David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s VOLPONE: A Retelling — Act 5, Scenes 9-10

— 5.9 —

Voltore walked over to Mosca and said, “Well, flesh-fly, it is summer with you now.”

A flesh-fly is a fly that lays its eggs in dead bodies. The Italian word “mosca” means “flesh-fly.”

Voltore continued, “Your winter will come on.”

Flies die in the winter.

Mosca replied, “Good advocate, please don’t rail, nor threaten out of place like this. You will make a solecism, as madam — Lady Would-be — says.”

A solecism is a breach of propriety.

Mosca continued, “Get yourself another lawyer’s cap; your brain is breaking loose and falling out of the one you are now wearing.”

Voltore said, “Well, sir.”

Mosca exited.

The disguised Volpone asked Voltore, “Do you want me to beat the insolent slave and throw dirt upon his first good clothes?”

Voltore, who knew he was being mocked, looked at the disguised Volpone and said to himself, “This man is doubtless some familiar.”

He meant that the disguised Volpone was a familiar friend of Mosca, or a member of Mosca’s household, or a familiar spirit of a witch.

The disguised Volpone said, “Sir, the court truly is waiting for you. I am mad that a mule that never read Justinian should get up and ride an advocate.”

Lawyers often rode mules to the court. Volpone meant that Mosca, who never had read the codified law that the Roman Emperor Justinian had ordered to be made, had gotten the better of Voltore. It was as if a mule were riding the lawyer, rather than the lawyer riding the mule.

The disguised Volpone continued, “Had you no lawyerly trick to avoid being made a fool, sir, by such a creature? I hope that you are only jesting; he has not done it. It is just a confederacy between you and Mosca so that you can blind the rest to the true fact that you are the heir.”

Voltore said, “You are a strange, officious, troublesome knave! You torment me.”

The disguised Volpone said, “I know … that it cannot be, sir, that you should be cheated. It is not within the wit of man to do it. You are so wise and so prudent, and it is fit that wealth and wisdom should always go together.”

Voltore exited with the disguised Volpone following and tormenting him.

— 5.10 —

The Judges, the Notary, Bonario, Celia, Corbaccio, Corvino, police officers, etc. were in the Scrutineo.

The First Judge asked, “Are all the parties here?”

The Notary answered, “All except the advocate Voltore.”

The Second Judge said, “And here he comes.”

Voltore and the disguised Volpone arrived.

The First Judge ordered, “Now bring Bonario and Celia forth to be sentenced.”

Putting on an act of suffering great emotional turmoil, Voltore said, “Oh, my most honored fathers, let your mercy for once win out over your justice, to forgive — I am distracted, greatly troubled, divided —”

The disguised Volpone thought, What is he doing?

What Voltore was doing was trying to get revenge on Mosca, who had been tormenting him.

Voltore said, “Oh, I don’t know who to address myself to first — whether your Fatherhoods, or these innocents, Bonario and Celia —”

Will he betray himself? Corvino thought.

Voltore continued, “— whom equally I have abused, out of most covetous motivations —”

Corvino said out loud, “The man is insane!”

Corbaccio asked, “What’s that? What did you say?”

“Voltore is possessed by the devil,” Corvino said.

Voltore continued, “— for which, now struck in conscience, here I prostrate myself at your offended feet, and I ask for pardon.”

He knelt.

The First and Second Judges said, “Arise.”

Voltore stood up.

Celia said, “Oh, Heaven, how just you are!”

Volpone thought, I am caught in my own noose.

By pretending to be dead and to have made Mosca his heir, and by having Mosca torment Voltore, he had given Voltore a reason to speak up in court.

Corvino said to Corbaccio, “Be constant, sir. Don’t change the story you told in court earlier. Nothing now can help, except for impudence.”

He wanted Corbaccio and himself to continue to maintain as true the lies they had testified to in court earlier that day.

The First Judge said, “Continue speaking.”

A police officer ordered the people in the courtroom, “Silence!”

Voltore said, “It is not madness in me, reverend fathers, but only conscience, conscience, my good sires, that makes me now tell the truth. That parasite, that knave, has been the instrument of all. He is the party responsible for what is wrong.”

The First Judge said, “Where is that knave? Fetch him.”

Volpone, still disguised as a police officer, said, “I will go and fetch him.”

He exited.

Worried about being found guilty of committing perjury in the earlier trial, Corvino said, “Grave fathers, this man — Voltore — is distracted and out of his wits. He confessed it just now. For, hoping to be the heir of old Volpone, who now is dead —”

“What!” the Third Judge said.

“Is Volpone dead?” the Second Judge asked.

Corvino answered, “He has died since you last saw him, grave Fathers —”

Bonario said, “Oh, this is surely vengeance!”

He believed that God had punished Volpone because Volpone had tried to rape Celia.

The First Judge said, “Wait, then Volpone was no deceiver?”

If Volpone had been a deceiver, he would have been in good health and only pretending to be sick. His death showed that he was no deceiver.

Voltore replied, “Oh, no, he was not a deceiver.”

As far as Voltore knew, Volpone was not a deceiver. Volpone believed that Volpone had really been ill for three years and had really just died, and therefore he must have been too ill to attempt to rape Celia.

Voltore continued, “But as for the parasite, grave Fathers —”

Corvino said, “Voltore is speaking only out of complete envy because Volpone’s servant has gotten the thing Voltore hoped to swallow. If it please your Fatherhoods, this is the truth, though I’ll not exonerate the parasite, for he may be somewhat at fault.”

Corvino would be happy to get Mosca in trouble.

Voltore said, “Yes, the parasite is responsible for dashing your hopes, as well as mine, Corvino, but I’ll use modesty, moderation, and restraint as I talk.”

Voltore was trying to tell Corvino that Corvino’s perjury need not come out. Voltore wanted to get Mosca in trouble, and if he could do that without getting Corvino in trouble, that would be OK. But that was a deliberate deception. His papers would inform the Judges that Celia had been forcibly brought to Volpone’s house by Corvino, her husband, and left there. Voltore’s papers would also say that Mosca had lied about Bonario and about Celia. Mosca had said that Bonario had wanted to kill Corbaccio, his own father. He had also testified that Celia had come to Volpone’s house of her own free will.

Voltore gave the Judges some papers and said, “If it pleases your wisdoms to view these certain, reliable notes, and simply confer about them, as I hope you will favor me, they shall speak the clear truth.”

Still worried, Corvino said, “The devil has entered him!”

Bonario said, “Or bides in you.”

The Fourth Judge said, “We have done ill by sending a public police officer for him, if he really is the heir.”

The Second Judge asked, “For whom?”

The Fourth Judge said, “The man whom they call the parasite; he is apparently Volpone’s heir and a rich man now.”

So far, Mosca’s name had not been mentioned during the trials; he had always been referred to as a parasite and a knave.

The Third Judge said, “That is true. He is a man of great estate now that he is Volpone’s heir and Volpone has died.”

The Fourth Judge said to the Notary, “Go and learn his name, and say to him that the court requests his presence here only for the clearing up of a few questions.”

Because Mosca was thought to be a rich man now, the Judges wanted to treat him with respect and definitely not call him a parasite.

The Notary exited.

The Second Judge, who had been reading Volpone’s notes, said, “This is a labyrinth!”

Volpone’s notes contradicted some of what had been said at the previous trial.

The First Judge asked Corvino, “Do you stand by your testimony in the first trial? Is that testimony true?”

Corvino said, “My estate, my life, my reputation —”

Bonario said sarcastically, “What reputation!”

Corvino continued, “— are at the stake.”

His words were ambiguous. One meaning was that he was staking his estate, life, and reputation on the truth of his earlier testimony. Another meaning was that his estate, life, and reputation were tied to a stake like a bear at a bear-baiting. In the “sport” of bear-baiting, a bear would be tied to a stake and then dogs would be set to torment it.

The First Judge asked Corbaccio, “Do you also stand by your testimony in the first trial? Is that testimony true?”

Corbaccio answered, “The advocate — Voltore — is a knave, and he has a forked tongue —”

The Second Judge said, “Speak to the point. Answer the question.”

Corbaccio saying that Voltore is a knave is not the same thing as Corbaccio saying that his earlier testimony had been true.

Corbaccio added, “So is the parasite. He is a knave, too.”

The First Judge said, “This is all confusion.”

Voltore said, “I beseech your Fatherhoods just to read those papers I gave you.”

Corvino said to the Judges, “Give no credit to anything that the false spirit has written. Nothing else is possible except that Voltore is possessed by a devil, grave fathers.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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