Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 3
Corvino suddenly rushes from his house, screaming at and beating on the disguised Volpone, demanding that he leave instantly. Does Scoto of Mantua intend to make Corvino a Pantalone and his wife a Franciscina? Sir Politic interprets this unexpected excitement as a trick of state and beats a hasty retreat. "This knight," says Peregrine, "I may not lose him, for my mirth, till night."
The central figure of much festival comedy was the cuckold. The word is said to be an allusion to the cuckoo bird's habit of laying its eggs in the nests of other birds. Corvino, a proud and preening raven, is about to be turned into a cuckoo bird! Aware of this threat to his reputation, he refers to the commedia dell'arte characters of the cuckold and his wife, Pantalone and Franciscina. A traveling commedia dell'arte troupe had recently played in London, and Jonson alludes to these comedians as a parallel to the action of his play. It was traditional with mountebanks to beat them for their labors. Harlequin of the commedia was the fool who tried to trick Pantalone and was beaten for his trouble. Harlequin was a base fellow and generally deserved the blows. Volpone, disguised as Scoto, is beaten by Corvino as a base mountebank about to cuckold him. It is ironic that, once again, the fox cannot reveal his true identity without risking disaster. The human Volpone is beginning to lose his identity. The animal Volpone is a perversion of humanity. The special dramatic significance of the animal names is becoming more apparent.