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

— 4.3 —

Mosca entered the scene.

Seeing Lady Would-be, he asked, “What is the matter, madam?”

She replied, “If the Venetian Senate doesn’t do me justice in the suit I will make to them about this, I’ll protest to all the world that they are no aristocracy.”

Niccolo Machiavelli had stated in The Prince that Venetian aristocrats could not be real aristocrats because they were merchants.

“What is the injury he has done to you, lady?” Mosca asked.

“Why, the callet — the whore — you told me about, I have here taken disguised.”

“Who?” Mosca said. “This person! What does your ladyship mean? The creature — the callet — I mentioned to you is apprehended now, and she is appearing before the Senate; you shall see her —”

“Where?” Lady Would-be asked.

“I’ll take you to her,” Mosca said. “As for this young gentleman, I saw him land this morning at the port.”

“Is it possible!” Lady Would-be said. “How my judgment has wandered astray!”

She said to Peregrine, “Sir, I must, blushing, say to you that I have erred, and I beg your pardon.”

A wary Peregrine said, “What, still more changes!”

Lady Would-be said, “I hope that you lack the malice to remember a gentlewoman’s passion. If you stay in Venice here, please use me, sir —”

By “passion,” she meant “anger,” but the word is also used in the phrase “sexual passion.”

By “use,” she meant “allow me to help you” — she could help him socially. But the word is also used to mean “use sexually.”

“Will you go now, madam?” Mosca asked.

Lady Would-be continued to speak to Peregrine, “Please, sir, use me. Indeed, the more you use me, the more I shall conceive … that you have forgot our quarrel.”

One meaning of the word “conceive” is “get pregnant.”

Lady Would-be, Mosca, Nano the dwarf, and the two serving-women exited.

Peregrine was certain that Sir Politic Would-be was prostituting his wife to him.

Alone, Peregrine said to himself, “This is strange! Sir Politic Would-be? No, his name ought to be Sir Politic Bawd. To make me thus acquainted with his wife!

“Well, wise Sir Pol, since you have played this trick upon my innocent freshmanship, I’ll test your salt-head to see how invulnerable it is against a counter-plot.”

A salt-head is an experienced head. The word “salt” also means “wanton.”

— 4.4 —

Voltore, Corbaccio, Corvino, and Mosca arrived at the Scrutineo.

Voltore, who was a lawyer and would be speaking for them in the court of law, said, “Well, now you know the management and conduct of the business. Your constancy is all that is required to the safety of it.”

They had met and determined on the lying story they would tell the four Advocari, aka Judges. To get away with their lie, they had to stick to their story.

Mosca asked, “Is the lie safely and surely communicated amongst us? Is that definitely the case? Does every man know his burden?”

The “burden” is the refrain to a song. Mosca was asking whether each man knew his part of the lying story they would tell the Judges.

“Yes,” Corvino said.

“Then shrink not,” Mosca said, going over to Corvino.

“But does Voltore the advocate know the truth?” Corvino quietly asked Mosca.

The truth was that Corvino had tried to prostitute his wife, Celia, to Volpone.

“Oh, sir, by no means,” Mosca quietly said. “I devised a tale that has completely saved your reputation. But be valiant, sir.”

Corvino said quietly, “I fear no one but Voltore the lawyer. I fear that his pleading on our behalves could make him stand for a co-heir —”

“Co-halter!” Mosca quietly said. “Hang him.”

A “halter” is a hangman’s noose. Mosca wanted to put to rest Corvino’s fear that anyone but him would be Volpone’s heir.

Mosca quietly continued, “We will only use his tongue, his noise, as we do Croaker’s here.”

“Croaker” was a way of referring to Corbaccio, who as an old man spoke in a croaking voice.

“What shall he — Corbaccio — do?” Corvino said.

“When we have done, you mean?” Mosca asked.


“Why, we’ll think about that,” Mosca said. “We’ll sell him for mummia; he’s half dust already.”

Mummia was a medicine that was made from mummies, or from dried corpses. As an old man, Corbaccio was already half-dried out.

Mosca went over to Voltore and said quietly, referring to Corvino, “Doesn’t it make you smile to see this buffalo and how he playfully tosses his head?”

Buffalo and cuckolds have horns. Celia had not cuckolded Corvino, but that was not what these four men would testify in court.

Mosca thought, I also will toss my head playfully if everything turns out well.

Mosca said loudly to the hear-of-hearing Corbaccio, “Sir, only you are that man who shall enjoy the crop of all Volpone’s wealth, and these other two men — Corvino and Voltore — don’t know for whom they are toiling.”

“True,” Corbaccio said. “Peace. Be quiet.”

He was worried that Corvino and Voltore would hear.

Mosca said to Corvino loudly enough for Voltore to hear, “But you shall eat the crop — you shall enjoy Volpone’s wealth.”

He then went to Voltore and quietly said, “Fat chance!”

He then said to Voltore loudly enough for all to hear, “Worshipful sir, may Mercury sit upon your thundering tongue, or the French Hercules.”

Mercury is the god of eloquence, as well as the god of thieves.

After Hercules completed his Tenth Labor, stealing the cattle of Geryon, he passed through France and became the ancestor of the French people. According to the satirist Lucian, Hercules became a master of eloquence in his old age.

If Mercury were to sit upon Voltore’s thundering tongue, he quite possibly could get it dirty.

If Mercury were to sit upon the French Hercules, it would be a case of might makes right. Hercules is strong, and the truth is strong, but both can be overcome by guile.

Hercules killed the Centaur Nessus when Nessus tried to rape Hercules’ wife, Deianira. As Nessus was dying, he told Deianira that his blood was charmed. She should soak one of Hercules’ shirts with the blood and then give him the shirt if Hercules were ever attracted to another woman. Much later, Hercules was attracted to another woman, and Deianira gave him the shirt, but Nessus’ blood was like acid, and Hercules killed himself to escape the torment.

Mosca loudly continued, “And may Hercules make your language as conquering as his club, to beat at full length flat, as with a tempest, our adversaries.”

He then said quietly to Voltore, “But they are much more your adversaries, sir.”

Voltore was going to argue to defeat his two adversaries in court: Celia and Bonario. In addition to defeating them, he was hoping to defeat his other two adversaries — Corvino and Corbaccio — and inherit all of Volpone’s wealth.

“Here they come,” Voltore said. “Be quiet now.”

The four Judges and Celia, Bonario, the Notary, and the police officers were coming.

“I have another witness, if you need one, sir, whom I can produce,” Mosca said.

“Who is it?” Voltore asked.

“Sir, I have her,” Mosca said.

Events would reveal the other witness: Lady Would-be.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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