David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s VOLPONE: A Retelling — Act 5, Scenes 7-8

— 5.7 —

Voltore complained to himself, “Outstripped thus, by a parasite — a man dependent upon another for the necessities of life! A slave who used to run errands, and make bows for crumbs! Well, what I’ll do —”

The disguised Volpone said, “The court waits for your worship. I even rejoice, sir, at your worship’s happiness, and I rejoice that it fell into so learned hands, which understand the fingering —”

Clever cheaters make clever use of their fingers.

“What do you mean?” Voltore interrupted.

“I mean to be a suitor to your worship, for the small tenement, which needs repairs and is at the end of your long row of houses by the Piscaria, aka the fish market. It was, in the time of Volpone, your predecessor, before he grew diseased, as handsome, pretty, and well patronized a bawdy-house as any was in Venice, with no dispraise intended toward any of them. But it fell into disrepair along with him; his body and that house decayed, together.”

The disguised Volpone was pretending that Voltore had inherited the tenement from Volpone, who may have received income from the bawdy-house before making money from legacy-hunters.

“Come sir, stop your prating,” Voltore said.

“Why, if your worship will just give me your hand in a handshake to acknowledge that I may have the first refusal, I will have finished. That house is a mere toy, aka trifle, to you, sir; it is candle-rents.”

“Candle-rents” are the rents that come from a house that is dilapidated and growing worse. The house is wearing out and soon will bring in no more rent. Similarly, candles give off light, but they consume themselves in the process.

The disguised Volpone continued, “As your learned worship knows —”

Voltore interrupted, “What do I know?”

“Indeed, you know no end of your wealth, sir,” the disguised Volpone said. “May God decrease it!”

He deliberately said “decrease” rather than “increase.” A stereotype of police officers was they made many malapropisms — they mistook words.

“Mistaking knave!” Voltore said. “Are you mocking my misfortune?”

“God’s blessing on your heart, sir,” the disguised Volpone said. “I wish it were more!”

The “more” could be God’s blessing on Voltore’s heart or God’s decreasing Voltore’s wealth.

Voltore exited.

The disguised Volpone said, “Now I will go to and mock my first victims — Corbaccio and Corvino — again, at the next corner.”

— 5.8 —

Corbaccio and Corvino stood on another part of the street as Mosca appeared and walked by them.

“Look at him,” Corbaccio said. “He is wearing our clothing — the clothing of a Venetian gentleman! Look at the impudent varlet!”

“I wish that I could shoot my eyes at him like stone cannonballs,” Corvino said.

The disguised Volpone walked over to them and asked, “But is this true, sir, about Mosca the parasite?”

Corbaccio said, “You again! Here to afflict us! Monster!”

“In good faith, sir,” the disguised Volpone said, “I’m heartily grieved that a man with a beard of your grave length should be so overreached. I never could endure that parasite’s hair; I thought that even his nose looked like that of a con man. There always was something in his look that promised the bane of a clarissimo.”

Corbaccio, Corvino, Voltore, and Volpone himself all had the title of clarissimo.

Corbaccio began, “Knave —”

The disguised Volpone interrupted, “I still think that you, who are so experienced in the world, a witty merchant, the fine bird, Corvino, who have such moral emblems on your name, should not have sung your shame, and dropped your cheese, to let the fox laugh at your emptiness.”

A moral emblem is an illustration with a printed explanation that points out the moral. Many moral emblems come from animal fables.

Volpone was referring to Aesop’s fable about the Fox, the Cheese, and the Crow. Corvino, whose name means “crow,” had sung about his shame — the shame of being cuckolded — in open court. Now the fox — Volpone — was laughing at Corvino’s emptiness. The crow’s belly was empty in the fable, but Corvino’s head was empty. He lacked intelligence and moral insight.

Corvino said, “Sirrah, you think the privilege of the place, and your red saucy cap, that seems to me nailed to your blockhead with those two chequins, can warrant and officially sanction your abuses.”

They stood on a public street, and in particular a public street just outside the courtroom. No violence would be tolerated there. In addition, Volpone was wearing the uniform of a police officer, which included a cap with two medallions of St. Mark — the medallions resembled the gold coins known as chequins.

He continued, “If you come hither, you shall perceive, sir, that I dare to beat you; approach.”

“There is no haste, sir,” the disguised Volpone said. “I know your valor well, since you dare to publish what you are, sir.”

Volpone did know Corvino’s valor well; Corvino had beaten Volpone when he was disguised as a mountebank; however, Volpone’s “compliment” was actually an insult: Corvino must be a brave man in order to announce publicly in court that he is a cuckold.

Corvino said, “Wait, I want to speak with you.”

“Sir, sir, another time,” the disguised Volpone said.

“No, now,” Corvino insisted.

“Oh lord, sir!” the disguised Volpone said, adding sarcastically, “I would be a wise man if I would stand and face the fury of a distracted cuckold.”

He began to run away just as Mosca returned.

Corbaccio said, “What! Mosca has come again!”

Volpone said as he neared Mosca, “Face them, Mosca! Save me!”

Corbaccio said, “The air’s infected where Mosca breathes.”

Corvino said, “Let’s flee from him.”

Corbaccio and Corvino exited.

Volpone said to Mosca, “Excellent basilisk! Voltore is coming. Turn upon the vulture.”

A basilisk is a mythical serpent that can kill anyone with its look.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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