Volpone, by Ben Jonson

Volpone, by Ben Jonson

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Consider the end of the play, the lack of resolution in the Bonario - Celia relationship, the class based difference in the severity of Volpone and Mosca`s punishments, the situation in which Corbaccio, Voltore and Corvino are left. Do you find the ending just and in structure or are the unresolved situations disturbing?

In the epistle of the play Ben Jonson states “it being the office of a comic poet to imitate justice.” It can be said that this is shown in the ending and that it is just and in structure as all the characters are punished in some way for their avarice and the “innocent” characters Bonario and Celia who in a way provide a contrast to the immoral selfishness, are set free and Celia is given back with three times her dowry money to her father. However there are unresolved issues left at the end of the play concerning these characters. One point of view would be that Celia and Bonario were secondary characters in the play used as virtuous characters to provide a distinction between the corruption and greed of Volpone. Mosca, Corvino, Corbaccio and Voltore, consequently making the problems concerning them as unimportant in context with the punishment or “justice” served by Jonson to Volpone. But then it is important to bear in mind that as these two characters were so inherently good-natured that the reputation of them and lack of resolution can be regarded as disturbing.

Another disturbing injustice can be viewed as the class based difference Mosca and Volpone`s punishments. Volpone is sent to “Thou art to lie in prison, cramped with irons, till thou be`st sick and lame indeed.” As he is “By blood, and rank a gentleman.” And is sent to the Hospital of the Incurables. Mosca, “Being a fellow of no birth, or blood.” Is sentenced to “ first thou be whipped; Then live perpetual prisoner in our gallies.” This inequity can be seen as being based on the fact that Mosca is a parasite, in metaphorical terms a flesh fly who feeds of others: the lowest of the low. However, when one of the avocatore thought Mosca had inherited the money therefore moving up in status, as a clarissimo he had described Mosca as “A proper man! And were Volpone dead. A fit match for my daughter.” And is called a “gentleman.” This shows how differences in class make a difference for how the characters are treated in punishment.

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Mosca is told that he is the “chiefest minister, if not plotter, in all these lewd impostures.” As if it is implied because he “feeds” off others including his master, then he must be responsible for the scheming, also as he is not as rich as Volpone it would give him a motive for wanting to take money from the Corbaccio, Corvino and Voltore. His punishment can be looked upon as more horrific because he will be whipped and tortured but Volpone will be placed in a hospital. On the other hand, Volpone will suffer a long time for his crimes and Mosca did double cross Volpone by the end of the play, so his actions can be seen as of greater ruthlessness. Volpone conducted his schemes for “sport” saying in the opening of the play “More in the cunning purchase of my wealth than in the glad possession.” Mosca it appears is revealed to be more scheming in a darker way than Volpone. He says earlier in the play “I fear I shall begin to grow in love with myself, and my prosperous parts.” And remarks “Success hath mad me wanton.” Indicating to the audience that Mosca knows that even though to the world he is seen as merely a servant of Volpone, it is him binding everything in the scheme together, so he is deserving of his more harsh punishment.

Similarly with the situation with Mosca, the situation in which “the gulls” are involved in can be seen as equally disconcerting. Corbaccio is sent to monastery to die. He is told by the advocatore: “Where, since thou knew`st not how to live well here, thou shalt be learn`d to die well.” This can be seen as unfair as even though he was consumed by his own greed his was tricked by Mosca into believing the situation with Celia and his son. Voltore was told he was banished from state of Venice. The reasoning behind this is to “take away the scandal thou hast given all worthy men of thy profession.” Which can be seen as ironic given the reputation of lawyers in Venice at time. The punishments given out to Corbaccio can be viewed as unfair because essentially they were duped into going along with the scheme, unsuspectingly. Nevertheless as Corbaccio did disinherit his son and Voltore did lie in court, it can be seen that morally they did wrong and needed to be punished. Also their punishments were not as severe as that handed out to Mosca, Volpone and maybe Corvino moreover seeming fair as they did not go to the extent of Corvino in his pursuit of the money.

Corvino is sentenced to wear “a cap, with fair, long ass`s ears” round Venice through the Grand Canal as a cuckold. It seems a fitting punishment considering he did attempt to force Celia to sleep with a “dying” Volpone earlier in the play, not caring his wife was cheating because he knew it could advance his chances of inheritance. Corvino responds to the sentence by saying “and have mine eyes beat out with stinking fish bruised fruit and rotten eggs” and “I shall not see my shame yet.” This can be interpreted as unfair as he had cuckolded himself enough in his actions previously in the play and has already being through an adequate amount of shame. Conversely, his cruel treatment of Celia: threatening her, pimping her out and accusing her of cheating can merit his punishment of the public shame of having to wear ass`s ears so that the whole of Venice will know his shame because of the way he has tarnished Celia`s reputation and partly corrupted and innocent party in his need to gain Volpone`s fortune. A way in which the situation of all “the gulls” is in structure is because they were all willing to compromise anything and everything important to them and in the end they are left with nothing, which is what they were in a way left with when Volpone pretended to be dead and Mosca proclaimed that he was the sole heir to Volpone`s wealth

In conclusion the lack of resolution, class based differences in punishment and situations in which the characters are left in, I feel are just and in structure when put in perspective of their actions throughout the play. The punishment of Volpone and Mosca, and the situation in which Corvino, Corbaccio and Voltore are left is appropriate considering this and Jonson serves his “office of a comic poet to imitate justice.” As he condemns the character’s for their morally wrong principles.
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