Volpone, a gentleman of Venice, is discovered at home rhapsodizing about his wealth, that "sacred treasure in this blessed room." His servant Mosca impishly sings the harmony to his master's praise of gold. Volpone treasures the manner in which the gold comes to him.
Heirless Volpone attracts the greedy and wealthy to his house; they bring with them plate, coin, and jewels in the hope that his imminent death will return their gifts tenfold. The gift-giving competition is whetted by Volpone's clever feigning of serious illness. While savoring the success of his ruse, Volpone summons his eunuch, dwarf, and fool to celebrate his present triumph with an interlude, a brief, comic, play-like sequence.
The play is set in Renaissance Italy; the characters take their names from animals and birds. The plot grew out of a beast fable popular in the Elizabethan oral tradition. Volpone (volpe) means fox in Italian; Mosca is the word for parasitic gadfly. Mosca is dependent upon the goodwill of the sly Volpone. Volpone's genius lies in his ability to fleece the greedy rich, the covetous wealthy, without resort to trade, venture, or product, the usual methods of commercial advancement. Furthermore, no poor, ignorant person is harmed, and several parasites are maintained in husbanding the gold.
Two types of parasites or fools are found in the courts of Renaissance gentlemen: the natural idiots or deformed fools (for example, the dwarf, eunuch, and fool who entertain Volpone) and the obsequious but clever fools (for example, Mosca). The others are fools by nature; Mosca plays the fool by choice.
It is important to note that although Volpone is a gentleman and not a parasite, he is nonetheless making his living by employing the methods of such fools. Despite his noble heritage, Volpone chooses the occupation of a parasitic fool. This indicates that he is to be a comic and not a serious figure.
The locale of Scene 2 is the same as that of Scene 1. Each scene begins on the entrance of a new character. These are often called "French scenes," and their unity rests in the revelation of the quality of a new character, the demonstration of his chief characteristics by example, and the contribution he will subsequently make to the play's conflict.