Depicting the all too familiar human story of greed-fuelled ambition and lustful antics, Volpone is a gem of Jacobean theatre that juxtaposes black comedy with the Elizabethan citizen style comedy.
It uses the animal fable format, with each character named after a beast. Their true natures are revealed through their animal labels.
Volpone, aka ‘Sly Fox’, is unsurprisingly a rather cunning and creative character. A Venetian nobleman, he has no children and, apparently, no morals either, in his greedy, lustful life.
Volpone dupes three men who are all after his fortune – a lawyer, Voltore (the Vulture), the miserly old Corbaccio (the Raven) and merchant Corvino (the Carrion Crow) – into thinking he is on his deathbed.
Helped by his servant Mosca (the Fly), Volpone successfully convinces the trio of his ‘fatal’ condition, and even gets Corbaccio to disinherit his son, naming Volpone in the will instead.
The three bring Volpone expensive gifts in the hope of bribing the nobleman to favour each of them in his will. Meanwhile, Volpone learns of Corvino’s beautiful wife, Celia and decides he must have her. Cue Mosca’s announcement that Volpone must have sex with a young woman to improve his condition. Corvino offers his wife.
However, Corbaccio’s son, Bonario, finds out his father is disinheriting him and interrupts Volpone before his planned liaison with Celia can take place. Volpone’s next trick is to fake his death and make the three think he has left his fortune to Mosca. But it goes a little too well and Mosca refuses to give up his newfound wealth. Volpone, disguised as an officer, has to reveal himself to resolve the situation.