Places Discussed

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Volpone’s house

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Volpone’s house (vohl-POH-nay). Home of the Venetian magnifico, whose name means “fox.” With an outer gallery or waiting room for dupes and a dazzling treasure cache, piles of gold, plate, and jewels hidden behind the rear-stage curtain, Volpone’s house is a handy location for storing the rich gifts of solicitous visitors. When guests are present, the drawn curtains hide this shrine to wealth, and the foxlike Volpone stretches out on his sickbed in gown, furs, and nightcap, as his servant, Mosca, ushers in the assorted base creatures.

Hiding places are important to this set, for Bonario must observe Volpone’s revelation of ardent passion unseen, just as Voltore must overhear Mosca and Corbaccio. Curtains close around Volpone on his couch as Mosca at a desk inventories the supposed inheritance of hopefuls.

Corvino’s house

Corvino’s house (kohr-VEE-noh). Home of a Venetian merchant, near St. Mark’s Place. The location attracts pickpockets, con artists, and schemers of every stripe. Corvino’s wife Cecelia looks down from a balcony, which opens into a room in Corvino’s house where he chides her. In front of the house, Mosca and a servant erect a stage for a medicine vendor to display his wares, and a disguised Volpone mounts the platform and haggles over high-priced quackery.

Historical Context

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The period from 1576 to 1642 is considered the Golden Age of English drama, although it was probably not golden for those who lived through it. For more than 100 years, farmers had been displaced by enclosure acts that fenced off agricultural land for pastures. This created severe unemployment in the countryside with accompanying high inflation. Crop failures, the threat of war abroad, and brutal religious strife had shaken English society by the time Elizabeth I assumed the throne in 1558. The reign of Elizabeth produced relative stability, but her failure to name a successor brought discontent and the threat of civil war even before her death. The rule of James I was greeted initially with enthusiasm in 1603, but religious, class, and political divisions soon intensified. In spite of this turmoil, or perhaps because of it, the most important drama in Western history was produced during this period. Rural unemployment drove many people to London, making it the largest city in Europe. However, attempts at civil order led to widespread disorder and the establishment of a capitalistic economy in place of the feudal agrarian social order. The writers of this period grappled with new ideas about science and philosophy, religion and politics. In addition, there was also a new emphasis on individual thought, action, and responsibility.

Playwrights thought of themselves as poets, but were not regarded as serious artists, much as we regard screenwriters today. In fact, playwrights turned out a commercial product. Once sold, plays became the property of acting companies and when published, were more likely to bear the name of the acting company than the author's name. It was not until the seventeenth century, when Jonson published his plays (in 1616) and a folio of Shakespeare's works were published (in 1623), did the idea that plays have literary merit occur. But because plays weren't regarded as serious literature, playwrights had the opportunity to deal with any subject that interested them. In 1576, the first permanent theatre was built. This led to greater social status for theatre people. The location was out of town, due to religious problems. Puritans thought actors were sinful, with substandard morals, because the social milieu of the playhouse was loose, and often libertine. There was also the philosophical argument that acting was lying,...

(The entire section contains 2391 words.)

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