Literature Study GuidesVolponeAct 4 Scene 5 Summary

Volpone | Study Guide

Ben Jonson

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Volpone | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

In the courthouse, four advocates (lawyers) discuss the nature of the story just told to them by Celia and Bonario. Voltore has arrived to represent Volpone in court, claiming his client too sick to appear himself. However, the court demands Volpone's presence. Voltore begins his defense of Volpone's actions, claiming Bonario and Celia have been having an affair, and that while Celia's "easy husband" forgave her indiscretions, Bonario's father chose to disinherit him. Upon learning his father was in a meeting with Volpone, Voltore asserts the enraged Bonario broke into Volpone's home in the hopes of murdering his father. When he couldn't find him, he abused weak, ill Volpone, attacked Mosca, and concocted the plan to discredit all the men in court.

One by one, the men take the stand to testify that Bonario and Celia were having an affair and working together to discredit Volpone. Corvino's testimony against Celia is so damning, she nearly faints. Voltore accuses Celia of not only having an affair with Bonario, but also of trying to prostitute herself to a traveler—Sir Politick—and that his wife will testify to this truth.

Analysis

This scene reveals Voltore's moral corruption. Previously, Voltore was the only legacy-hunter clinging to a modicum of morality, but he sells his soul in court in the hopes of remaining on Volpone's good side. Voltore perjures himself, turning his back on his identity as a lawyer, spinning a wild lie that will imprison two innocent people, just to increase his fortune. Voltore's speech symbolizes not only his moral corruption, but also the corruption that plagued Renaissance Venice, where power and justice were commodities to be bought and sold.

The court's reaction to Celia's testimony further explores the role of women as second-class citizens in Venetian society. Although Celia's testimony about what happened with Volpone is truthful, the court believes her to be too hysterical and emotional to be believed. She laments, "I would I could forget I were a creature," which basically means, "I wish I could forget I were alive." The court, and society at large, finds such little value in women Celia wishes she could die.

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