Carrying the gold platter and ushered by Mosca, Voltore enters the room where Volpone is lying in bed pretending to be rife with disease. Mosca whispers that only Voltore, above all the rest, possesses Volpone’s love, and that it’s wise for Voltore to continue visiting and bringing gifts to cultivate that love. Mosca then turns to Volpone and loudly announces that Voltore has come. Volpone quietly asks Mosca to repeat himself, and Mosca says again that Voltore has come to visit. Volpone thanks Voltore for visiting, and Mosca explains that Voltore has brought a gold plate. Volpone tells Voltore to come more often.
Mosca and Volpone enjoy the same sense of dramatic irony felt by the audience: they know that Volpone is pretending to be ill and Voltore doesn’t. Of course, this also draws attention to the fact that everything the audience sees here is a theatrical stage production, no more real than Volpone’s cough. By pretending to be deaf, Volpone heightens the drama of the scene, since Voltore feels comfortable saying things that he would never usually express within earshot of Volpone.
Since Volpone is speaking to Mosca so quietly, Voltore has a difficult time hearing him. Mosca repeats to Voltore that Volpone is glad he has come and wishes that he would visit more often. Volpone blindly reaches out to touch Voltore’s hand, and he asks to hold the gold plate, since he can’t see well. Voltore gives Volpone the platter and says he’s sorry to see Volpone is so weak. In an aside, Mosca says that Voltore is actually sorry to see that Voltore isn’t weaker.
Pretending to be blind has the same effect of pretending to be deaf: it heightens the potential for dramatic irony since it makes Voltore inappropriately comfortable around Volpone. Despite this level of comfort, Voltore tries to maintain the appearance of genuinely caring about Volpone’s wellbeing, rather than the reality of caring only about his wealth. At the same time, Mosca is able to see through Voltore, and Mosca’s comic aside cuts through any attempt by Voltore to cultivate a sense of dramatic irony of his own.
Volpone tells Voltore that he is too kind, and Voltore responds that he wishes he could give health to Volpone as easily as he can give material gifts. Volpone says he understands that Voltore gives what he can, and he asks Voltore to continue visiting often. Voltore agrees, and Mosca reassures Voltore again that he is Volpone’s heir. Volpone then cries out and pretends to faint.
Though Voltore’s remark about it being easier to give wealth than health is disingenuous, it points to one of the aspects about money that makes it so dangerous and corrupting. It’s easier, physically, intellectually, and emotionally to give someone money than it is to give them care, attention, love, or any sort of non-material gift.
Mosca uses Volpone’s false fainting to usher Voltore out. Voltore wants to know if he is officially, legally named as Volpone’s heir, but Mosca obfuscates and asks Voltore to employ him after Volpone dies. Mosca says that is working for Voltore, only serving Volpone to watch over the wealth that Voltore will soon inherit. Voltore asks if he is the sole heir, and Mosca confirms that he is, saying that the ink is not yet dry on the will.
As a lawyer, Voltore wants to see the legal document naming him heir, but Mosca is so quick on his feet and skilled at speaking and acting that he is able to avoid showing any proof (since, of course, there isn’t any). This is another demonstration of the power of language, though one that shows the manipulative potential of words.
Voltore is thrilled to hear he is the heir, and he asks Mosca why he has been chosen. Mosca says it’s simply because Voltore deserves it, and he goes on to say that Volpone likes Voltore and admires lawyers in general for their ability to speak so well about anything and argue at a moment’s notice either side of a case. Mosca says Volpone wants an heir with a lawyer’s spirit and masterful use of language.
While Mosca’s praise of Voltore here is not genuine, it does accurately reflect the skills that Volpone values in himself and in Mosca: the masterful ability to use language to fit any demand and to argue and manipulate effectively. This emphasis on language as deceptive, though, contrasts to the opening of the play, in which Ben Jonson seemed to earnestly celebrate his own facility with words.
Just as Mosca finishes flattering Voltore, someone else knocks outside. Mosca tells Voltore that he doesn’t want whoever is knocking to see Voltore, and Mosca ushers Voltore out. Mosca also reminds Voltore that he wants to be hired after Volpone dies. As soon as Voltore exits, Volpone springs out of bed and praises Mosca for his skills. Mosca, though, tells Volpone that Corbaccio is coming, so Volpone needs to resume his ruse. Volpone says that the vulture (Voltore) has gone and the old raven (Corbaccio) has come.
Part of what makes Mosca convincing is flattery, and part of his flattery of Voltore involves establishing a contrast between himself and Voltore. Though Mosca isn’t bothered by being thought of as a parasite, it’s only when Mosca reinforces the sense that he is a parasite by asking for employment after Volpone’s death that it becomes clear how unfit the term “parasite” is for Mosca—he is actually the one conceiving and executing the ruses by which Volpone gets his money.