David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s VOLPONE: A Retelling — Act 4, Scene 5

— 4.5 —

The four Judges, Celia, Bonario, the Notary, the police officers, and others arrived. The four Judges had already listened to the testimony of Bonario and Celia.

The four Judges sat and talked.

The First Judge said, “The like of this case the Venetian Senate has never heard of.”

The Second Judge said, “It will sound most strange to them when we report it.”

The Judges reviewed cases and could recommend them to go before the Venetian Senate. In this case, however, the Judges would decide to make the judgment themselves.

The Fourth Judge said, “Celia, the gentlewoman, has always been held to have an unreproved reputation. She has always been thought to be of good character.”

The Third Judge said, “So has the youth Bonario.”

The Fourth Judge said, “The more unnatural part is that of his father, Corbaccio.”

Corbaccio had disinherited his son; this was unnatural — it was not something a biological father would do.

The Second Judge said, “Even more unnatural is the act of Celia’s husband, Corvino.”

Corvino had attempted to prostitute his wife, Celia, to Volpone.

The First Judge said, “I don’t know what name to give his act because it is so monstrous!”

The Fourth Judge said, “But the impostor, Volpone, is a thing created to exceed precedent!”

Voltore was an imposter because he was pretending to be a seriously ill man although he was well enough to attempt to rape Celia.

The First Judge said, “And he was created to exceed all future possibilities!”

The Second Judge said, “I never heard a true voluptuary described, except for him.”

A voluptuary is a sybarite, a person who is self-indulgent in the pursuit of luxury or gratification of the senses.

The Third Judge asked, “Has everyone who was subpoenaed arrived?”

The Notary replied, “All, except for the old magnifico, Volpone.”

A magnifico is a great person in Venice.

The First Judge asked, “Why isn’t he here?”

“If it please your Fatherhoods, here is Volpone’s advocate,” Mosca said. “Volpone himself is so weak, so feeble —”

“Fatherhoods” is in fact the correct way to address the Judges.

The Fourth Judge asked Mosca, “Who are you?”

“Volpone’s parasite, his knave, his pandar,” Bonario said. “I beseech the court to force Volpone to come to the court so that your grave eyes may bear strong witness of his strange impostures.”

Voltore the lawyer said to the Judges, “Upon my faith and my credit with your virtues, I swear that Volpone is so ill that he is not able to endure the air.”

The Second Judge said, “Bring him here, nevertheless.”

The Third Judge said, “We will see him.”

The Fourth Judge said, “Fetch him.”

Voltore said, “May your Fatherhoods’ fitting pleasures be obeyed.”

Some officers of the law exited to get Volpone.

Voltore then said, “But surely, the sight of Volpone will rather move your pities than your indignation.

“May it please the court that in the meantime, he may be heard in me — I am his representative and can speak for him. I know that this place is most void of prejudice, and therefore I crave to be heard, since we have no reason to fear that our truth would hurt our case.”

The Third Judge said, “Speak freely.”

Voltore said, “Then know, most honored fathers, I must now reveal to your strangely imposed-upon ears the most prodigious and most shameless piece of downright impudence and treachery that vicious nature ever yet brought forth to shame the state of Venice.”

He pointed to Celia and said, “This lewd woman, who lacks no artificial looks or tears to help the vizor — the mask — she has now put on, has long been known to be a secret adulteress with that lascivious youth there.”

Celia was crying at being called “lewd.” She was wearing the half-mask that many Venetian women wore while in public, but Voltore was saying that she wore a mask of innocence to hide her guilt.

He pointed to Bonario and then continued, “She has not just been suspected, I say, but definitely known, to be an adulteress, and she has been taken in the act with him.”

He pointed to Corvino, her husband, and said, “She has been pardoned by this man, the too-easy, too-credulous husband, whose everlasting generosity makes him now stand here as the most unhappy, innocent person that man’s own goodness ever made accused.”

He then said, “Celia and Bonario received a gift of forgiveness of such very dear grace and mercy that they didn’t know how to respond to it except with shame because it was such a very dear gift that they could never repay it. They began to hate the gift, and rather than to accept the gift with thanks, they tried to find a way to root out and eradicate the memory of the gift.

“I pray to your Fatherhoods to observe the malice of their reaction to the gift, yes, the rage of creatures discovered in their evils, and I pray to your Fatherhoods to observe the brazen insolence such people exhibit, even in their crimes — but that will become more apparent soon.”

He pointed to Corbaccio and said, “This gentleman, the father, hearing of this foul crime, with many others, which daily struck at his too-tender ears, and grieved in nothing more than that he could not preserve himself as a parent — his son’s ills growing to that strange flood and unnatural profusion of evil — at last decided to disinherit him.”

The First Judge said, “These are strange turns of event!”

The First Judge said, “Bonario’s reputation was always fair and honest.”

Voltore said, “So much more full of danger is his vice, which can beguile so under the shade of virtue.

“But, as I said, my honored sires, his father had this settled purpose of disinheriting Bonario. We don’t know by what means Bonario learned about this settled purpose, but after he learned that this day was appointed for the deed of disinheritance, that parricide — I cannot give Bonario a better title — he and Celia, his paramour, made a secret arrangement. She would be there when he entered Volpone’s house. Volpone was the man, your Fatherhoods must understand, designated by Corbaccio to inherit his wealth.

“In Volpone’s house, Bonario sought his father, Corbaccio. But for what purpose did Bonario seek his father, my lords? I tremble to pronounce it. I tremble to say that a son toward a father, and toward such a father, should have so foul, felonious intent! Bonario’s intention was to murder him.

“Fortunately, he was unable to do that because of his father’s lucky absence. But what did Bonario do then? He did not check his wicked thoughts; no, now he thought up new evil deeds.

“Evil always ends where it begins.”

In other words, once evil is thought up, it will find an outlet. Evil thoughts always lead to evil deeds. Bonario had thought of committing an act of horror, and now he would commit an act of horror. The verb “ends” means “concludes” or “finishes.”

Voltore continued, “Bonario committed an act of horror, Fathers! He dragged forth the aged gentleman Volpone — who had there lain bedridden three years and more — out of and off his innocent couch, naked in invalid’s clothes upon the floor, and left him there.

“He also wounded Volpone’s servant Mosca in the face.

“He also, along with this strumpet — Celia — who was the prostitute decoy to his invented, fraudulent plot and who was glad to be so sexually active — I shall here desire your Fatherhoods to note my conclusions as being most remarkable — thought at once to stop his father’s intention to disinherit him.

“They attempted to discredit his father’s free choice of the old gentleman, Volpone, as his heir. They also attempted to redeem themselves by laying infamy upon this man, Celia’s husband, Corvino, to whom, with blushing, they should acknowledge as due their lives.”

The First Judge asked, “What evidence do you have of this?”

Bonario interrupted, “Most honored fathers, I humbly beg that you give no credit to this man’s mercenary tongue.”

The First Judge said, “Stop interrupting. Be quiet.”

Bonario said, “His soul lives in his fee. He cares more for money than he does for his soul.”

Shocked, the Third Judge said, “Oh, sir!”

Bonario said, “This fellow, for six more small coins, would plead against his Maker.”

The First Judge said, “You forget yourself. Remember where you are.”

Voltore said, “Grave Fathers, let him have permission to speak. Can any man imagine that he will spare his accuser, me, when he would not have spared his parent? He was willing to murder his father, so he is certainly willing to insult and slander me.”

The First Judge said to Voltore, “Well, produce your proofs. Show us your evidence.”

Celia said, “I wish I could forget I were a creature.”

One meaning of “creature” is “despicable person,” but she meant a creature of God, Who created all human beings.

Voltone called a witness: “Signior Corbaccio.”

Corbaccio came forward to testify.

The First Judge asked, “Who is he?”

Voltore replied, “He is Bonario’s father.”

The Second Judge asked, “Has he sworn under oath to tell the truth?”

The Notary answered, “Yes.”

“What must I do now?” Corbaccio asked.

The Notary answered, “Your testimony’s required. It is craved.”

The hard-of-hearing Corbaccio asked, “Speak to the knave?”

By “knave,” he meant his son, Bonario.

Corbaccio continued, “I’ll have my mouth first stopped with earth — I’ll die first. My heart hates knowing him. I disclaim any part of him. I am no kin of his.”

The First Judge asked, “Why do you say that?”

Corbaccio said, “He is the mere portent of nature! He is a freak of nature! He is an utter stranger to my loins. I am not his biological father.”

Bonario interrupted, “Have they forced you to say this?”

Corbaccio said, “I will not hear you — you monster of men, you swine, you goat, you wolf, you parricide! Speak not, you viper.”

Because of Mosca’s lies, he was convinced that Bonario had intended to murder him.

Bonario, an obedient son, said, “Sir, I will sit down, and rather wish my innocence should suffer than I resist the authority of a father.”

Voltore called the next witness: “Signior Corvino!”

Corvino came forward to testify.

The Second Judge said, “This is strange.”

The First Judge asked, “Who’s this?”

The Notary replied, “Celia’s husband.”

The Fourth Judge asked, “Has he sworn under oath to tell the truth?”

The Notary answered, “Yes.”

The Third Judge said to Corvino, “Speak, then.”

Corvino said, “This woman, Celia, if it please your Fatherhoods, is a whore, of very hot sexual exercise, even more lecherous than a partridge, which is the most lecherous of creatures, according to Pliny’s Natural History and Aelian’s On the Characteristics of Animals. This is well known.”

Shocked by Corvino’s language and its content, the First Judge said, “No more.”

Corvino said, “She neighs like a jennet — a horse — when it’s in heat.”

Shocked by Corvino’s language and its content, the Notary ordered, “Preserve the honor of the court.”

“I shall,” Corvino said, “and I shall preserve the modesty of your most reverend ears. And yet I hope that I may say that these eyes of mine have seen her glued to that piece of cedar, that fine well-timbered gallant named Bonario.”

“Well-timbered” meant “well-built” and hinted at “well-hung.”

Corvino pointed to his forehead, where a cuckold’s horns were said to grow, and said, “Here the letters may be read, through the horn, that make the story complete.”

The cuckold’s letter is V, and it is created by the cuckold’s horns. Corvino used the plural “letters” because he was testifying that he had been cuckolded more than once.

He was also referring to a student’s hornbook. Students would study a page that had the letters of the alphabet on it; a thin layer of horn protected the page. When it is very thin, horn is transparent, and when heated, horn is malleable.

Mosca said to Corvino, “Excellent testimony, sir!”

Corvino whispered to Mosca, “There’s no shame in this now, is there?”

Corvino was worried that his testimony might not preserve the honor and the modesty of the court.

“None at all,” Mosca replied.

Mosca meant that Corvino’s testimony was shameless.

Corvino continued his testimony: “And I hope that I may say that I hope that Celia is well on her way to her damnation, if there is in fact a Hell that is greater than whore and woman — a good Catholic Christian may doubt that there is.”

Corvino was not a good Catholic Christian.

The Third Judge said, “Corvino’s grief has made him frantic.”

The First Judge said, “Remove him from here.”

Hearing that her husband hoped that she was well on her way to Hell, Celia fainted.

The Second Judge said, “Look after the woman.”

“Splendid!” Corvino said. “Prettily feigned and acted, again!”

The Fourth Judge said, “Stand back from her.”

The First Judge said, “Give her some air.”

The Third Judge asked Mosca, “What can you say? What is your testimony?”

Mosca said, “My wound, may it please your wisdoms, speaks for me. I received it as I went to aid my good patron, Volpone, when Bonario missed his sought-for father and when that well-taught dame, Celia, had her cue given to her to cry out, “Rape!”

Bonario interrupted, “Oh, this is very carefully planned impudence! Fathers —”

The Third Judge interrupted, “Sir, be silent. You had your hearing free from interruption, and so must they.”

The Second Judge said, “I begin to fear that there is some willful and fraudulent deception here.”

He was beginning to believe that Bonario was at fault.

The Fourth Judge said, “This woman, Celia, has too many moods.”

Voltore said, “Grave fathers, Celia is a creature of a most professed and prostituted lewdness.”

By “creature,” he meant “despicable person.”

Corvino said, “Grave fathers, she is very impetuous and she is insatiable.”

Voltore said, “I hope that her feignings will not deceive your wisdoms. Just this day she tempted a stranger, a grave knight, with her loose eyes, and more with her lascivious kisses.”

He pointed to Mosca and said, “This man saw them together on the water in a gondola.”

Mosca said, “Present is the lady herself who saw them, too. She is outside. When she saw them, she pursued them in the open streets in hopes of saving her knight’s honor.”

The First Judge said, “Produce that lady.”

The Second Judge said, “Let her come.”

Mosca exited to get Lady Would-be.

The Fourth Judge said, “These things strike me with wonder!”

The Fourth Judge said, “I am astonished. I have been turned into a stone.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved











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