Appearances and Reality
What Volpone and Mosca's victims perceive as reality is not the truth of the play. Each one thinks that he will be made heir to Volpone's fortune. Voltore attempts to deceive the court and is punished when the deception is revealed. Corvino is willing to seduce Volpone with Celia's body, although Corvino is also deceived into thinking Volpone too ill to make use of the young woman. Corbaccio is deceived into sacrificing his son's inheritance in a ploy to make even more money. The reality is that each will be left with less wealth. However, Mosca, whom Volpone trusts without question, is also deceiving Volpone. Mosca is the only participant who clearly understands the depth of the deception.
On first reading, it is not readily apparent that Volpone is concerned with class, and this is probably because class was not Jonson's concern in writing the play. However, the inequities in punishment provided at the play's conclusion create some questions about the role of class in this play. The judges say that Mosca, ''being a fellow of no birth or blood,’’ shall be whipped and then sent to a lifetime in the galleys. His punishment is much more severe than the that of the other participants because he has no social rank. Mosca is seized and dragged from the stage, as he cries out. In contrast, the other men involved accept their punishment, which does not involve whipping, with dignity. Only Mosca, as someone without birth or blood, is subjected to physical punishment and the indignity of being dragged screaming from the court.
The plot of Jonson's play is based on deception. Each of the three victims attempts to use deception for financial gain. But the victims are each self-deceived. Their willingness to believe allows the game to succeed. Each of the victims attempts to deceive Volpone, as each pretends to be a caring petitioner. Mosca and Volpone deceive each victim with the promise of greater wealth as a return for exorbitant gifts. The deception is largely dependent on none of the victims uniting against Volpone. Thus, when Volpone fakes his death and the three are brought together to witness Mosca's triumph, their joint misery and recognition of their deception leads to Voltore recanting his defense of Volpone.
It is the victim's greed that permits Volpone's plot. Each victim seeks more wealth than he deserves. And each man attempts to bargain himself into a better position through more and more extravagant gifts. Volpone is also not immune, but his greed is not for more money but for more fun at his victim's expense. It is Volpone's greedy need to see his victims humiliated that ultimately leads to the plot's unraveling.
The play's resolution leads to the lesson, which is that...
(The entire section is 719 words.)