Author: Ben Jonson
First published: 1607
Plot: Social satire
Time: Sixteenth century
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, 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, 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.