Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 4
Lady Would-be makes a fashionable entrance and immediately sends the dwarf Nano to find her dressing woman. Volpone and Nano talk to the audience in asides, commenting on Lady Would-be's plumage and preparations. After extensive emergency repair work has been performed, the dressing woman and dwarf exit and Lady Would-be turns her full and impressive person on Volpone. "The storm," says Volpone, "comes toward me."
Volpone complains to Lady Would-be that he suffers from bad dreams. She seizes the occasion to elaborate upon her own horrors, whereupon Volpone begins actually to tremble and sweat. The remedies come thick, gooey, and fast, compounding Volpone's discomfiture. Next, she launches into a half-learned discourse that is interrupted by Volpone's desperate declaration that, according to Plato, the "highest female grace is silence." Plato cannot silence Lady Would-be. His name brings to mind her classical reading, and Volpone has opened yet another of Pandora's boxes. Lady Would-be is inexorable, and only Mosca's appearance saves Volpone.
Lady Pol parrots the plot of Volpone. She also dresses up for the role. Her cosmetics and clothes symbolize a painted surface hiding a rotten interior. It is a theatrical visualization of the character of the plot of Volpone.
The visual symbol is compounded by the language of the scene. Volpone feigns a bad dream in order to put Lady Would-be off. She takes him at his word and carries his simple fiction to the length of a great history. The end result for Volpone is actual sickness. Volpone began the play as a nobleman playing the fool; his performance eventually replaces reality.
The irony of Lady Pol's dialogue is the same as the irony of the play's plot; that is, Volpone is tortured by words and events that are ridiculous and without meaning, but he is responsible for his own torture. Volpone the artist has tricked his victims and suffers in reality for assuming the role of a debased fool. He suffers precisely because he is so convincing. He plays the fox and is reduced to the role of an animal.
This comic interlude is devoted entirely to the subplot. The audience is holding its breath awaiting the arrival of Mosca and Bonario. Why has Mosca brought Bonario to Volpone's house? Has Mosca thrown caution to the winds? Mosca's entrance not only ends the subplot sequence but promises to start the suspense of the main plot again.