Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 5
The action shifts to a room in Corvino's house. The raven is furious with Celia for flirting with the disguised Volpone. Celia has rendered death to his honor by making eyes at the city's fool. Perhaps she would like to play Lady Vanity of the morality plays to mortify him further.
Innocent Celia pleads for her lord's patience. It is of no avail; Corvino threatens her with death. She cannot understand the gravity of the situation, and this intensifies Corvino's rage. Corvino suggests that the innocent handkerchief possessed a message of assignation. Celia is horrified at the thought, and Corvino declares his intention of compounding his precious restrictions upon her: "I will keep thee backwards; thy lodging shall be backwards, thy walks backwards." This is his reward for being open with here allowing her to go to church every once in a while; he has been taken advantage of. Suddenly, a knock stops up his rage, and he hustles Celia out of the room with harsh threats. A servant announces the presence of Signor Mosca.
Corvino is the prototype of the jealous husband. Corvino is an Italian, not a Dutchman! Flirting with his wife is the worst insult that can be paid an Italian gentleman. Jealousy is Corvino's ruling passion. Jonson is preparing us for a development of the plot.
If Corvino is insanely jealous, Celia is incredibly virtuous. She is prim, humorless, and without any understanding of her husband. She is a dramatic cliché; she is the heroine caught in the clutches of a foul ravisher. She is the prototype of the sweet, innocent, pure-as-the-driven-snow heroine. Jonson does not ask his audience to pity her; he wants us to laugh at her.
Once again, Jonson refers to the theater of his time. Lady Vanity of the morality drama was played as a courtesan, but she was also a figure of fun. Jonson wanted the comic parallel to his character made clear. Celia is vain about her innocence, and Corvino thinks she is impure.
This scene is a very important plot sequence. It introduces us to the character of Celia, prepares for Corvino's betrayal of an Italian's honor, and sets the scene for Volpone's greatest trick. The reader must remember that the action started in the fox's lair, moved into the open of the streets of Venice, and is now located in the bird's nest.