Literature Study GuidesVolponeAct 5 Scene 12 Summary

Volpone | Study Guide

Ben Jonson

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Volpone | Act 5, Scene 12 | Summary

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Summary

Volpone rushes back to the courtroom where Voltore continues his confession to the confused court. Volpone pulls Voltore aside and tells him Volpone is still alive, and that his "death" was a ruse to test Voltore's loyalty. Horrified, Voltore attempts to recant his statement. Clinging to the accusation of possession, Voltore falls to the ground writhing and wailing. Corbaccio and Corvino insist this proves Voltore is possessed and that the court cannot admit his written confession. The court agrees. Mosca arrives and announces Volpone's funeral. Volpone realizes that Mosca intends to go forward with the funeral as a way of cheating him out of his fortune. He quietly offers to split his fortune with Mosca, but Mosca refuses: he wants more than half. Mosca, who in the court's eyes is now a wealthy man, claims Volpone is annoying him, so the court orders Volpone removed. Realizing Mosca has betrayed him, Volpone tears off his disguise and reveals his true identity. He announces he has been fooling the legacy-hunters for years. With no other choice, the court clears the charges against Bonario and Celia, releasing them.

The court sentences Mosca to life in the galleys, and after stripping him of his fortune, sentences Volpone to life in prison. Voltore is disbarred and banished. Corbaccio's fortune is given to Bonario, and Corbaccio is further sentenced to imprisonment in a monastery. Corvino's marriage to Celia is dissolved, and he is sentenced to dress up as a donkey and be paraded around town. Volpone addresses the audience and asks for applause if they enjoyed the play.

Analysis

When Volpone reveals his true identity to the court, he does so not only to save his fortune, but to restore the social order. As he whips off his disguise, Volpone chastises Mosca, saying, "My substance shall not glue you, nor screw you into a family," suggesting his true outrage at Mosca attempting to make a social leap off Volpone's back. He reiterates to the court that Mosca is nothing more than a "fool, and knave." This sentiment echoes the outrage of the legacy-hunters who seemed more upset over being usurped by a "parasite" than losing their fortunes.

Each character's punishment perfectly reflects their corrupt morality. Volpone is sentenced to life in a tiny cell where he will be locked away from his pleasures in life: power, gold, and women. Voltore is disbarred, Corbaccio loses his fortune, and Corvino is publicly humiliated. The virtuous characters, on the other hand, are rewarded with their greatest desires: Bonario is given his father's estate, and Celia is granted freedom from her abusive husband. Mosca is given the harshest sentence of all. This seems fitting due to his role as the mastermind in the con, but it also reflects Renaissance social order. Mosca is punished for his corruption of the social order by impersonating a nobleman. For the Venetian court, this crime is clearly worse than facilitating an attempted rape.

In the end, Jonson delivers a clear moral message to the audience: greed will lead to a person's downfall. With this message plainly received, Volpone politely asks the audience for applause, reminding everyone the play was a large-scale disguise, or trick, to deliver the message.

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