edited by Robert Watson
Volpone is the sharpest, funniest play about money and morals in the seventeenth century – a play still wickedly relevant four centuries later. Jonson’s comedy depicts selfishness thinly veiled by sanctimonious speeches, lust and possessiveness poorly disguised as love and marriage, and cynical legalism passing itself off as pure justice – as well as examining snobbery, class warfare, and greed.
Volpone is partly a rewriting of beast fable, with the cunning ‘fox’ Volpone pulling the strings at its centre. He is a Venetian gentleman, who pretends to be dying in order two dupe three men into making him extravagant presents of plate, money, gems – and in one case, a beautiful daughter. Assisted by his wily servant Mosca, the two tricksters keep a dozen conventional plots spinning in the minds of their dupes, and when their amazing juggling act finally unravels, there are yet more twists – and an even deeper cynicism – to Jonson’s skilful satire.
Volpone was first performed by the King’s Men at the Globe in 1606, and was printed in quarto in 1607.