Volpone Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does the master-slave relationship play out in Volpone? From the standpoint of Elizabethan aristocracy, Volpone is the master and Mosca the slave, but, considering that Volpone is essentially dependent on Mosca, the reverse might be true as well. Which role does each play and how do these roles change as the play progresses?

  2. 2

    Are the characters in Volpone completely encapsulated by their names? Is Volpone more than just a fox? Is Mosca more than just a parasite? Does Jonson's naming system enhance or diminish the message of the play?

  3. 3

    Celia and Bonario are arguably two of the most righteous characters in the play. But what of Celia's claim to innocence? Do you consider her protestations to exhibit sadomasochistic desire, and would such desire signify that she has lost her innocence? Further, is her piety indivisible from her chastity?

  4. 4

    Compared to other comedies of the time period, Volpone has a relatively unhappy ending. In the Epistle, Jonson claims that this is intentional and in accordance with the ancient tradition of comedy. Does Jonson's ending effectively transmit his message? Would his message have been better conveyed by a more triumphant ending? Should Volpone even be considered a comedy?

  5. 5

    During their lifetimes, Shakespeare and Jonson competed to produce some of the most popular and meaningful works in the English language. Citing specific examples, compare their respective styles. Whose style was more effective in teaching a moral lesson? In making an audience laugh? Which of them should be considered the better Playwright? Should the question be asked at all?

  6. 6

    In the Epistle, Jonson claims that the "principle end of poesie [is] to inform men in the best reason of living." Do you believe this? How does Volpone support or refute this claim?

  7. 7

    Also in the Epistle, Jonson declares the "impossibility of any man's being a good poet without first being a good man." Do you believe this? Was Jonson a good man? A good poet? How does Volpone support or refute this claim?

  8. 8

    What are the roles of Sir Politic Would-be and Peregrine in the play? Is their subplot a distraction or a valuable contribution to the message of Volpone? Has Jonson adhered to Aristotle's Unity of Action as he claims in the Prologue?

  9. 9

    Volpone's opening soliloquy arguably sets the moral tone of the play. Imagine you are Ben Jonson and you are overseeing an upcoming performance of Volpone. How would you stage this opening scene so as best to convey the message of the play?

  10. 10

    The theme of Metatheatricality is important to the moral of Volpone insofar as it conveys Jonson's criticism of Elizabethan theater. Which scenes in Volpone qualify as plays-within-the-play? Do they represent meaningful satire or meaningless comic relief? Discuss the roles of Nano, Castrone, and Androgyno in the context of Volpone's message.