Volpone and his servant, Mosca, are playing a cunning game with all who profess to be Volpone’s friends, and the two conspirators boast to themselves that Volpone acquired his riches not by the common means of trade but by a method that cheated no one in a commercial sense. Volpone has no heirs. Since it is believed he possesses a large fortune, many people are courting his favor in the hope of rich rewards after his death.
For three years, while Volpone feigns gout, catarrh, palsy, and consumption, valuable gifts are given to him. Volpone is in truth quite healthy and able to enjoy various vices. Mosca’s role in the grand deception is to assure each hopeful, would-be friend that he is the one whom Volpone honored in an alleged will.
To Voltore, one of the dupes, Mosca (which means “fly”) boasts that particular attention is being paid to Voltore’s interests. When Voltore (“vulture”) leaves, Corbaccio (“crow”) follows. He brings a potion to help Volpone (“fox”), or so he claims. Mosca knows better than to give his master medicine from those who are awaiting the fox’s death. Mosca suggests that to influence Volpone, Corbaccio should go home, disinherit his own son, and leave his fortune to Volpone. In return for this generous deed, Volpone, soon to die, will leave his fortune to Corbaccio, whose son will benefit eventually.
Next comes Corvino, who is assured by Mosca that Volpone, now near death, named him in a will. After the merchant goes, Mosca tells Volpone that Corvino has a beautiful wife whom he guards at all times. Volpone resolves to go in disguise to see this woman.
Sir Politic Would-Be and his wife are traveling in Venice. Another English visitor, Peregrine, meets Sir Politic on the street and gives him news from home. While the two Englishmen are trying to impress each other, Mosca and a servant come to the street and erect a stage for a medicine vendor to display his wares. Volpone, disguised as a mountebank, mounts the platform. While he haggles with Sir Politic and Peregrine over the price of his medicine, Celia appears at her window and tosses down her handkerchief. Struck by Celia’s beauty, Volpone resolves to possess her. Meanwhile Corvino brutally scolds Celia and tells her that henceforth he will confine her to her room.
Mosca goes to Corvino with news that physicians recommended that a healthy young girl sleep by Volpone’s side and that other men are striving to be the first to win Volpone’s gratitude in this manner. Not to be outdone, Corvino promises that Celia will be sent to Volpone.
Mosca also tells Bonario, Corbaccio’s son, that his father is about to disinherit him. He promises to lead Bonario to a place where he can witness his father’s betrayal....
(The entire section is 1136 words.)