Volpone By Ben Jonson Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 2

Summary

Mosca has the stage placed beneath the windows of Corvino's house in St. Mark's Square. Peregrine describes mountebanks as "quacksalvers, fellows that live by vending oils and drugs." Sir Pol protests that such mountebanks are "great general scholars" and "excellent physicians." Sir Politic asks the disguised Mosca for the name of the mountebank about to take the stage. Mosca names an Italian juggler who was in England about that time, Scoto of Mantua. At that moment, Volpone enters, as Scoto, followed by a crowd.

Volpone attacks the methods of other mountebanks, those "turdy-facy-nasty-paty-lousy-fartical rogues." Scoto, alias Volpone, declares that, unlike other mountebanks, he has nothing to sell. Sir Pol smiles smugly at Peregrine. At once, Volpone draws forth a "precious liquor," crying "O health! Health! The blessing of the rich! The riches of the poor!" Peregrine smiles knowingly, but Sir Pol is completely fooled. Volpone wants eight crowns for this elixir, which can cure vertigine, mal caduco, tremor cordia — in short, everything from dandruff to athlete's foot. A song is extemporized, a seventeenth-century singing commercial, and Volpone launches into the final pitch.

He promises to give away his expensive elixir to anyone who will give him a memento, a handkerchief. He looks to the balcony of Corvino's house, where Celia has been listening intently. Suddenly, she throws down her handkerchief. Volpone speaks directly to her and, with great desire in his voice and words, promises to give her a powder more potent even than the oil of Scoto.

Analysis

Act II is composed of two actions. The first is the preparation for, and the appearance of, the mountebank, Volpone. This includes the action of the subplot between Sir Politic and Peregrine and the performance of Volpone as Scoto of Mantua, whose real name was Dionisio. The derivation from Dionysus, Greek god of wine, brings to mind the pagan festival of fertility, a time of wild debauchery and hilarity. The figure of the god Dionysus had a reputation for changing its shape. The special irony of Volpone's disguise is that it describes the proceedings as a pagan festival, with Volpone as the god of wild license and many faces. Elizabethans were familiar with holidays of this kind, and they called the central actors of such festivals "mummers." At the end of each festival, it was customary that the god or prince of the debauchery be burned in effigy, to the great delight of the participants. Jonson's audience expected Volpone to be sacrificed at the end of the fun.

The first four scenes of Act II take place on St. Mark's Square before Corvino's house. Like those of the first act, they begin with the entrance of a new character. The locale prevails until the first action is completed.

The dialogue is in blank verse except during the mountebank's pitch. Volpone's sales talk is purposeful and pragmatic. It is important to remember the presence of Mosca during Volpone's oratory. Though he hasn't a line, he engineered the performance and knows which is Celia's window. He is the device that focuses Volpone's and our attention on her presence in the window.

Jonson's rhetoric for Scoto has all of the enchantment associated with carnival barkers. The irony of the exaggerated language is in the dramatic situation. The language demands that the actor playing Scoto be able to perform well in the role of a mountebank. Volpone is more than competent; he is cast to type. Mosca is clever enough to draw our attention to this irony.

Finally, it is evident that the fox is out of his lair. Volpone's action was previously confined to his feigning illness from his "deathbed." Now he seizes control of the play's action. Out of his usual domicile, the fox puts on a disguise.

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