Comment on the differences and similarities between the comedy in Volpone and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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Both of these plays are fine examples of the genre of comedy set in the time of Elizabethan drama. Both are similar in the way that slapstick comedy is combined with typical devices such as mistaken identity and appearance vs. reality. Thus the audience is presented with images of Volpone both pretending to be sick and ill and also in the guise of a mountebank, whilst the lovers in the wood change their affections towards one another swiftly through Puck's magic. One difference between these two dramas is the way that Volpone uses animals to represent his characters and to comment upon the greed and rapacity that lies at the heart of human society. The names Jonson uses relate to the kind of role the character has in the animal kingdom, with Volpone representing the cunning fox who outsmarts the other less intelligent predators around him, and Mosca representing the fly who lives parasitically off the triumphs of his master. Note how Mosca, from the very first scene of the play, benefits from his master's wealth just as surely as a fly benefits from its parasitical relationship with an animal that it follows around:

You know the use of riches, and dare give now

From that bright heap, to me, your poor observer,

Or to your dwarf, or your hermaphrodite,

Your eunuch, or what other household trifle

Your pleasure allows maintenance.

The characters in this play therefore are used by Jonson to relate to his rather satirical view of the world where characters are used and tricked by other figures who are more intelligent than them. This rather Darwinian survival of the fittest view of the world is something that is absent from Shakespeare's comedy, although it, too, does have a rather dark side as represented by the play-within-a-play, Pyramus and Thisbe. Both of these elements represent an important aspect of the genre of comedy, which is the thin dividing line that separates comedy from tragedy.