Volpone By Ben Jonson Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 5

Summary

Mosca's next witness is Lady Would-be, who testifies that Celia was the courtesan with Sir Politic in the gondola. Typically, she apologizes to the avocatori for her temper at such great length that they have her ejected.

Next, Bonario and Celia are directed to present their witnesses. Alas, they have only their consciences to support their case. "And heaven," says Celia, "never fails the innocent."

At this point, the invalid Volpone, stretched on a litter, makes his grand entrance. Tearfully, Voltore cries out that "here's the ravisher, the rider on men's wives, the great impostor, the grand voluptuary!" Then, reversing his position, Voltore agrees that his client might be dissembling. Bonario eagerly assents to the lawyer's proposition. Voltore suggests that torturing Volpone would prove his sickness. His sarcasm puts Bonario in an evil position. Voltore eloquently concludes his pleading with the declaration that "damned deeds are done with greatest confidence." The court declares Bonario and Celia guilty; the sentence will be handed down that very night.

Mosca praises Voltore and Corvino for their exemplary courtroom conduct. After all, was it not better for the raven to profess himself a cuckold than to have it proved that he was his wife's pander? Corvino maintains it is Celia's fault because she did not go along with the plot from the beginning. Mosca flies to Corbaccio, telling him that the fox's estate is all but in his possession. All that is left to do is to pay the lawyer. Corbaccio undertakes this expense lest Mosca overpay Voltore from Volpone's treasury. Mosca assures Voltore that his fortune is made, and then, catching Lady Would-be by the arm, he begins to make her the heir as they leave the courtroom.

Analysis

Lady Would-be's testimony is frosting on the cake for the audacious Mosca. He made up the story of the courtesan and the gondola, and now she has come to court to swear to it! She has been blinded by her greed. First she saw Peregrine as a prostitute; now she claims that she saw Celia with her husband.

Celia and Bonario are foolish enough to think that Venetian courts dispense justice when they merely administer the law. Perhaps Jonson is satirizing the gullibility of those who expect justice at the hands of men. He is certainly mocking the courts as he knew them.

Volpone has waited for the propitious moment to make his entrance. It is a theatrical axiom that the star reserves for himself the most opportune moment to make his big appearance. As it turns out, Mosca has stage-managed this whole scene with the same genius he manifested in inventing the plot. Voltore introduces Volpone with melodramatic tears in his eyes. When he calls the fox an imposter, he is unaware of the complete accuracy of his statement. Only Mosca, Volpone, and the audience can revel in the roguery of the situation. The hyperbole again increases the irony of the action.

During this scene, Jonson has provided ample opportunity for interplay between Volpone and Mosca. When Voltore suggests that they torture Volpone, perhaps Mosca must cover the fox's lively reactions. The court misses this bit of action, but the audience is sure to enjoy it. Voltore's concluding statement that the worst deeds are performed with the greatest confidence is another occasion for stage business. Mosca surely condones this assertion.

At the conclusion of the scene, Mosca presents to the audience the complete inversion of vice and virtue. He convinces each of the gulls that his master's treasury is as good as theirs. Corvino has ruined his wife's reputation and his own, and he blames the predicament on Celia for not agreeing to sleep with Volpone! Corbaccio is even induced, by his greed, to pay for Voltore's services. Voltore has used all of his persuasive powers to tell a lie. As a lawyer, Voltore should be seeking to preserve justice. He is paid for his effort; he will pay for his foolishness. Finally, as they parade out of the court, Mosca brings up the rear with plumed-parrot Lady Would-be on his arm. Can he resist winking at the audience as the lights go out?

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