Volpone Summary and Analysis of Act Three


Act Three, Scene One

In the street, Mosca delivers a soliloquy in which he expresses his joy at the success of his plot. He calls himself a "subtle snake" (3.1.6) and talks of falling in love with himself. He delights in being a parasite because he believes that thus he is not of this world. He elaborates on the true art of parasitism, which is not merely begging for money, but rather manipulating people. This skill, he says, must be natural, for it cannot be learned.

Act Three, Scene Two

Corbaccio's son Bonario enters and scorns Mosca for his "sloth" and "means of feeding" (3.2.9-11). Mosca begins to cry and Bonario regrets being so severe. Mosca admits that, because he was not born rich, he has done dishonorable things in order to get by. Bonario tells the audience that he believes Mosca to be sincere. Seemingly out of remorse, Mosca confesses that Bonario is soon to be excluded from Corvino's will. Mosca tells Bonario that he will bring him to witness his father disinherit him.

Act Three, Scenes Three and Four

At Volpone's house, Androgyno, Nano, and Castrone are performing a ditty to entertain Volpone. They disperse when a knock comes at the door. Lady Would-be Politic enters and summons two servant women to help her primp. When she asks Volpone how he is doing, he tells her he had a nightmare in which a "strange fury entered, now, my house, / And, with the dreadful tempest of her breath, / Did cleave my roof asunder" (3.3.41-3). Throughout their conversation, Volpone makes sneering side comments about Lady Would-be's garrulousness while she rambles on about her study of medicine and poetry.

Act Three, Scenes Five, Six, and Seven

Mosca enters and, at Volpone's begging, shoos Lady Would-be away by telling her that he saw Sir Politic with another woman on a gondola. Mosca later comments that it is those who have the most freedom who are the most jealous. Though Volpone says that he would rather that Lady Would-be leave without giving a gift than stay to give one, Lady Would-be presents him with a cap she made herself. She leaves, re-enters momentarily, and then leaves again.

Mosca brings in Bonario and hides him so that he will hear his father disinherit him. At the door, however, are Corvino and Celia, not Corbaccio. In an aside, Mosca exclaims, "Did e'er man haste so for his horns?" (3.7.4). Mosca leaves to tell Bonario that he should wait in the gallery until his father comes in half an hour.

Meanwhile, Corvino explains to Celia the real reason he has brought her to Volpone's. Celia begs to be locked in a dark room rather than be made to love Volpone. Corvino proclaims that honor does not exist and asks, "What, is my gold / The worse for touching?" (3.7.40-1). He claims that no one will know she has been unfaithful if she doesn't tell anyone. Celia retorts, "Are heaven and saints then nothing? / Will they be blind, or stupid?" (3.7.53-4). She asks him to go back to his old jealous ways. He tells her that if he thought it a sin, he wouldn't ask her to lie with Volpone. He says he considers it charity.

Volpone praises Mosca and asks for Celia. Corvino forces Celia nearer to Volpone's bed. Volpone thanks Corvino for offering his wife, but says that he is too far gone for it to do any good. He implies that Corvino will be his heir. Celia says she would rather drink poison or eat burning coals than lie with Volpone. Corvino threatens to flay her and string her up if she does not obey him. Mosca tells him that she might be less modest if he left.

As soon as Mosca and Corvino leave, Volpone jumps off the couch and tells Celia that it was her beauty that cured him and transformed him into a mountebank earlier in the day. He tells her he is able-bodied and sings a song to prove it. The theme of the song is similar to Robert Herrick's poem "To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time." Still, she says she hopes lightning strikes her face. Volpone asks, "Why droops my Celia?" (3.7.185) He then tries to seduce her by showing her the fortune that will be hers if she consents to be with him. Celia answers that her innocence is all the wealth she needs and that if she loses it, she will have lost everything. Volpone elaborates on the rich life he can offer her. Celia replies, "If you have...any part that yet sounds man about you...Do me the grace to let me 'scape. If not, / Be bountiful and kill me" (3.7.240-5). She again asks to be tortured in gruesome ways.

Just as Volpone becomes impatient and grabs her, Bonario jumps out from the gallery demands that Volpone let her go. Bonario and Celia exit out the window. Volpone laments that he is "unmasked, unspirited, undone" (3.7.278).

Act Three, Scenes Eight and Nine

Mosca, who has been wounded by Bonario, enters and apologizes to Volpone. When a knock comes at the door, Volpone fears it is the police, but Mosca tells him to return to his couch. Corbaccio enters. Mosca explains that he was wounded by Bonario who was looking to kill Corbaccio for disinheriting him. Voltore appears and becomes angry because he has heard that Corbaccio will be Volpone's heir. Mosca explains that naming Corbaccio as heir is part of a plan to make Voltore rich. Mosca tells Voltore that once Bonario kills Corbaccio, the law (i.e. Voltore's realm) will take over. Appeased, Voltore sends for Corvino to be brought to the Scrutineo, or the courthouse. Voltore and Corbaccio exit in pursuit of Bonario and Celia.


Act Three, Scene One

The themes of Parasitism and Animalization dominate Mosca's soliloquy. Indeed, Mosca refers to himself as a "subtle snake" (3.1.6) and talks derogatorily of other parasites who have only "court-dog tricks" (3.1.20) and can only "lick away a moth" (3.1.22). This opening scene of Act Three is one of the only in the play in which Mosca shows his true self. In nearly every other scene of the play, Mosca feigns his emotions for the sake of deception. However, in this scene, there is no one for whom Mosca can pretend. Thus, his happiness here is real. That his genuine happiness stems from the deception of others proves that he is utterly despicable.

In 3.1, Mosca makes the case for natural-born parasites being the world's true movers and shakers and other parasites being their zanies, or servants. His use of the word "zanies" (3.1.33) draws a parallel to the mountebank scene in which Volpone refers to Nano as a "zany" (2.2.28). What's more, by helping to set up the stage on which Volpone plays the mountebank, Mosca himself is serving as a zany, which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is one who attends on a mountebank. This opening scene of Act Three, then, marks a turning point of the play - the beginning of Mosca and Volpone's role reversal. That is, in 2.2, Mosca was the zany and Volpone the lead parasite, but by 3.1, Mosca has shown himself to be the true parasite, making Volpone the zany.

Act Three, Scene Two

Bonario represents one of the more righteous characters in the play. Though Sir Politic has good intentions, he is too misguided for his own good. Still, here we see that even Bonario is capable of being duped by Mosca. Apparently, Bonario's weakness is his fear of losing his father's approval.

In this scene, Mosca also reveals that he is of menial birth. This fact becomes important in 5.12 when the Avocatori are handing out punishments.

Act Three, Scenes Three and Four

Volpone's love of theater is again apparent at the opening of this scene. Lady Would-be's entrance confirms that Jonson adheres to Aristotle's Unity of Time. In 1.5, Mosca had told Lady Would-be to return in three hours' time. Now, in 3.3, she has.

Volpone and Lady Would-be's exchange is both humorous and meaningful. The comedy of the situation centers around its dramatic irony. Once again, the audience knows something that one of the characters doesn't. In this case, Lady Would-be is unaware that Volpone is referring to her when he talks of a "strange fury" (3.3.41). In terms of deeper meaning, this scene is another display of the dangers of obliviousness. Like her husband, Lady Would-be suffers from an inability to closely observe her situation. Using Volpone to mock her, Jonson is attempting to show his countrymen how ridiculous and disadvantageous it is to have Lady Would-be's lackluster powers of perception.

Act Three, Scenes Five, Six, and Seven

Corvino's entrance marks the first kink in Mosca's plan. So far, Mosca's every move has had its desired effect. However, Corvino has come to the house earlier than Mosca expected. Hence his comment "you are come too soon" (3.7.1). As a result, Mosca is forced to hide Bonario in the gallery so that he won't hear Mosca's dealings with Corvino.

In 3.7, Corvino and Celia's interaction is primarily an expression of sadomasochistic desire. As in 2.5, Corvino threatens Celia with gruesome bodily harm if she does not comply with his wishes. However, in contrast to 2.5, Celia is no longer distressed by his threats. In fact, she welcomes them, offering to drink poison and eat burning coals if it might please Corvino. In Elizabethan theater, the language of sadomasochism was often coupled with the language of love. In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, for example, Bassanio famously tells his lover Portia, "I live upon the rack." In the eyes of Medieval-era Christians, a trial is what legitimized a romance. In the case of Corvino and Celia, the last shred of romance is trumped by greed. Though Celia offers herself up to him, saying "I am your martyr" (3.7.107), Corvino cannot bring himself to sacrifice his reputation or his potential fortune. Just before he leaves her, Corvino declares in frustration, "'Sdeath! if she would but speak to him, / And save my reputation, 'twere somewhat; / But spitefully to effect my utter ruin!" (3.7.122-4)

Considering her sadomasochistic desire, Celia's innocence, at least as she professes it, is debatable. However, her righteousness is assured by her argument with Corvino in which she begs him not to ignore heaven and the saints. By taking the side of piety, Celia prefigures herself for redemption, both in the context of Christianity and in the context of the play. In the courthouse scene, Jonson chooses to save Celia from punishment because she has proven her commitment to honor and righteousness here in 3.7. Likewise, Bonario is preserved for his determination to do right, as evidenced by his rescue of Celia in 3.7. The scene 3.7, then, serves as a proving ground for the upstanding characters in the play.

Act Three, Scenes Eight and Nine

In these scenes, Volpone and Mosca begin to accelerate toward their downfall. Mosca, the former master puppeteer, is increasingly losing control of the play's action. The appearance of Corbaccio and Voltore at the same time marks the second kink in Mosca's plan. At this point, he is only barely managing to appease the "clients." These scenes mark the beginning of the end.