Corvino enters as Mosca attends to Volpone, who is pretending to be deathly ill. Mosca greets Corvino, and he says that Volpone is as good as dead and that he recognizes no one. Corvino says that he brought Volpone a pearl, at which point Mosca says Volpone might be just aware enough to recognize Corvino. Mosca inquires about the quality of the pearl, when Volpone whispers Corvino’s name. Corvino steps forward and hands Volpone the pearl, which he says is 24 carats (very large).
Mosca and Volpone essentially act out the same scene for the third time with slight modifications to maintain the ruse that Volpone is sick and to convince Corvino that he will be the heir. It’s a telling bit of comedy that even though Volpone pretends not to recognize people, he can still discern the value of the pearl.
After Corvino gives Volpone the pearl, Mosca says that Volpone can’t understand them, since his disease has caused him to lose his hearing. Mosca says that, despite being deaf, it comforts Volpone to see Corvino, and Corvino presents Volpone with a diamond, which Volpone immediately grabs onto. Corvino calls the sight pitiful, but Mosca says that “the weeping of an heir should still be laughter under a visor.” Corvino asks if he is really the heir, and Mosca says that he is not able to show the will, but Mosca explains that he took advantage of the fact that Volpone was saying “Corvino” out loud over and over again. Though many others have come to try to be named heir, Mosca asked “who should be heir” and Volpone in his delirium said “Corvino,” so Mosca inscribed Corvino as the heir.
Mosca’s line about the weeping of an heir references all of the suitors. Though they might pretend to be concerned for Volpone, Mosca suggests that internally they should be celebrating (“laughing” at) Volpone’s disease because it means that the suitors are closer to their presumed inheritance. It’s notable that even though Mosca describes manipulating Volpone’s words to create a will that favors Corvino, Corvino doesn’t consider that Mosca might he using his skills at deception and manipulation in Volpone’s service, rather than Corvino’s.
Upon hearing Mosca’s trick, Corvino hugs him and asks if Volpone really is not aware of them. After Mosca assures Corvino that Volpone is blind and knows no name or face (or anything), Corvino asks if Volpone has children. Mosca responds that he has fathered some bastards (Nano, Androgyno, and Castrone) by several mothers, but none of these children have been named heir.
Mosca’s assertion that Nano, Androgyno, and Castrone are Volpone’s bastards isn’t mentioned elsewhere in the play and seems made up. Traditionally, children out of wedlock would not have received inheritances, as Mosca suggests.
Corvino asks again if Mosca is sure that Volpone cannot hear them, so Mosca shouts in Volpone’s ear that he hopes Volpone’s disease gets worse and kills him soon. The two begin screaming insults at Volpone about how terrible he looks and the gruesome symptoms of his illness. Mosca suggests that he could put Volpone out of his misery, but Corvino instructs him not to use violence. Corvino decides to leave and tries to take back his treasures, but Mosca reminds him that it doesn’t matter since they’re all going to be his anyway, and so Corvino leaves them.
Mosca’s offer to cross an extreme moral boundary by killing Volpone for Corvino is risky; if Corvino consented to it, then it might have put an end to the ruse. But for whatever reason, killing Volpone is a line that the characters do not cross. They hope and even pray for his death, but they are not so corrupted by their greed as to be willing to take his life.
Mosca says that he is Corvino’s creature, and that he owes his very being to Corvino. Corvino calls Mosca his friend, and says that he’ll share in all of his fortunes. Mosca amends this by saying “except one,” by which he means Corvino’s wife. Corvino then leaves without responding.
Mosca substitutes money and employment for God, who would typically be credited for creating a person’s existence, continuing the pattern of blasphemy and adding to the religious association with the characters’ obsessions with money and wealth.
Volpone leaps up again and tells Mosca that he has outdone himself. Someone else knocks, but Volpone doesn’t want to be bothered with any more suitors. He asks Mosca to prepare entertainment, saying that he wants pleasure and light. Mosca exits briefly, and Volpone admires the profits from the morning’s exploits. Mosca returns and explains that the person knocking was a messenger from Lady Would-be, the wife to the English knight Sir Politic Would-be. She has asked how Volpone slept and wants to visit him. Volpone responds that he’ll see her in three hours, and Mosca says that he told the messenger exactly that.
Volpone’s sudden excitement juxtaposed with his false disease reinforces the theatrical nature of their ruse. Mosca is the perfect parasite, anticipating exactly Volpone’s desires and needs. Volpone prepares to indulge his ultimate desire and vice: pleasure. Apparently, Lady-Would be is also a suitor for the inheritance, though not as prominent as Voltore, Corbaccio, or Corvino.
Volpone says he’ll meet Lady Would-be after he is drunk, and then he’ll wonder at the bravery of English men who give their wives so much freedom. Mosca says that Sir Politic is smart enough to know that his wife, however strange, doesn’t have the face to be unfaithful. But if she had a face like Corvino’s wife, he begins, and Volpone interrupts to ask if Corvino’s wife is beautiful. Mosca responds by saying that she is wonder, “the blazing star of Italy … a beauty as ripe as harvest, whose skin is whiter than swan all over … a soft lip … flesh that melteth in the touch of blood.” He even says she is as bright and lovely as Volpone’s gold.
Volpone’s comment about Lady Would-be is the first in the play’s examination of different societal roles and restrictions for women in Italy and England. Mosca makes explicit the comparison between Lady Would-be and Celia (Corvino’s wife), which will be continued throughout the play. Mosca’s praise of Celia is in the love poetry form of blazon, in which the poet focuses on different body parts of the subject (“skin,” “lip,” “flesh”). Characteristic of the blazon is paired imagery of red and white, seen here with white skin and red blood.
Volpone asks how he didn’t know about this beauty before, and Mosca explains that he only discovered it yesterday. Volpone says that he hopes to see her, but Mosca explains it’s impossible, since she’s guarded, she never goes outside, she only gets fresh air from a window, and she’s spied on by all the members of Corvino’s household. Volpone decides he’ll try to see her at her window in disguise, since he also needs to keep people thinking that he’s about to die.
Volpone and Mosca plan yet another theatrical ruse with new costumes (disguises). Volpone’s avariciousness here begins to transition from greed for material wealth to excessive lust for pleasure, both physical/sexual and mental (the pleasure he receives from fooling and deceiving others).