Four Avocatori (judges) enter the court where Mosca, Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino have been talking. Bonario, Celia, the Notario, the Commendatori, and other officers also enter. The Avocatori say that the senate has never heard such a strange case before, noting that both Celia and Bonario have good names, and that Corbaccio, Corvino, and Volpone all have done terrible things. They wonder why Volpone isn’t present, and Mosca says that Volpone is too weak to appear in court and has sent Voltore to be his lawyer.
The Avocatori are the most powerful figures of legal (and moral) authority in the play. Their comment that Bonario and Celia have good names refers to their apparent good reputation, though it also underscores that their literal names are associated with goodness and heaven, respectively.
When the Avocatori ask who Mosca is, Bonario says that Mosca is Volpone’s parasite. Bonario asks the court to force Volpone to appear. Despite an objection from Voltore, the Avocatori send to officers to get Volpone. As the officers leave, Voltore says that the sight of Volpone will bring pity to the court, and he asks if he can speak in for Volpone in the meantime. The Avocatori say Voltore can speak freely.
Bonario uses “parasite” in the pejorative sense, though Mosca has already shown that he takes no offense at the term. Voltore knows that certain aspects of the story might be lies, but he still truly believes that Volpone is sick and will gain pity from the Avocatori.
Voltore says that he is about to reveal the most shameful events ever to take place in Venice. He says that Celia is completely false in her claims and her tears, and that she has had a secret affair with Bonario. He also says that Corvino has been an innocent and an extremely lenient husband. Voltore says that Corvino has been forgiving, but Celia and Bonario did not appreciate this and continued in their crimes. Hearing about his son’s behavior, Corbaccio decided to disinherit Bonario.
Voltore’s attack on Celia hinges on the renaissance stereotype that women were fickle and inconstant. While Voltore manipulates the Avocatori, whose very purpose is to find the truth, he himself is being manipulated by Mosca. Voltore knows he’s lying about some things, but ironically he has no idea that what he thinks is true is also a lie. Bonario and Celia, meanwhile, experience dramatic irony in the situation, since they know the truth, but unlike the audience (or like Mosca and Volpone) they do not benefit from the irony or find it humorous.
After some interjections by the surprised Avocatori, Voltore continues his lengthy, verbose speech, accusing Bonario of entering Volpone’s home with the intention of killing Corbaccio and regaining his inheritance. When Bonario was prevented from murdering his father, he dragged the sick Volpone out of bed, wounded Mosca, and set out with Celia (who was very happy to participate) to defame Corbaccio, Corvino, and Volpone in court.
On one hand, Voltore’s ability to manipulate the court could be dismissed as theater. At the same time, it could be argued that Ben Jonson is commenting on the theatricality of court processes and of lawyers, suggesting that lawyers are no different than actors, both using language to obscure reality in a setting where truth is subjective.
An Avocatori asks what proof Voltore has, and Bonario says that they shouldn’t listen to Voltore’s “mercenary tongue.” Bonario also says that Voltore would even argue against God in court. The Avocatori say that Bonario is forgetting his place in court, and Voltore uses this as an opportunity to make Bonario look bad. The Avocatori tell Voltore to provide his proof and witnesses, and Celia exclaims that she wishes she could forget she is a living being.
Bonario criticizes Voltore for the same reason Mosca earlier praised him: he’ll argue any side of any case. Celia’s exclamation that she wishes she could forget she were a living being is tragic, showing her utter despair and speaking to the powerlessness of women at that time.
Voltore calls forward Corbaccio to testify, but Corbaccio cannot hear well, so he ends up only cursing out and disowning Bonario. Corvino is then called forward. Corvino calls Celia a whore, and says that she wants to cling to Bonario, whom Corvino sarcastically compliments. Corvino publicly declares himself a cuckold, and in an aside he checks with Mosca to make sure that he shouldn’t be ashamed. He then says that he hopes Celia will go to hell, which causes her to swoon.
Corvino’s greed has so fully corrupted him that he has lost all sense of even how his appearance reflects on him, requiring him to check with Mosca to make sure he shouldn’t feel shame. Celia is religious (and her name means heaven), so his evocation of hell is particularly difficult for her to hear.
The Avocatori say that Corvino is acting out because of his grief, and they silence him. Mosca tells them that he received his wound from Bonario, who he says instructed Celia to accuse Volpone of rape. The Avocatori begin to doubt Celia, saying that she “has too many moods.” Voltore and Corvino depict Celia as a false, loose, deceptive woman. Voltore says that even today Mosca witnessed Celia “bait[ing] a knight” on a gondola. Mosca says that the knight’s wife is there ready to testify, and the Avocatori tell him to bring her in.
While the Avocatori first believed Celia, Voltore has successfully introduced doubt and insulted her character by trading on the stereotype that women are hysterical, untrustworthy, and fickle. Throughout the play, Jonson shows the absurdity of certain stereotypes (that women are necessarily fickle and poorly-educated), while re-enforcing others (that the Venetians are corrupt).