Ben Jonson’s Volpone: Reading Questions
Adapted from Dr. Irving Mitchell, Dallas Baptist University
1. The opening scene of the play (1.1.1-27) is often considered a satire of some sort on the Catholic Mass. If this is so and considering that Jonson was a Catholic at the time of the writing, why would the author include such a scene?
2. Volpone is set against a background of decadence and corruption in Venice. Renaissance (and Enlightenment) England was publicly suspicious of the supposed corruption that traveling to Italy brought. How does Jonson use this background to further the themes and purpose of his play? Are the images stereotypical?
3. How much is Volpone a play shaped by monetary fears and concerns? How much is it a play about the use and abuse of authority?
4. What is the purpose of the subplot involving Sir Pol, Lady Pol, and Peregrine? Does it in any way reflect on the larger plot? What is the role of Nano, Castrone, and Androgyno? How would you play the court Avocatori? Are they primarily serious or farcical characters?
5. How complicit are we as an audience with Volpone and Mosca’s vices? Are they too attractive (at first) as characters? Why is Volpone given a chance to address the audience in the closing speech?
6. Is this a comedy? How do you account for the punishments awarded at the end, the vulgar attempted rape by Volpone, and the play’s more serious moments? Is the ending comic?
7. Does this play have (in the end) a positive, ethical message? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
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