David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s VOLPONE: A Retelling — Act 4, Scene 6

— 4.6 —

Mosca returned with Lady Would-be.

He said to her, “Be resolute, madam.”

He had coached her on what to say in the courtroom. Mosca had already told her that Peregrine was not a prostitute dressed as a woman. He, however, may have convinced her that Celia was a prostitute who had been with her husband on a gondola. Or he may have convinced her to deliberately commit perjury.

Lady Would-be pointed to Celia and said, “Yes, this same woman is she.”

She was falsely testifying that her husband and Celia had been together on a gondola.

She said to Celia, “Get out, you chameleon harlot! Now your eyes vie with the tears of the hyena. Do you dare to look upon my wronged face?”

She called Celia a chameleon because she believed that although Celia was a prostitute, she could put on an innocent appearance.

Lady Would-be was mixing up the tears a crocodile sheds and the sound a hyena makes. A crocodile was believed to shed tears to lure its victims, while a hyena was believed to mimic a human voice to lure its victims.

Lady Would-be said to the Judges, “I beg your pardons, I fear I have forgettingly transgressed against the dignity of the court —”

The Second Judge said, “No, you haven’t, madam.”

Lady Would-be continued, “— and been exorbitant and immoderate in my speech.”

The Second Judge said, “You haven’t, lady.”

The Fourth Judge said, “This evidence is strong.”

Lady Would-be said, “Surely, I had no intention of scandalizing your honors, or my sex.”

The Second Judge said, “We believe you.”

Lady Would-be said, “Surely, you may believe it.”

The Second Judge said, “Madam, we do.”

Lady Would-be said, “Indeed, you may; my breeding is not so coarse —”

The First Judge said, “We know it.”

Lady Would-be continued, “— as to offend with pertinacy —”

She was correct: She was not currently bringing up anything in court that was pertinent to the case.

The Third Judge said, “Lady —”

Lady Would-be continued, “— such a court! No, surely.”

The First Judge said, “We well think it.”

Lady Would-be continued, “You may think it.”

The First Judge said, “Let her conquer us and have the last word.”

He then asked Bonario, “What witnesses have you to make good your report?”

Bonario replied, “Our consciences.”

Celia added, “And Heaven, which never fails the innocent.”

The Fourth Judge said, “These are no testimonies.”

Bonario said, “Not in your courts, where a greater number of, and louder, witnesses overcome.”

The Fourth Judge said, “Now you grow insolent.”

The officers who had gone after Volpone now returned, carrying Volpone on a couch. Volpone was acting as if he were very ill and utterly without the strength needed to engage in sex.

Voltore said, “Here comes the testimony that will convict and put to utter dumbness the bold tongues of Bonario and Celia.”

He pointed to Volpone and said sarcastically, “See here, grave fathers, here’s the ravisher, the rapist, the rider on other men’s wives, the great impostor, the grand and horny voluptuary!

“Don’t you think these limbs engage in sex? Don’t you think these eyes covet a concubine? Please look at these hands — aren’t they fit to stroke a lady’s breasts?

“Or perhaps he is faking his illness!”

“So he is,” Bonario said.

“Would you have him tortured?” Voltore asked.

“I would have him tested,” Bonario said.

Voltore said, “Best test him then with spikes, or burning irons. Put him to the strappado.”

The strappado is a form of torture in which the victim’s hands are tied behind his or her back with a rope and then the victim is lifted high in the air. To increase the pain, weights can be tied to the victim’s feet, or the victim can be raised and dropped partway, coming to a sudden stop. In this torture, the victim suffers dislocated shoulders.

Voltore sarcastically continued, “I have heard that the rack has cured the gout.”

The rack is a form of torture in which ropes are tied to the victim’s hands and other ropes are tied to the victim’s feet, and the ropes are used to stretch the victim until their limbs are dislocated.

Being threatened with the rack is enough to make even a person suffering from gout try to run away.

Voltore sarcastically continued, “Indeed, put Volpone on the rack, and help rid him of a malady; be courteous.

“I say, before these honored Fathers, that Volpone is so ill that he shall still have as many diseases left as Celia has Biblically known adulterers, or as you, Bonario, have Biblically known strumpets.”

He paused and then said to the Judges, “Oh, my just hearers, if these deeds, acts of this bold and most outrageous kind, may be done with impunity, can even one citizen escape losing his or her life and reputation to anyone who dares to slander him or her? Which of you are safe, my honored Fathers?

“I would ask, with the permission of your grave Fatherhoods, if their plot has any appearance of or resemblance to truth? With your permission, let me ask if, to the dullest nostril here, their plot does not smell like rank and most abhorred slander?

“I beg your care of this good gentleman, Volpone, whose life is much endangered by their lies, and as for them, I will conclude with this: Vicious persons, when they’re hot and fleshed in — initiated in and eager for more — impious acts, their constancy abounds.

“Damned deeds are done with greatest confidence and boldness.”

The First Judge said, “Take Bonario and Celia into custody, and separate them.”

The Second Judge said, “It is a pity that two such monsters should live.”

The First Judge said, “Let the old gentleman, Volpone, be returned to his home with care.”

Some officers of the law carried Volpone away on his couch.

The First Judge added, “I’m sorry our credulity — our believing Bonario and Celia at first — has wronged him.”

The Fourth Judge added, “Bonario and Celia are two creatures! They are thoroughly evil!”

The Third Judge said, “I feel as though I have an earthquake inside me.”

The Second Judge added, “Their shame, even in their cradles, fled their faces. Even from infancy, Bonario and Celia have been shameless.”

The Fourth Judge said to Voltore, “You have done a worthy service to the state, sir, by revealing their crimes.”

The First Judge said, “You shall hear, before night, what punishment the court decrees upon them.”

Voltore replied, “We thank your Fatherhoods.”

The Judges, Notary, and officers of the law exited with Bonario and Celia.

Voltore asked Mosca, “How do you like the result of the trial?”

“It is splendid,” Mosca replied. “I’d have your tongue, sir, tipped with gold for this. I’d have you be the heir to the whole city. I’d have the earth lack men before you lack a living: They’re bound to erect your statue in St. Mark’s.”

He then said, “Signior Corvino, I want you to go and show yourself in public, so people know that you have conquered in this trial.”

“Yes,” Corvino replied.

Mosca and Corvino began to talk quietly together.

Mosca said, “It was much better that you should profess yourself a cuckold in public like this than that the other thing should have been proved.”

The other thing was Corvino’s attempt to prostitute his wife, Celia.

Corvino replied, “I considered that. Now it is her fault.”

“It could have been yours,” Mosca said.

“True,” Corvino said, “but I still fear this lawyer: Voltore.”

He still regarded Voltore as a rival who could inherit Volpone’s wealth.

“Indeed, you need not fear him,” Mosca said. “I dare to ease you of that fear.”

“I trust you, Mosca,” Corvino said.

Mosca replied, “You can trust me as you trust your own soul, sir.”

Corvino’s soul was rotten.

Corvino exited.

Corbaccio said, “Mosca!”

Mosca replied, “Now for your business, sir.”

“What?” the hard-of-hearing Corbaccio asked. “Do you have business?”

“Yes, yours, sir,” Mosca replied.

“Oh, none else?”

“None else, not I,” Mosca said. “I have only your business.”

“Be careful, then,” Corbaccio said.

Voltore and Lady Would-be were listening. Because Corbaccio was hard of hearing, Mosca was speaking loudly.

“You can sleep with both your eyes shut,” Mosca said. “Don’t worry about anything.”

“Dispatch my business,” Corbaccio said.

He meant this: Get Volpone to make me his heir.

“Instantly,” Mosca said. “Right away.”

Corbaccio said, “And look that everything, whatever it is, is put in the inventory of his goods: jewels, plate, moneys, household stuff, bedding, curtains.”

Mosca said, “Curtain-rings, sir.”

The sarcasm went over Corbaccio’s head.

Mosca added, “The advocate’s fee must be deducted from the wealth you will gain.”

“I’ll pay him now,” Corbaccio said. “You’ll be too prodigal and generous.”

Mosca said. “Sir, I must give Voltore his fee as advocate.”

Corbaccio asked, “Two chequins is enough?”

“No, give him six chequins, sir,” Mosca said.

“It is too much.”

“He talked a long time. You must consider that, sir.”

Corbaccio said, “Well, there’s three,” handing it over.

“I’ll give it to him,” Mosca said.

“Do so, and here’s something for you.”

Corbaccio handed Mosca a small coin.

Corbaccio exited.

Mosca said sarcastically, “Bountiful bones! What horrid and strange offence did he commit against nature in his youth to give him this old age?”

People who suffer in their old age can think that they are being punished for having committed some horribly evil deed during their youth.

Mosca said to Voltore, who had heard everything, “You see, sir, how I work to help you accomplish your goals.”

He gave Voltore the three chequins and added, “Take no notice of the smallness of this fee. It’s not worth worrying about.”

Voltore, whose eyes were on Volpone’s wealth and whose mind was on making all of that wealth his, said, “I won’t. I’ll leave you now.”

Mosca replied, “Good advocate!”

Voltore exited.

Mosca thought, All is yours, the devil and all.

This meant, You think that everything is yours, including the devil and everything else.

Mosca then said to Lady Would-be, “Madam, I’ll escort you to your home.”

“No, I’ll go see your patron, Volpone,” she replied.

“That you shall not,” Mosca said, “and I’ll tell you why. My intention is to urge my patron to rewrite his will and make you his heir because of the zeal you showed as you helped him with your testimony today. Before your testimony, you were only third or fourth in line to inherit his wealth, but you shall now be the first in line. But if you were present as I tried to persuade Volpone to rewrite his will, it would appear as if you were begging for his money. Therefore —”

Lady Would-be interrupted, “You shall sway me. I will go home.”

Possibly, this is the exact time Lady Would-be became a legacy-hunter.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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