Volpone Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1605

First published: 1607

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Social satire

Time of work: Sixteenth century

Locale: Venice

Characters DiscussedVolpone

Volpone Volpone (vohl-POH-nay), the Fox, a Venetian magnifico. Delighting in foxlike trickery, Volpone scorns the easy gain of cheating widows and orphans and the hard gain of labor. He chooses for his victims Venice’s leading crooked advocate, its most greedy and dishonest merchant, and its most hardened miser. The joy of the chase of gold and jewels belonging to others is keener to him than the possession. He also delights in acting, both onstage and off. To fool others with disguises, makeup, and changes of voice is a passion with him. His three weaknesses are excessive trust of his unreliable parasite Mosca, his ungovernable desire for Corvino’s virtuous wife Celia, and his overconfidence in his ability to deceive. When defeated, however, he shows a humorous and sporting self-knowledge and resignation to his punishment.


Mosca (MOS-kah), the Gadfly, Volpone’s malicious and witty parasite. Acting as the chief instrument of Volpone’s trickery and the frequent instigator of additional pranks, he keeps the plot moving. Under cover of tormenting Volpone’s victims, he often engages in annoying Volpone himself, almost always with impunity. His tantalizing of Volpone with sensuous descriptions of Celia sets in train the events that finally destroy both his master and himself. A master improviser of deceit and pranks, he becomes in love with his dear self, underestimates his master, and falls victim to his own overconfidence and greed. He whines and curses as he is dragged away to punishment.


Voltore (vohl-TOH-ray), the Vulture, an advocate. A ruthless and voracious scavenger seeking the spoils of the dead, he yearns for Volpone’s wealth. He is willing to connive whenever gain is apparent. A dangerous man when thwarted, he helps Volpone achieve acquittal in his first trial; then, tormented beyond endurance by Mosca, who pretends that Volpone is dead and has left Voltore nothing, the lawyer reverses himself and causes the collapse of Volpone’s plans.


Corbaccio (kohr-BAH-chee-oh), the Raven, an aged miser, feeble, deaf, and pathologically greedy. He is willing to risk his son’s inheritance to have Volpone exchange wills with him. He is also willing to have Mosca administer poison in Volpone’s sleeping draft to hasten the validation of the will.


Corvino (kohr-VEE-noh), the Crow, the merchant husband of Celia. Mean-spirited, cowardly, and insanely jealous of his beautiful wife, he is the most repulsive of Volpone’s victims. His greed is sufficient to counteract his jealousy, and he is willing to leave his wife in Volpone’s hands to assure his future as Volpone’s heir.


Celia (SEEL-yuh), Corvino’s virtuous wife. Cursed with a repulsive and pathologically jealous husband, the heavenly Celia faces her slander and perils with noble fortitude.


Bonario (boh-NAH-ree-oh), the good son of Corbaccio. He is the savior of Celia when she is helpless in Volpone’s clutches.

Lady Politic Would-Be

Lady Politic Would-Be, a parrot-voiced, shallow-brained Englishwoman. She grates on Volpone’s sensibilities so much that he is willing to lose the financial gains she thrusts on him. At any price, he wishes to be rid of “my madam with the everlasting voice.” Her unreasonable jealousy makes her a gullible tool when Mosca accuses her husband of having an affair with Celia; her resulting false testimony saves Volpone and convicts Celia and Bonario at the first trial.

Sir Politic Would-Be

Sir Politic Would-Be, a gullible, naïve traveler. Eager to be thought a member of the inner circle of state knowledge, Sir Pol has a sinister explanation for even the most commonplace actions. He furnishes the picture of the ridiculous English tourist on the Continent.


Peregrine (PEH-reh-green), a sophisticated traveler. He finds amusement, mixed with contempt, in the credulities and foibles of Sir Pol.


Androgyno (ahn-DROHJ-eh-noh), a hermaphrodite,


Castrone (kah-STROH-neh), a eunuch, and


Nano (NAH-noh), a dwarf, household freaks kept by Volpone for amusement.


Avocatori (ah-VOH-kah-TOH-ree), the four judges. The ambition of the fourth, to marry his daughter to Mosca, stirs Volpone to make his confession, which saves Bonario and Celia and brings punishment on the evildoers.

BibliographyBarish, Jonas A. “The Double Plot in Volpone.” In Ben Jonson: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Jonas A. Barish. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963. Analyzes the play’s structure to defend the relevance of the subplot concerning Sir Politic and Lady Politic Would-Be, which he sees as a caricature of the main plot.Cave, Richard Allen. Ben Jonson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Devotes a chapter of analysis to the play’s plot, themes, and characters. Includes some discussion of the play’s production history.Dessen, Alan C. Jonson’s Moral Comedy. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971. Dessen devotes one chapter to a discussion of Volpone, which he sees as pivotal, marking a shift in Jonson’s perceptions away from the influences of the old morality plays such as Everyman and toward a satiric comedy that examines the moral implications of human failings.Miles, Rosalind. Ben Jonson: His Craft and Art. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1990. Discusses Volpone with particular attention to the techniques of Jonson’s satire, noting that nothing is exempt from his dark vision of human beings as jungle animals, quick to prey on one another.Summers, Claude J., and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Ben Jonson. Boston: Twayne, 1979. A general introduction to Jonson and his work. Includes a discussion of Volpone that concentrates on the play’s satiric themes and structure.
Categories: Characters