Volpone

Volpone Act 4, Scene 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lady Would-be enters the court and immediately curses out Celia as a whore. She then apologizes at length if she has been dishonorable or offensive in court. The Avocatori ask Bonario and Celia what witnesses they have to their defense, and they say only their consciences and heaven, which never fails the innocent. But the Avocatori say that these are not testimonies.
Lady Would-be quickly realizes that attacking Celia too violently hurts her own public appearance, which is her highest priority. Bonario and Celia do not have proper testimonies, which must be delivered through language, a power that they lack, especially in comparison to masters like Voltore, Mosca, and even Lady Would-be. This is another instance in which language is equated with deception, a curious position for a playwright to take in a morality play.
Themes
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Volpone then enters, pretending to be diseased and disabled. Voltore says that he will offer testimony that will silence Celia and Bonario. He points to Volpone and asks the court if the sickly man could possibly have raped Celia. Bonario says he wants Volpone tested for impotence, and then Voltore describes some tortures, which he says (sarcastically) have been said to cure some ailments. Voltore says that even after these curing tortures, Volpone will still have as many diseases as Celia has adulterers and Bonario has whores. Voltore closes his argument by calling Celia and Bonario slanderers and asking a series of rhetorical questions that amount to ‘if you don’t convict them, who is safe?’ The Avocatori call for Celia and Bonario to be taken into custody, they let Volpone go home, and they thank Voltore for revealing the plot. Then the Avocatori, the Notario, the Officers and Celia and Bonario all exit.
In cases like this one, it was common for the accused to be tested for sexual impotence. Ironically, the Avocatori praise Voltore for revealing the truth, when actually Voltore has only further obscured reality by spreading Mosca’s carefully crafted fiction. Again, this could be a comment on the justice system, equating the court room to a stage, where actors use language and deception to manipulate and conceal reality. Until the truth is revealed and justice is delivered, it appears that Ben Jonson has distrust for the court system, which could stem from his own personal experience of being tried for the murder of a fellow actor.
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Related Quotes
Voltore asks Mosca what he thought of the trial, and Mosca praises Voltore, saying if he were as skilled as language he could have made Voltore heir to the whole city. Mosca then tells Corvino to go out in public, saying it’s much better that people think he is a cuckold than if they knew he tried to prostitute his own wife. Now, Corvino says, people will blame Celia instead of him. Corvino is still suspicious of Voltore competing for Volpone’s wealth, but Mosca reassures Corvino and he exits. Corbaccio tells Mosca to go make Volpone’s will, and Mosca agrees, saying that a fee for Voltore’s lawyer services must be deducted. Corbaccio pays Voltore the fee and tips Mosca before exiting. Mosca then reassures Voltore, who also exits. Mosca turns to Lady Would-be and says he’ll bring her home. At first, she resists, but he starts to say that he will convince Volpone to name her heir, and Lady Would-be immediately cuts Mosca off and agrees with him.
It’s notable that Voltore’s virtuosic and deceptive court performance (which relied on language) caused Mosca to part with money (paying Voltore his lawyer fee) for the first time in the play. This is a sign of how highly-valued language is among the corrupt characters. Lady Would-be’s immediate change of heart at the mention of Volpone’s fortune reinforces how obsessed everyone, even the English, could be with money, and how easy it is for that desire to become obsessive and corrupting, leading to bad decisions.
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