Volpone

Volpone Act 2, Scene 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In Corvino’s house Corvino greets Mosca and guesses that Volpone has died. Mosca says that the news is the contrary: Volpone is recovering. Corvino curses his bad luck and asks how it’s possible, to which Mosca replies that Corbaccio and Voltore gave Volpone some of Scoto the mountebank’s elixir. Corvino is furious at the news, and he says that if it wasn’t for the law he’d kill the mountebank. He says there is no way that the elixir is really effective, since he knows the mountebank is a “common rogue” and an idiot. All the ingredients, he says, were terrible, and Corvino claims to be able to name the recipe in exact amounts.
In this moment, Volpone’s two ruses come together (the performance of illness and pretending to be the mountebank) through Mosca’s claim that the mountebank has cured Volpone of his fake illness. This is another example of the play’s meta-theatricality, and it also adds to the cleverness of Mosca’s lies. Corvino’s statement that he would kill the mountebank if not for the law contextualizes his decision earlier in the play not to kill Volpone, suggesting it’s a legal and not a moral obligation that keeps Corvino from killing.
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Mosca says he doesn’t know what happened, but that Voltore and Corbaccio poured some of the elixir into Volpone’s ears and nostrils and brought him to health by massaging him with it. Mosca says that Voltore and Corbaccio have hired doctors to consult on the treatment of Volpone, and though the doctors disagreed at first on different methods to cure him, they ultimately decided that the best way to keep Volpone healthy is to find a young, lusty woman to sleep with him.
Part of the genius of Mosca’s ruses is his ability to adapt to each person he is fooling. While before he claimed that Volpone didn’t trust medicine, now Mosca has reversed his position. He now claims doctors have been hired, and he (and Volpone) take the prescription of those doctors to be gravely important and serious, even though the treatment sounds absurd.
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Mosca says his unfortunate task is to find a woman for Volpone, and that he has come to Corvino for advice because he doesn’t want to do anything that will come in the way of Corvino being named heir to Volpone’s fortune. Mosca says he’s in the delicate position of wanting to report to Corvino, but he knows that if he doesn’t deliver a woman, it might make him look bad to Volpone and therefore prevent him from ensuring that Corvino is named the heir. He says the other two suitors are trying to find a woman for Volpone, and he encourages Corvino to stop them by doing so first.
When Mosca tells Corvino that he is trying to keep up appearances with Volpone, Mosca’s meta-theatrical ruse is taken to another level. The audience knows that Mosca is pretending to work for Corvino, thereby drawing attention to the fact that Mosca is really just a character in a play. Now not only is he pretending to work for Corvino, but he says this fictional service involves acting like he is really working for Volpone, which is of course what he is actually doing.
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Corvino at first suggests hiring a “common courtesan,” but Mosca says that it’s a bad idea, since they are so subtle and tricky and therefore might cheat everyone out of Volpone’s fortune. Mosca says it needs to be a simple woman without tricks, someone who will obey. He tells Corvino to think, and says that one of the doctors even offered his daughter. Corvino is shocked, but Mosca says it’s true, and that she’s a virgin. The doctor, he says, knows the state of Volpone’s body and what it needs. He also says that almost no one will know about the situation.
It’s notable that Mosca appeals here to the authority of doctors, since doctors are soundly untrusted throughout the play. Even as Mosca gives the excuse of a doctor’s order for needing Celia to sleep with Volpone, his very use of a false and absurd doctor’s order as a tool for manipulation further underscores the fraught role of doctors in the text. Though Mosca believes that a doctor’s word carries weight, he also thinks it believable that a doctor might prescribe his virginal daughter to an ailing man.
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Corvino takes a moment to pace and talk to himself. He says to himself that there is no reason he shouldn’t command his woman like the doctor did his daughter, since wives and daughters are both subdued by husbands and fathers. Corvino decides that he will prevent the doctor by offering his own wife to Volpone. Mosca says that he didn’t want to say it, but that he thought about suggesting it as the best way for Corvino to assure he is named the heir, given the current situation. Mosca even says that after this, they’ll be able to kill Volpone, but Corvino still resists this idea. Corvino tells Mosca to inform Volpone of his decision, and Mosca says he’ll send for Corvino and Celia when the time is right.
Corvino sees offering a woman to sleep with Volpone, be it daughter or wife, as an act of control. Once he has begun to think of it this way, it makes sense that he agrees to it, because he’s obsessed with asserting control over Celia however he can. Again, Corvino resists whenever Mosca suggests killing Volpone, showing that Corvino has not been utterly corrupted by his greed. He’s willing to offer his own wife to Volpone sexually, but he still has a moral (or legal) obligation not to kill. It’s also possible that he simply doesn’t want Volpone to die before he has officially named Corvino heir.
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