Volpone, or the Fox

Definition

Theater

  • Ben Jonson's satirical comedy about human greed. It was firstperformed in 1606 by the King's Men and has often been revived. The drama wasfirst seen in New York in 1928 in a production by the Theatre Guildand in Paris in 1931, when it was directed by Charles Dullin. Volpone was oneof Donald Wolfit's most celebrated roles; he first played it in 1938at London's Westminster Theatre, and it was included in his repertoire for hisNew York debut in 1947. During the play's subsequent run at the Savoy Theatre,the critic Harold Hobson wrote, "Volpone has the teeming life ofworms in a rotting corpse, and Mr Wolfit plays it with all the 57 kinds ofrelish." A musical version entitled Foxy opened in 1964 atNew York's Ziegfeld Theatre. Despite critical reviews, its leading man, BertLahr, received the Tony Award for Best Musical star actor. Jonson's play waslater seen in National Theatre productions by Tyrone Guthrie and Peter Hall.

    The story concerns Volpone (the fox), a cunning Venetian whofeigns a terminal illness; aided by his 'parasite' Mosca (the fly), he dupesthree Venetians into showering him with expensive gifts, in the hope ofinheriting his wealth. The would-be heirs are Voltore (the vulture),Corbaccio (the crow), who disinherits his own son to show his loyalty toVolpone, and Corvino (the raven), who even offers his wife. Volpone goes toofar, however, when he pretends to have died and left everything to Mosca.When the treacherous servant tries to blackmail him, Volpone reveals all tothe authorities. The magistrates give his fortune to the infirm, order hisimprisonment until he becomes as weak as he pretended to be, and have Moscaflogged and sent to the galleys.

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