Literature Study GuidesVolponeAct 3 Scene 7 Summary

Volpone | Study Guide

Ben Jonson

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Volpone | Act 3, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

Corvino and Celia arrive earlier than Mosca expected. Mosca rushes back to where Bonario hides and urges him to wait in the library for his father's arrival. Bonario looks suspiciously at Mosca, but agrees. Meanwhile, Corvino admits the true reason he brought Celia to Volpone's house—for her to sleep with him. Celia tries to convince her husband the plan doesn't make sense. There are plenty of other ways she can prove her loyalty. Seeing that his wife will not willingly agree, Corvino drags her to Volpone's bed. Mosca and Volpone arrive, with Mosca telling Volpone of Corvino's generous gift. Celia pleads with the men not to force her into Volpone's bed, but Corvino continues to threaten her with physical violence and invented crimes: "I'll ... cry thee a strumpet through the streets; rip up thy mouth ... and slit thy nose, like a raw rotchet!"

Overcome with lust, Volpone leaps off the couch and tries to convince Celia to sleep with him out of revenge, claiming her husband is willing to sell her for financial gain. He claims her beauty has revived him, and he would do anything for her love. He offers her priceless, but unobtainable, gifts. When Celia rejects Volpone's advances, he seems confused: "Thou hast, in place of a base husband, found a worthy lover." Again, Celia pleads with Volpone that if he has a conscience, he should leave her alone. If he will not let her go, Celia asks that he kill her rather than continue to shame her. Enraged, Volpone orders, "Yield, or I'll force thee." As Volpone advances toward Celia, Bonario leaps from his hiding place and demands Volpone release Celia or else he'll alert everyone to Volpone's deception. He takes Celia's hand and they flee, leaving Volpone to fear his future.

Analysis

This scene provides a turning point for Volpone's character. His attempted rape of Celia shows how lust for power has corrupted his morality. He does not value Celia as a person, but rather as an object to be obtained. His violent demand—"Yield, or I'll force thee"—parallels Corvino's violent control of his wife. Although Volpone doesn't describe in graphic detail the ways in which he will force Celia, he doesn't have to. Corvino's violent imagery lingers, allowing the audience to view the male character's dominance over the female in tandem. Both men's treatment of Celia is equally heinous.

Interestingly, Volpone doesn't immediately resort to force. He first tries to convince Celia to sleep with him willingly. When this fails, Volpone ups the rhetoric, just as he did when posing as the mountebank, offering Celia absurd, impossible gifts such as "the brains of peacocks," "the milk of unicorns," and "panthers' breath." Not only do these offerings highlight Volpone's desperation, they also highlight his true desire: power. In previous scenes, Volpone seemed obsessed with wealth, but in reality, he would pay any price and lose any fortune for this power. There is little difference between Volpone and Corvino: both simply want to control Celia. At the same time, Jonson portrays Volpone as a fool. Jonson's moral lesson to audiences is that greed corrupts the soul and turns one into a fool. Volpone, whose avarice corrupts his morality in this scene, can be seen singing and dancing in his attempt to seduce Celia. All the other singing and dancing in the play has been performed by the fools—Nano, Androgyno, and Castrone. Volpone's ridiculous behavior casts him alongside the other social outcasts.

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