How true is the aphorism, "Mischiefs feed / Like beasts, till they be fat, and then they bleed" in summary of Volpone?  

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1 AVOC: Which may not be revoked. Now you begin,
When crimes are done, and past, and to be punish'd,
To think what your crimes are: away with them.
Let all that see these vices thus rewarded,
Take heart and love to study 'em! Mischiefs feed
Like beasts, till they be fat, and then they bleed.

Ben Jonson's Volpone is predicated upon double deception and the greedy amassing of unmerited wealth. So even from this alone, it is reasonable to say the aphorism is an accurate one. Lets delve a little deeper and confirm the initial proofs. In act three, Mosca learns some of Volpone tricks and defrauds some people for his own benefit behind Volpone's back. Then Volpone excels his own craftiness and, forgetting what he has at stake--his life and freedom before a court and judge for fraud--he attempts to overpower the lovely and inspiring Celia who is being given by her father against her will to Volpone in return for the promise of inheritance:

VOLP: I do degenerate, and abuse my nation,
To play with opportunity thus long;
I should have done the act, and then have parley'd.
Yield, or I'll force thee.


CEL: O! just God!

VOLP: In vain—

BON [RUSHING IN]: Forbear, foul ravisher, libidinous swine!

She is saved by Bonario, but Volpone feels himself nearly exposed because there is a strong chance she'll go to the authorities. As result, he deepens his plots and files a false law suit against Bonario to discredit him as a witness against Volpone's actions against Celia.

His plans fail in that he is brought before the magistrates for a trial but is able to convince the court that Celia is lewd and has Bonario for a lover. Volpone and Mosca, to heady with victory carry their plots too far and enrage the other duped "heirs," which leads to the beginning of Volpone's downfall as Voltore retracts his earlier testimony on Volpone's favor. It is clear that it is fair to say the aphorism is truthfully representative of Jonson's entire play:

Mischiefs feed
Like beasts, till they be fat, and then they bleed.