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Volpone | Plot Summary

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Summary

Volpone tells the comedic, satirical story of a wealthy man's attempt to con his greedy business partners.

Act 1

The play opens with Volpone and his servant, Mosca, discussing Volpone's fortune. For the past few months, Volpone has been tricking his greedy business partners, called legacy-hunters, into thinking he will die soon. Without a wife or child to inherit Volpone's estate, the three wealthy businessmen, Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino, visit Volpone's sickbed with lavish gifts, each one convinced he will be named Volpone's heir. Mosca convinces Corbaccio to disinherit his own son, naming Volpone his heir, in the hopes Volpone will return the favor.

Act 2

When Mosca makes an off-hand comment about the beauty of Corvino's wife, Celia, whom he keeps locked in a tower, Volpone desires to see her. Dressed as a traveling medicine man, Volpone delivers a lengthy speech about his powerful elixir beneath Celia's window. She drops her handkerchief, which signals she would like to make a purchase. This infuriates Corvino, and he threatens to kill her. Back home, Volpone claims to be in love with Celia and wants nothing more than to sleep with her. Mosca convinces Corvino sleeping with Celia would restore Volpone's health and ensure he be named heir.

Act 3

Ignoring Celia's adamant refusal, Corvino drags his wife to Volpone's bed and threatens to kill her if she refuses to sleep with him. At the same time, Corbaccio's son Bonario arrives, demanding to know why he has been disinherited. Mosca tells him to hide in the cupboard until his father arrives, during which time everything will be made clear. Volpone attempts to seduce Celia into his bed, but when she refuses, he tries to rape her. Bonario intercedes, saving Celia and discovering Volpone's virile health.

Act 4

At the courthouse, Voltore gives an impassioned speech claiming Bonario and Celia were having an affair and plotted to steal Volpone's fortune. The court finds Bonario and Celia guilty, while Volpone and the legacy-hunters are released.

Act 5

Rather than appreciate his narrow escape from prison, Volpone concocts a new plan, in which he fakes his death and, in disguise, watches the legacy-hunters' shocked reactions upon learning that Mosca has been named heir. Mosca delivers the news, and a disguised Volpone delights in harassing and goading the devastated legacy-hunters.

Everyone reassembles at the courthouse to hear Bonario and Celia's sentence. Overwhelmed by guilt and disappointment, Voltore attempts to tell the court the truth, but a still-disguised Volpone tells him Volpone is still alive. The faked death, he claims, was a test of Voltore's loyalty. Panicked that he might lose his chance of being named Volpone's heir, Voltore collapses to the ground and pretends to be possessed. Mosca, sensing an opportunity to claim Volpone's fortune as his own, continues the ruse that he has been named heir. Suddenly realizing he might lose everything, Volpone removes his disguise and tells the court the truth. They strip Volpone, Corbaccio, Corvino, and Voltore of their fortunes in addition to other harsh punishments. Bonario and Celia are set free, and Mosca is imprisoned and sent to the galleys.

Volpone Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 The legacy-hunters visit Volpone.

Rising Action

2 Volpone attempts to rape Celia.

3 The court judges Celia and Bonario.

4 Volpone fakes his death.

Climax

5 Voltore tries to tell the court the truth.

Falling Action

6 Volpone admits the truth to the courts.

Resolution

7 The court administers justice.

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