(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The aging, corrupt magnifico Volpone (Italian for sly fox) operates a profitable con game. Rich and without heirs, he pretends to be on his deathbed, thereby attracting legacy hunters as carrion attracts flies. The lawyer Voltore (vulture), the old gentleman Corbaccio (raven), the merchant Corvino (crow), and the English lady Madam Would-Be woo Volpone with expensive gifts and favors, each hoping to become his sole heir. They also hope for his early death.

Assisted by his servant Mosca (fly), Volpone plays the suitors against one another. At Mosca’s suggestions, Corvino offers his beautiful young wife Celia to Volpone; and Corbaccio, disinheriting his son Bonario (good-natured), makes out his will to Volpone (in expectation of soon getting everything back). These schemes are foiled, however, when Bonario rescues Celia.

To protect themselves, gullers and gulls alike conspire to accuse Bonario and Celia of adultery and plotting murder. The play takes a near-tragic turn when, swayed by Voltore and lying witnesses, the court’s verdict goes against the young couple, but still in store are a number of other reversals which leave the couple cleared, the conspirators conspiring against one another, and the fox outfoxed.

Contributing to the play’s carrion-breeding atmosphere are its exuberant Renaissance language, imagery, and symbolism. Jonson sacked the annals of Roman decadence, such as Petronius’ SATYRICON, for menus, home...

(The entire section is 498 words.)