Mosca enters the room where Volpone has been drinking. He asks Volpone how he is doing, and if they are free to continue with their lives and their trade. Volpone praises Mosca for his ability to trick everyone and get Volpone out of trouble for his attempted rape. Mosca asks Volpone if he enjoyed the elaborate ruse, and Volpone says it was better than if he had enjoyed Celia. He says the pleasure of womankind can’t compare to the pleasure of fooling others.
In the previous scene, Volpone suggested that he wanted to do another ruse, showing that his true excessive desire is for pleasure at the expense of fooling others, not money. He reinforces this here, saying that the pleasure of fooling everyone is greater than the pleasure he might have gotten from successfully raping Celia.
Mosca tells Volpone that he thinks they should quit while they are ahead and stop their ruses, since the last trick was their masterpiece. Volpone and Mosca talk about how incredible it is that Mosca was able to hoodwink the court, make the innocent seem guilty, and create a “music out of discords.” Volpone finds it incredible that Mosca has been able to convince all the men (Voltore, Corvino, and Corbaccio) that he is on their side without getting them to suspect him or each other. Mosca replies that they are all too possessed by their own hopes for Volpone’s fortune to see that they are being manipulated. He says they will resist any claim contrary to their aims, even if it is obviously true, which Volpone compares to a temptation of the devil.
The artistry of Mosca’s ability with language is stressed by the comparison of his cross-plots to a “music of discord.” Mosca’s explanation of how he was able to fool everyone highlights a difference between audience members, who are able to recognize that they are watching a play, and the suitors, who never suspect that they are being deceived, thereby reinforcing Ben Jonson’s moral lesson. By becoming corrupted by greed, one loses the ability to distinguish between appearance and reality, as well as the sense of self-awareness that the play values.
Mosca says that merchants brag about making money from trade, and great men talk about valuable farm land, but no investment is more productive than taking money from Voltore, Corvino, and Corbaccio. Mosca then asks Volpone how he liked Voltore’s work in the court, to which Volpone responds that he struggled to keep from laughing. Mosca says that Volpone looked scared, and Volpone admits to being a little frightened but not terrified of being discovered. Out of conscience, Mosca says that Voltore did such a good job saving Volpone that Voltore doesn’t deserve to be cheated out of payment. Volpone agrees based on what he was present for in court, but Mosca says that Voltore was even more impressive before Volpone arrived.
Mosca’s line about merchants and great men makes fun of Voltore, Corvino, and Corbaccio, and also satires commerce (thereby Venice). Here, Mosca genuinely praises Voltore for his language abilities and for saving Volpone, and for once he seems to genuinely petition for some benefit for one of the suitors. Even the master swindler doesn’t want to swindle Voltore after his help in court.
Volpone agrees with Mosca that Voltore was excellent, but Volpone says he can’t pay Voltore yet. Instead, Volpone will trick them all once more. Volpone calls in Nano and Castrone and instructs them to go into the streets and tell people that Volpone has died. They leave to go do Volpone’s bidding, and Mosca asks what he is trying to accomplish. Volpone explains that all at once he’ll get Voltore, Corbaccio, Corvino, and Lady Would-be to come running, thinking that he is dead and that they are heir, only to have their hopes taken away from them. Volpone instructs Mosca to act like he is the heir. Volpone signs a blank will and dresses Mosca in a mourning outfit.
Volpone doesn’t explain to Mosca why he wants to trick everyone again instead of paying Voltore, but the audience should know by this point that it’s because his desire for pleasure has become excessive, and his judgement has been corrupted by it. At this point, there isn’t even a pretense that Volpone desires more money; all he seeks to gain is the pleasure of embarrassing and infuriating his suitors. In this last, disastrous plot, Mosca becomes a performer and Volpone the director.
Mosca asks Volpone what he should say if people ask to see Volpone’s body, and Volpone responds that Mosca should say it was corrupted. Volpone tells Mosca to get a pen and paper and pretend he is taking inventory of all he is inheriting. Volpone will then watch from behind a curtain as Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino become enraged and depressed. Mosca says that Lady Would-be will also come, and he says that gold is the most effective medicine and the thing that makes everything in the world beautiful. Voltore knocks (since “he has the quickest scent”), and Volpone hides and tells Mosca to be artful when he torments all the suitors.
Here there is yet another use of the word “corrupted,” this time meaning that Volpone’s body is supposedly rotten after his death. However, by this point in the play the audience would have taken it quite literally. “The quickest scent” refers to a vulture, which might be the quickest bird to find a corpse, just as Voltore is the first suitor to come upon hearing news of Volpone’s (fake) death.