Bonario walks into the street and Mosca recognizes him as Corbaccio’s son. Bonario, though, isn’t interested in talking with Mosca, since he thinks Mosca is contemptable and base. He says Mosca is base because his means of survival is flattery and laziness. Mosca acts hurt by Bonario’s words and admits that Bonario is superior to him. However, he says that Bonario is wrong to judge him when he doesn’t know him. Mosca begins to cry, and in an aside, Bonario takes the tears as a sign that Mosca is “soft and good.” Bonario apologizes for being so harsh to Mosca.
Mosca recognizes that Bonario is not like his father or the other suitors, and that flattery alone – along with recognizing the class difference – will not be enough to manipulate Bonario. Instead, Mosca shows a new depth in his acting ability, pretending to be overcome with emotion and tears. Bonario takes Mosca’s apparent softness and openness for weakness and honesty, but the audience knows that Mosca is just an especially skilled actor. This also draws attention to the fact that, even if the character of Mosca were truly sad, it would still just be an actor pretending.
Mosca says it’s true that he needs to serve others in order to make a living since he wasn’t born into a fortune, but he denies ever doing “base” or bad things for money. In an aside, Bonario remarks that Mosca’s speech can’t just be a “personated passion.” He apologizes again for calling Mosca base, and he asks Mosca what his business is.
The obvious irony here is that nearly everything that Mosca does is a bad thing done for money. Bonario is naïve in his belief that because Mosca seems to be sad and honest, he must truly that way. He thinks Mosca’s passions are too deep and legitimate to be acted, which is comical, considering that the audience is watching a play.
Mosca says that his business concerns Bonario, and though it might seem like he is doing a disservice to Volpone, he will still reveal a secret because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Mosca says that Corbaccio intends to disinherit Bonario as if he were a stranger. Bonario says that this story has lost Mosca some of his trust, since Bonario believes it is not possible that his father would act so unnaturally. Mosca says that Bonario’s confidence in Corbaccio makes sense given Bonario’s innocence, which makes the wrong even worse. Mosca then says he’ll bring Bonario to a hiding place where he can witness Corbaccio disinheriting him. Mosca says if it isn’t true, Bonario can draw his sword and kill Mosca.
It’s unclear why Mosca tells Bonario about the plan for Corbaccio to disinherit him. They do not stand to profit from Bonario, and telling Bonario ultimately ruins everything. It’s possible that (in the same way that Volpone later becomes corrupted), Mosca is corrupted by his love for himself, for whimsy, and for ruses. Given the monologue he delivers in Act 3 Scene 1, it makes sense that he might become so taken with these ruses that he tells Bonario just for the sake of adding complexity and proving that he can handle it.