Volpone is a Venetian gentleman who pretends to be on his deathbed, after a long illness, in order to dupe Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino, three men who aspire to inherit his fortune. In their turns, each man arrives to Volpone’s house bearing a luxurious gift, intent upon having his name inscribed to the will of Volpone, as his heir. Mosca, Volpone’s parasite servant, encourages each man, Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino, to believe that he has been named heir to Volpone’s fortune; in the course of which, Mosca persuades Corbaccio to disinherit his own son in favour of Volpone.
To Volpone, Mosca mentions that Corvino has a beautiful wife, Celia. Disguised as Scoto the Mountebank, Volpone goes to see Celia. Corvino drives away Scoto (Volpone), who then becomes insistent that he must possess Celia as his own. Mosca deceives Corvino into believing that the moribund Volpone requires sexual congress with a young woman in order to revive and rise from his deathbed. The cupidity of Corvino leads him to offer Celia, his wife, in order to please Volpone’s voluptuousness, and so become his heir.
Just before Corvino and Celia are due to arrive for her sexual congress with Volpone, Corbaccio’s son, Bonario, arrives to catch his father in the act of disinheriting him. Mosca guides Corbaccio to a sideroom, and Volpone and Celia are left alone. Upon failing to seduce Celia with fantastic promises of luxury and wealth, Volpone attempts to rape her. Bonario comes forward to rescue Celia. In the ensuing trial at court, the truth of the matter is well-buried by Voltore, using his prowess as a lawyer to convince the Avocatori, with false evidence given by Mosca, Volpone and the other dupes.
There are episodes involving the English travellers Sir and Lady Politic Would-Be and Peregrine. Sir Politic constantly talks of plots and his outlandish business plans, while Lady Would-Be annoys Volpone with her ceaseless talking. Mosca co-ordinates a mix-up between them which leaves Peregrine, a more sophisticated traveller, feeling offended. He humiliates Sir Politick by telling him he is to be arrested for sedition, and making him hide inside a giant tortoise shell.
Volpone insists on disguising himself, and having it announced that he has died and willed his wealth to Mosca, which enrages the would-be heirs, Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino, and everyone returns to court to dispute the will of Volpone, who becomes entangled in the circumstances of the plots that he and Mosca devised. Despite Volpone’s pleas, Mosca refuses to relinquish his new role as a rich man; Volpone reveals himself, and his deceits, in order to topple the rich Mosca; in the event, Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino finally are punished.