Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ben Jonson's Volpone. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
Volpone: Plot Summary
Volpone: Detailed Summary & Analysis
Volpone: Theme Wheel
Brief Biography of Ben Jonson
Historical Context of Volpone
Other Books Related to Volpone
- Full Title: Volpone, or The Fox
- When Written: 1606
- Where Written: London, England
- When Published: 1607 (Quarto), then 1616 in Works
- Literary Period: English Renaissance (Jacobean)
- Genre: Comedy
- Setting: Venice, Italy
- Climax: Volpone’s ruse is revealed in court.
- Antagonist: Volpone, Mosca
Extra Credit for Volpone
“Works.” Volpone was first published in 1607 in a quarto (essentially a small pamphlet), but modern texts are primarily based on the version that Jonson published in his 1616 book titled Works. It might seem standard today for plays to be published as literature, but in Jonson’s day it was extremely controversial. Shakespeare, for example, published none of his plays during his lifetime. With Works, Jonson tried to claim a literary status above his contemporaries by establishing himself as a professional writer. This helped give his plays their literary status.
Neck Verse. Jonson might have been executed as a young man if not for the legal loophole called the Benefit of Clergy, which allowed defendants to be tried in religious instead of secular court, since a religious court was much less likely to give a death sentence. After Jonson killed another actor in a duel, he pled guilty but was able to use the Benefit of the Clergy. The only requirement to receive this benefit was the recitation of a Bible verse in Latin. This verse, Psalm 51, is known as the neck verse, since by saying it in secular court, one could avoid hanging and be tried again in a religious court.