Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 6
Corvino turns from wrath to wreathed smiles in anticipation of the announcement of Volpone's death. Alas, Mosca dashes his hopes with the news that Scoto's oil has affected Volpone's recovery. Furthermore, the blessed juice was procured for Volpone by Corbaccio and Voltore. They have hired a physician to prescribe "a flayed ape clapped to his breast," and "some young woman must be straight sought out, lusty, and full of juice, to sleep by him." Corvino perceives Voltore's and Corbaccio's threat to his hopes and suggests that Mosca hire a courtesan on his behalf. Mosca rejects this course of action as too dangerous. They "may perchance light on a quean [who] may cheat us all."
Mosca describes the simple creature they must find, using Celia as the model of his inspiration. In mock despair, Mosca asks Corvino: "Ha' you no kinswoman?" One of the doctors offered his own daughter! Corvino is shocked. Mosca assures him that the doctor did so knowing that "naught can warm his [Volpone's] blood." Corvino grasps Mosca's intention and mulls over the possibility of Celia's becoming his candidate. Suddenly, the doctor is a covetous wretch and Corvino's honor is forgotten. Mosca feigns surprise and compliments Corvino on his audacious plan. Corvino's zeal hurries Mosca to make the proper preparations. Mosca promises that only Corvino will be received. There is only one condition Corvino must accept: He must not come until he receives word from Mosca.
Mosca is now at the top of his cozening form. Not only does he grant Volpone a miraculous recovery, but he attributes it to the imposter's own oil! The delight of the following rhetoric is based upon the audience's understanding of Mosca's aim and their interest in watching him construct his plot. The ironic power of the description of Celia is the result of the audience's awareness of Mosca's audacity.
The second action of Act II establishes Corvino's insane jealousy and Mosca's appeal to the stronger of his passions, greed. Mosca demonstrates great understanding of Corvino's nature in his subtle phrasing of the appeal.
It is especially ironic to observe that Jonson has allowed Corvino to be cuckolded in his own house!
It is also important to note Corvino's excessive, lengthy, and jealous tirade on fidelity, his quick reversal of form, and, finally, his warm sympathy for his wife. These emotional transitions demand a sophisticated comic touch and a delicate sense of timing, attributes found only in great character actors.
In the last analysis, it is not Mosca's audacity or Volpone's cunning performance that cuckolds Corvino. It is his own comic flaw that exposes him to this final humiliation. The flaw is greed. All of the characters in Volpone are brought down by this trait.