Volpone

Volpone

Disease and Medicine Symbol Analysis

Disease and Medicine Symbol Icon

At first glance, disease might appear only to be used as a tool for trickery and humor in the play. Volpone’s main scam is pretending that he is rife with disease in order to get money out of hopeful heirs to his fortune. In another scam, this time pretending to be a mountebank, Volpone mentions an excessive list of diseases in an absurd sales pitch for a miraculous healing elixir. In both of these scams, any mention of disease is theatrical and comedic. At the same time, however, for contemporary audiences (and for the characters in the play) disease represents a serious, deadly, and mysterious threat. As mentioned at one point by Sir Politic Would-be, Europe was rife with plague, about which little was understood. And while illness was terrifying and dangerous, contemporary doctors offered little comfort. Characters in the play commonly express their utter distrust of doctors, whom they believe kill patients at will, and characters seek and believe in alternative forms of medicine even beyond cure-all elixirs. Corvino, for example, agrees to let his wife Celia sleep with Volpone as a cure for his ailments. We can also note that despite Volpone’s willingness to evoke disease for trickery, he is constantly afraid that acting sick, dwelling on fears, or experiencing displeasure will result in him truly becoming infected. Medicine and disease, then, are often referenced humorously, but they represent deep and legitimate fears for most of the play’s characters and for its 17th century audience.

Disease and Medicine Quotes in Volpone

The Volpone quotes below all refer to the symbol of Disease and Medicine. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Volpone published in 2004.
Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

Mosca: This is true physic, this your sacred medicine;
No talk of opiates to this great elixir!

Corbaccio: ‘Tis aurum palpabile, if not potabile.

Related Characters: Mosca (speaker), Corbaccio (speaker), Volpone
Related Symbols: Disease and Medicine, Gold and Alchemy
Page Number: 1.4.71-72
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

The weeping of an heir should still be laughter
Under a visor.

Related Characters: Mosca (speaker), Volpone, Corvino
Related Symbols: Disease and Medicine
Page Number: 1.5.22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

I rather pity their folly and indiscretion, than their loss of time and money; for those may be recover'd by industry: but to be a fool born, is a disease incurable.

Related Characters: Volpone (speaker)
Related Symbols: Disease and Medicine
Page Number: 2.2.159-162
Explanation and Analysis:

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Why, the whole world is but as an empire, that empire as a province, that province as a bank, that bank as a private purse to the purchase of it.

Related Characters: Volpone (speaker), Corvino, Celia
Related Symbols: Disease and Medicine
Page Number: 2.2.234-236
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 4 Quotes

Before I feign'd diseases, now I have one.

Related Characters: Volpone (speaker), Lady Would-be
Related Symbols: Disease and Medicine
Page Number: 3.4.62
Explanation and Analysis:

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I have a little studied physic; but now
I'm all for music, save, i' the forenoons,
An hour or two for painting. I would have
A lady, indeed, to have all letters and art,
Be able to discourse, to write, to paint,
But principal, as Plato holds, your music,
And so does wise Pythagoras, I take it,
Is your true rapture: when there is concent
In face, in voice, and clothes: and is, indeed,
Our sex's chiefest ornament.

Related Characters: Lady Would-be (speaker), Volpone
Related Symbols: Disease and Medicine
Page Number: 3.4.67-76
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 5, Scene 11 Quotes

To make a snare for mine own neck! and run
My head into it, wilfully! with laughter!
When I had newly scap'd, was free and clear
Out of mere wantonness! O, the dull devil
Was in this brain of mine when I devis'd it,
And Mosca gave it second; he must now
Help to sear up this vein, or we bleed dead.

Related Characters: Volpone (speaker), Mosca
Related Symbols: Disease and Medicine
Page Number: 5.11.1-7
Explanation and Analysis:

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Disease and Medicine Symbol Timeline in Volpone

The timeline below shows where the symbol Disease and Medicine appears in Volpone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Argument
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...The acrostic explains that Volpone is wealthy and childless, and that he pretends to be sick and has offered to name several people as inheritors of his wealth. His parasite (Mosca),... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...suitors and gaining wealth. Once Mosca exits, Volpone lies down and calls out all the diseases he has been faking for three years, all the while leading the suitors into believing... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...Voltore enters the room where Volpone is lying in bed pretending to be rife with disease. Mosca whispers that only Voltore, above all the rest, possesses Volpone’s love, and that it’s... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
...then instructs the money to “multiply.” Mosca describes Corbaccio as an old man who is sicker than Volpone even pretends to be, but who hopes to “hop over his grave.” (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...Corbaccio that Volpone doesn’t sleep well, and Corbaccio says “Good!” and says he has brought medicine from his own doctor. (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Volpone though, according to Mosca, is not interested in medicine. Corbaccio becomes defensive, saying that he oversaw the doctor making the medicine, which he promises... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Mosca responds to Corbaccio’s offer by saying that Volpone has no faith in medicine. Mosca reports that Volpone thinks doctors are even more dangerous than the diseases they treat,... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Corbaccio agrees that a doctor can kill anyone, then he changes the subject back to Volpone’s health. Corbaccio asks about Volpone’s apoplexy,... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...chequins (gold coins). Mosca takes the bag and says that money is the true, sacred medicine, that drugs cannot compare to “this great elixir.” Corbaccio responds in Latin with the adage... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...on age, someone else knocks. Mosca tells Volpone to go back to pretending to be sick, since Corvino (the merchant) has come. Volpone says he’ll play dead, and Mosca helps him... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Corvino enters as Mosca attends to Volpone, who is pretending to be deathly ill. Mosca greets Corvino, and he says that Volpone is as good as dead and that... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
After Corvino gives Volpone the pearl, Mosca says that Volpone can’t understand them, since his disease has caused him to lose his hearing. Mosca says that, despite being deaf, it comforts... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...that Volpone cannot hear them, so Mosca shouts in Volpone’s ear that he hopes Volpone’s disease gets worse and kills him soon. The two begin screaming insults at Volpone about how... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...says he has heard that they are conmen who make a living selling oils and medicine. Sir Politic responds that mountebanks are “the only knowing men of Europe!” He calls them... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...heard mountebanks are all talk and no substance and that they lie about their bad medicines, which they’ll eventually sell for extremely cheap despite a very high starting price. Sir Politic... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Volpone continues, saying that the other mountebanks are terrible, and that they’ll kill twenty people a week as if it were a play. Even so, he says, these... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...man has with a full wine cellar when the doctor tells him to drink only medicine on pain of death. He cries out to health and calls it the blessing of... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Volpone says that when they become sick, they can try to apply gold to the affected areas and see what happens—it’s only... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...of the elixir, they would have spent far less time working, and no other bad medicines would have been tried or invented. At the end of the song, Peregrine says eight... (full context)
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
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...of his product, list the many people it has cured, and list all of the diseases it fixes. He claims he has been endorsed by the college of physicians because of... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Women Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...about a drink recipe. Volpone says in an aside that before he pretended to have diseases, but now he really has one. She continues trying to cure him, and when he... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 7
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Women Theme Icon
...it. He argues that it is in fact a pious act, or a charity for medicine. In an aside, Volpone praises Mosca for engineering the situation, and Mosca tells Corvino to... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 8
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...Mosca tells him to go back to bed and resume pretending that he has a disease. He says that guilty men always dread what they deserve, but when he opens the... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 6
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Women Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Volpone then enters, pretending to be diseased and disabled. Voltore says that he will offer testimony that will silence Celia and Bonario.... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...decides not to worry, since he believes that obsessing over his fears would bring him disease. He decides to prevent the bad thoughts (and the disease) by making merry and chasing... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Theatre and Appearance vs Reality Theme Icon
Money and Commerce Theme Icon
Greed and Corruption Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Women Theme Icon
...like an aristocrat in public to further torment everyone. Mosca believes that this new prank will end their ability to profit off of everyone, but Volpone believes that when he reveals... (full context)