Volpone

Gold and Alchemy Symbol Icon

On one level, gold symbolizes wealth. Gold is physical money, both expensive and luxurious. The opening speech of the play reveals Volpone’s obsession with money through an ode to gold, and the first transaction of the play involves a gift of a gold plate. Throughout the play, characters emphasize that gold is what lends objects and people in the world their best qualities. Blasphemously, Volpone even says that gold is brighter than the sun or God himself. The Renaissance understanding of gold, though, was complicated and fluid. Alchemy, an early form of chemistry, taught that metals were all composed of the same material; the only difference between lead and gold was purity. Thus, with the right methods, one could purify lead into gold. This idea of purifying something and scientifically changing it into gold parallels a lowborn person accumulating wealth and becoming highborn, as Mosca almost accomplishes at the end of the play. We can note that, for years, the play was performed with an alternate ending in which Mosca receives Volpone’s fortune. The alchemical fluidity of gold also allows it to blend with the play’s other symbols, as characters constantly say that gold is the best medicine. This is meant figuratively, as characters within the play believe that wealth and gold instill people with heath and excellent qualities, but also literally, as an elixir of drinkable gold was sometimes used as medicine.

Gold and Alchemy Quotes in Volpone

The Volpone quotes below all refer to the symbol of Gold and Alchemy. 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 1 Quotes

Dear saint,
Riches, the dumb god, that giv’st all men tongues,
That canst do nought, and yet mak’st men do all things;
The price of souls; even hell, with thee to boot,
Is made worth heaven. Thou art virtue, fame,
Honour, and all things else. Who can get thee,
He shall be noble, valiant, honest, wise.

Related Characters: Volpone (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gold and Alchemy
Page Number: 1.1.21-27
Explanation and Analysis:
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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
Page Number: 1.4.71-72
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

O, sir, the wonder,
The blazing star of Italy! a wench
Of the first year, a beauty ripe as harvest!
Whose skin is whiter than a swan all over,
Than silver, snow, or lilies; a soft lip,
Would tempt you to eternity of kissing!
And flesh that melteth in the touch to blood!
Bright as your gold, and lovely as your gold!

Related Characters: Mosca (speaker), Volpone, Corvino, Celia
Related Symbols: Gold and Alchemy
Page Number: 1.5.108-114
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Act 3, Scene 7 Quotes

Honour! Tut, a breath:
There's no such thing in nature; a mere term
Invented to awe fools. What is my gold
The worse for touching, clothes for being look'd on?

Related Characters: Corvino (speaker), Volpone, Celia
Related Symbols: Gold and Alchemy
Page Number: 3.7.38-41
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Gold and Alchemy Symbol Timeline in Volpone

The timeline below shows where the symbol Gold and Alchemy appears in Volpone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
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In Volpone’s home in Venice, Italy, the wealthy Volpone greets the day and his gold, and he instructs his hanger-on, Mosca, to reveal his treasure. Volpone then begins an ode... (full context)
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...continues, saying that the poets were right to call the best age in history the “golden age,” since gold is the best thing in the world, surpassing joy. Gold is so... (full context)
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...men the ability to speak, that can do nothing and yet makes men do everything. Gold is the price of souls. Hell, if you add gold to it, is worth the... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
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...Volpone immediately asks what gifts Voltore brought. Mosca responds that Voltore brought a large, antique gold platter with Volpone’s name inscribed on it. Volpone is very pleased by this, and he... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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Carrying the gold platter and ushered by Mosca, Voltore enters the room where Volpone is lying in bed... (full context)
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...often. Volpone blindly reaches out to touch Voltore’s hand, and he asks to hold the gold plate, since he can’t see well. Voltore gives Volpone the platter and says he’s sorry... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
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Mosca puts away the gold platter brought by Voltore and tells Volpone to pretend he is asleep. He then instructs... (full context)
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...have urged for the benefit of Corbaccio—and so Voltore came by and gave Volpone a gold plate. When Corbaccio asks if Voltore is trying to become Volpone’s heir, Mosca pretends not... (full context)
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To prevent Voltore from being named heir, Corbaccio presents Mosca with a bag of chequins (gold coins). Mosca takes the bag and says that money is the true, sacred medicine, that... (full context)
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After Corbaccio agrees to leave the bag of gold, Mosca encourages him to run home to name Volpone heir to Corbaccio’s fortune. Corbaccio is... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
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...the touch of blood.” He even says she is as bright and lovely as Volpone’s gold. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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Volpone says that when they become sick, they can try to apply gold to the affected areas and see what happens—it’s only his “rare extraction” that has the... (full context)
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...his language, to which Peregrine responds he hasn’t heard anything like it other than in alchemy or dense scriptural treatises. Nano then sings in praise of the elixir. He sings that... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 7
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...She questions his honor, but he says that there is no such thing as honor. Gold, he says, is no worse after having been touched by someone else, and clothes are... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
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...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.... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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...upon Voltore, but in the meantime Voltore shouldn’t be jealous. Mosca thanks Voltore for the gold plate he presented Volpone at the beginning of the play, and he sends him home. (full context)