Literature Study GuidesVolponeAct 1 Scene 5 Summary

Volpone | Study Guide

Ben Jonson

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Volpone | Act 1, Scene 5 | Summary



A wealthy merchant named Corvino arrives, bearing gifts of a pearl and diamond. Immediately, he asks whether Volpone has died. Mosca laments that Volpone still lives, but spends his days calling Corvino's name. At Volpone's bedside, Mosca casually calls Corvino Volpone's heir, although he says he has been sworn to keep the will secret. He promises he himself brought Volpone the ink and parchment to write Corvino's name as heir. Corvino delights in having Mosca as an ally, and together they mock Volpone's sickly body, with its "filthy eyes" and nose "like a common sewer." Mosca grabs a pillow and acts as if he's going to suffocate Volpone, but Corvino stops him. At first, Corvino chastises Mosca for resorting to violence against Volpone, but before leaving, whispers, "At your discretion."

As Corvino leaves, Lady Politick Would-Be, the wife of a bumbling would-be politician, arrives. Mosca and Volpone discuss the woman's beauty, but Mosca announces that it pales in comparison to the beauty of Corvino's wife, whom he calls, "the blazing star of Italy." Corvino keeps his wife hidden away as most men hide their gold, but Volpone becomes obsessed with seeing her. He vows to take on a disguise and peek through her window later that day.


Corvino delights in having Mosca as an ally because he clearly manipulates and cons his master. Corvino, of course, thinks Mosca does this for Corvino's gain, never questioning whether he himself is being conned. Mosca emerges from the back-to-back scenes with the legacy-hunters as a quick-thinking, intelligent con man. Although his talent is on full display for both the legacy-hunters and Volpone himself, no one suspects Mosca might be duping them. Mosca successfully disguises his true nature beneath the ruse of a parasitic servant, pulling off the greatest deception in the play.

As the legacy-hunters reveal their true nature, they descend from most to least moral. Although Corbaccio also delights in Volpone's declining health, Corvino's response is even darker as he disrespectfully mocks Volpone's deteriorating body, insulting his gruesome appearance. Corvino's nasty treatment of Volpone showcases his cruel nature. Later in the play, the audience witnesses his abusive treatment of his wife, and his complete disregard for her humanity.

When Lady Politick Would-Be arrives, Volpone has tired of visiting with suitors, so she is dismissed. Volpone and Mosca discuss women, creating the first comparison between the role of English women (Lady Politick Would-Be) whose husbands trust them enough to cavort around Venice unattended, and Italian women like Corvino's wife Celia, whom he literally keeps locked in a tower.

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