”

One way to release Volpone’s torment would be to find a way to have Corvino’s wife sleep with him.

“Dear Mosca, shall I hope to have my torment relieved?” Volpone asked.

“Sir, you who are more than dear to me, I will not advise you to despair of being without anything that a human can bring about,” Mosca said. “And what you want is something that I can bring about.”

“Oh, there spoke my better angel,” Volpone said.

This is ironic. Volpone’s “better angel” is someone who is willing to help him commit adultery, a sin that is punished in the Inferno unless it is repented while the adulterer is still alive.

“Mosca” means “fly,” and Beelzebub is the Lord of the Flies. Beelzebub is a winged demon and a fallen angel.

Volpone handed Mosca his keys and said, “Mosca, take my keys. My gold, plate, and jewels, all’s at your devotion.”

He meant “at your disposal.” The word “devotion” has ironic religious overtones. “Devotion” is a word used to name how many people react to God. Of course, Volpone worshipped and was devoted to gold and other material possessions.

Volpone continued, “Employ them however you will; indeed, coin me and employ me, too, as long as you crown my longings and get them satisfied, Mosca. Use whatever you have to, to get Corvino’s wife to sleep with me.”

“Use your patience,” Mosca said.

He meant that it would take some time.

“So I have,” Volpone replied.

He had not.

“I have no doubt that I will bring success to your desires,” Mosca said. “I will get you what you want.”

“In that case, I don’t repent me being in my recent disguise as a mountebank,” Volpone said.

“If you can horn Corvino, sir, you need not repent being disguised as a mountebank,” Mosca said.

By “horn,” he meant make a cuckold out of Corvino by sleeping with his wife. This society joked that cuckolds had invisible horns growing on their foreheads.

“That is true,” Volpone said. “Besides, I have never meant Corvino to be my heir.”

He meant that since he had never meant Corvino to be his heir, it was OK to make Corvino a cuckold. Actually, if he had meant Corvino to be his heir, it would make some (but not moral) sense to sleep with Corvino’s wife. If she gave birth to a son for Volpone, eventually Volpone’s son would inherit Volpone’s wealth. The word “cuckold” comes from the cuckoo bird, which lays its eggs in other birds’ nests; the other birds raise the cuckoo’s nestlings.

Thinking about “heir” led Volpone to think about “hair,” and he asked, “Won’t the color of my beard and eyebrows make my identity known? Won’t Corvino recognize that the mountebank is me because of the color of our hair?”

Foxes are known for red fur, and Volpone’s hair and beard were red.

“Not a chance,” Mosca said.

“I did my performance as the mountebank well,” Volpone said.

Mosca replied, “So well that I wish I could follow you in my performance, with half the happiness and success!”

Mosca would put on a performance to manipulate Corvino to allow Volpone to sleep with his wife.

He thought, And yet I would escape your epilogue — the beating that Corvino gave you!

Volpone asked, “But were they gulled — fooled — with the belief that I was Scoto the mountebank?”

“Sir, Scoto himself could hardly have distinguished you from himself!” Mosca said. “But I don’t have the time to flatter you now. We’ll part, and as I prosper, so applaud my art. I will get you what you want.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


Lulu (Paperback Books)


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