to a play
in 5 acts
by Ben Jonson
written in 1606
. It is very much like the morality play
s of the Middle Ages
. It was first publish
ed in quarto form
in 1607. It was also included in Jonson's Works
in 1616 with minor changes. It is the 1616 version that serves as the used text.
Jon's motivation for writing the play was his consternation with the increasing commercialization of the world around him. The targets are not only the greedy people but the laws that protect them.
The play, set in Venice is about Volpone (which means fox in Italian), a rich man, who makes his money by pretending to be a dying man with no family with a large inheritance. This draws greedy people to call on him, bringing large gifts in hopes of winning his favor. However, all it does is enlarge his fortune. Volpone is aided by his servant, Mosca, who implements all their schemes. Eventually, they dig a hole that they cannot escape. This bodes extremely well for Celia and Bonario, the two virtuous characters, since they are caught in a corrupt society that allows them no power or venue to defend their virtue.
Volpone, the character, is the master of his domain. He is extremely wealthy and enjoys toying with people. In addition to Mosca (which means fly, as in the insect), Volpone has three servants to keep him entertained: Nano (a dwarf), Castrone (a eunuch), and Androgyno (a hermaphrodite). Those that call on Volpone in hopes of inheriting his fortune are Voltore (meaning vulture), Corbaccio (meaning raven), Corvino (meaning crow), and Lady Politic Would-Be.
Volpone was first performed by the King's Men, Shakespeare's company, in the Globe Theatre.