What are the main characteristics of a comedy of humours in Volpone?

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The main characteristics of a comedy of humours, as opposed to a comedy of manners, which is another form of comedy in literature, is that the comedy is focused on the way in which characters themselves represent one particular vice, virtue or failing which defines them and their actions in the play.

If we examine this darkly comic play, we can see how naming plays a significant part in this. The names of the three "suitors" are given to indicate the way that they are beasts who hope to prey off the corpse of Volpone. There is the crow, the raven and the vulture, each of whom hope to inherit the sick Volpone's wealth when he dies. Their greed is emphased through their name. Volpone is likewise defined by his greed, but also by his intelligence in seeking to outwit those who try to trick him. His name of the fox therefore is excellent in defining his character.

This is not of course restricted to merely the evil or bad characters in the play. Bonario literally means "good man," and we can see from his rather bombastic speech and actions that this characteristic is what defines him.

Jonson creates a world of natural predators where good only triumphs because evil fights itself. His vision of a world where everybody is preying on everybody else in one way or another is the basis of this comedy of humours, as greed is shown to be the governing attribute of society.


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