Volpone

Volpone

Volpone Act 4, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the piazza, Sir Politic tells Peregrine that he is ready to give advice for the inexperienced traveler in Venice. He warns Peregrine to always keep a stern, careful disposition and to avoid telling secrets, trusting anyone, or saying something that could be even misconstrued as political. Sir Politic advises avoiding getting too close with either foreigners or fellow Englishmen, and he says that Peregrine is likely to be tricked often.
Sir Politic’s advice is filled with dramatic irony, since Peregrine and the audience know that Sir Politic is himself an inexperienced traveler. For example, he advises not to get close with fellow Englishmen while doing exactly that with Peregrine. At the same time, Sir Politic reveals his self-importance as well as his paranoia.
Themes
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Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Sir Politic continues giving traveler’s advice, saying that Peregrine should avoid talking about religion, and that he needs to learn how to use a silver fork. He should also learn the composition of Italian glasses, and the appropriate hours to eat melons and figs, which he says is extremely important to Venetians. If Venetians see someone even a little “preposterous,” they see right through him and ridicule him immediately. Sir Politic boasts that he has been living in Venice for fourteen months, and that he was able to pass for a citizen within his first week there.
When Sir Politic says that if Venetians detect even a hint of falsehood, they see through the disguise and recognize one as a foreigner, it’s not clear whether his bragging that he blends in is a commentary on the ridiculousness of Venetians, or whether it’s another example of Sir Politic’s deluded self-importance.
Themes
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Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Sir Politic gives some of his credentials for passing as Venetian (he has read important Italian books, he has furnished a home, he has worked with the Jewish pawnbrokers). Sir Politic then boasts that he has the ability to make someone a fortune with some of his entrepreneurial pursuits, though he claims he will not reveal them to Peregrine. In an aside, Peregrine says he wishes he had another friend there so he could bet money that Sir Politic will immediately reveal his business ideas.
Sir Politic’s “credentials” are all Italian stereotypes. Peregrine’s aside that he wishes a friend were there to witness Sir Politic’s absurdity is ironic, since the audience fulfils that role.
Themes
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Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
As Peregrine predicted, Sir Politic starts laying out his ideas for business ventures. His first idea is to import red herrings to Venice from Rotterdam, where he has a secret contact. He brags that he’ll be able to do it easily and that he has all of the logistics figured out. He says that a small boat carries three men and a boy, and one can make three round trips between Venice and Rotterdam a year. If they make one of three successful trips he’ll break even, and if they make two he’ll be able to pay of loans. The plan, he says, is just in case his main project fails.
Sir Politic’s fish business venture is absurd: a small boat is extremely impractical to make the long trip to Rotterdam. Here, the playwright seems to be ridiculing commerce itself.
Themes
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Peregrine asks what Sir Politic’s other plans are, and Sir Politic says he doesn’t want to give away his thousands of ideas. He says that wherever he goes, he thinks analytically, and that he has in his spare time come up with many beneficial ideas for Venice which he hopes to present (for money) to a Venetian legislative body. He claims that he already has contacts in the Venetian government, and he explains that even common men can make suggestions to the government. While he looks for notes about this venture in his clothing he makes Peregrine promise not to reveal or steal any of the business ideas.
Sir Politic is the absurd antithesis of a wise traveler. Note that while Sir Politic is afraid of tricks and wary of corruption, he himself claims to have secret contacts inside the Venetian government.
Themes
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Peregrine swears not to steal Sir Politic’s ideas, but Sir Politic cannot find his notes. Peregrine asks him if he can remember the ideas, and Sir Politic begins explaining. The first idea for the government is about tinderboxes for lighting fires. Sir Politic says that they are very common and very small, and he worries that someone who wanted to attack the state could very easily carry a tinderbox in his or her pocket and start a fire in a shipyard. Therefore, Sir Politic proposes a way for Venice to monitor who is able to have tinderboxes (only patriots) and he suggests that tinderboxes be made only larger than pocketsize.
The tinderbox scheme is another farcical business venture meant to satire commerce itself; Sir Politic offers an impractical solution to a non-existent problem.
Themes
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Sir Politic’s next idea is for a way to easily find out whether incoming ships from Syria or the Middle East are carrying the plague. Usually ships are required to wait in quarantine for fifty days before coming in to port, but Sir Politic has an idea to expedite the process to only one hour. The plan is to bring the ship between two large brick walls (which the state will pay for). Using a net, a water-powered wind machine, and large quantities of onions, he will blast air across the ship and into the onions. Since onions are known to attract the infection of the plague, they will change color and instantly show if the ship is carrying the plague.
While fear of the plague was legitimate, Sir Politic’s solution of blasting air across ships into a net full of onions is clearly absurd. Such a device might have even accelerated the spread of plague, since it could have allowed plague-riddled ships into the country. It’s notable how many pseudo-scientific medical procedures are proposed in the play. It shows how little was understood about health and disease, and the fear and misinformation that this vacuum of knowledge created. Jonson’s mocking tone when he discusses pseudoscience also shows, though, that there was enough knowledge for some people to discern what was bad science.
Themes
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Sir Politic looks for his notes again, saying that he has a plan that (if he were traitorous) he could use to sell Venice to the Ottomans. Peregrine points out that Sir Politic is holding a book, but Sir Politic says it’s his diary, not the business notes. Peregrine takes the diary and reads a sample entry about a day on which Sir Politic tore his laces, bought toothpicks from a merchant, paid to have his stockings fixed, and peed at Saint Mark’s. Sir Politic explains that he doesn’t let anything happen in his life without writing it down.
Sir Politic’s final absurd plan is one to overthrow Venice for profit—any distinction he wants to draw between himself and the politically/morally corrupt Venetians is now clearly void. His diary is comically detailed. Note that travelers were encouraged to record their thoughts and daily activities while abroad, though probably not to the level of detail that Sir Politic records his life.
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