All entries for Monday 31 December 2007

December 31, 2007

You hear me brief.

i.e. That’s all I have to say.  

Note the potential for word-play on the meaning of ‘brief’: (a) succinctly; (b) 'a summary of the facts of a case, with reference to the points of law supposed to be applicable to them, drawn up for the instruction of counsel conducting the case in court' (  Volpone has concisely summarised the key facts of the case before the Avocatori.

since we all can hope | Nought but a sentence, let’s not now despair it.

Since we can all only but hope for a sentence upon me, let’s not make it a disappointing one (an ‘ironic hyperbole’, as Brian Parker puts it, 288).


A willing cuckold


A mythical three-natured beast (traditionally part lion, part goat, part serprent) (Parker ed., 288).


(a) menial servant; (b) rogue (Parker ed., 288).

my substance shall not glue you, | Nor screw you, into a family.

My riches shall not be used to insinuate you into a good family by either sympathy (O.E.D., glue, 2) or guile […]. (Parker ed., 288).

Your match

Mosca’s marital match with the daughter of the socially ambitious 4 Avocatore.

Whipped? | And lose all that I have? If I confess, | It cannot be much more.

Volpone conjectures that his full legal punishment cannot be much worse than being whipped for insolence and losing all his ‘substance’, possessions, and indeed pride, to Mosca; as such, he resolves to reveal his identity, regardless of the punitive consequences.

I humbly thank your fatherhoods.

Mosca ingratiates himself to the Avocatori; consider the subsequent resonance of Volpone’s line, ‘I thank you for him’, at V. xii. 115.

I am silent; ‘twas not this | For which you sent, I hope.

I will be silent; it was not silence for which you sent, I assume.  i.e. the Avocatori sent for Mosca so that he could speak to them and thereby clear the ‘misty’ confusion. 

Note the potential interpretation of this threat of silence as a parodying of Iago’s oath at the close of Othello, when he swears that ‘From this time forth [he] never will speak word’ (V.ii.304).

And will maintain he lives with mine own life

See note to V. xii. 20.  Volpone, again, utters a colloquialism that functions at once as a colloquialism and as a covert admission of his duplicity.

I never saw his face.

Mosca here emphasises Volpone’s disguised appearance; Volpone can now only regain the upper hand against Mosca if he relinquishes his disguise.

cry not so loud.

Keep your voice down.  Cf. Plautus, Mostellaria, or The Haunted House, III.i (Loeb ed., III, 351) (Parker ed., 286)

First I’ll be hanged.

I’ll be hanged before I give you half.  

Ironically, this is not so far from the truth.  This line anticipates the all-or-nothing attitude that prompts Volpone's dramatic 'uncasing' at V.xii.85, despite the threat of his immediate punitive sentencing by the Avocatori, in order to thwart Mosca's victory.

And come about again!

Reversed direction again (i.e. Volpone is again proclaimed dead). (Parker ed., 286)

cozen me of all

Cheat me of everything I have


A characteristically comic double-meaning: '(a) alive; (b) quickly' (Parker ed., 286).


Officious, meddling (Parker ed., 286)

All’s o’the hinge again.

Everything’s running smoothly again.

A proper man!

A handsome man

make him way

Make way for him


4 Avocatore refers to Mosca as a ‘gentleman’.  Act V, scene v opens with ‘Volpone [and] Mosca: the first in the habit of a commandatore, the other, of a clarissimo’; both Mosca’s costume and his deportment declare his (false) rank; 3 Avocatore later describes Mosca as ‘a man of great estate now left’ (V.x.39).


Abstruse, not easily understood (Parker ed., 295)

No more than his good patron, old Volpone.

Compare this with ‘Do I live, sir?’ of V.xii.20.  Also compare the epithetical ‘old Volpone’ with Othello’s ‘honest Iago’.


Compare with 2 Avocatore’s earlier ‘This same’s a labyrinth!’ (V.x.42).


False practice, trickery (Parker ed., 285)


Unforeseen event (Parker ed., 284)

You are dispossessed

Voltore is at once dispossessed in the sense that he is no longer ‘possessed’ (albeit falsely) by the devil, and dispossessed in the sense that he is no closer to becoming Volpone’s heir than he was before--he has been duped once again.

he comes t’himself!

He returns to his normal self, he is back to himself again.

Volp. Do you not see it, sir? Corb. What? I think I do.

The ‘purblind’ (Parker ed., 284) Corbaccio, throughout the play, has had difficulty in hearing what people are saying, and is ‘late and uncertain in taking his cues’ (ibid).  This onstage moment will be coloured by similar moments previously, and is sharpened as an instance of comedy by the double meaning of Volpone’s question: ‘Do not you see [that you are being duped], sir?’

blue toad with a bat’s wings!

Toads and bats were both considered ill-omened creatures and associated with devils. Characteristically, however, Volpone adds his own bizarre touch in making it blue. (Parker ed., 284)

'Twill out, 'twill out!

Sydney Musgrove’s book, Shakespeare and Jonson (1957), posits a link between Volpone and King Lear; Brian F. Tyson, in his paper Ben Jonson’s Black Comedy: A Connection Between Othello and Volpone, suggests a link between Shakespeare’s Othello and Jonson’s Volpone.  This phrase is one of many ‘reflections of language’ (Tyson, 63) that implies a relationship between the two plays--see Emilia's line in Othello, V.ii.219.

Now 'tis in his belly

A confession by William Somers of Nottingham, in Samuel Harsnet's A Discovery of the fraudulent practises of John Darrell (1599), pp. 213-14, describes how the appearance of possession by 'some thing' can easily be achieved through manipulation of the body:

‘Also by drawing and stopping of my wind, my bellie would stirre and shewe a kind of swelling.  The bunch (as they tearmed it) about my chest, was by thrusting out of my breast. Likewise my secret swallowing did make the ende of windepipe to moue, and to shew greater then vsually it is: […] These motions by practice I woulde make very fast, one after another: so that there might easily seeme to bee running in my body of some thing, from place to place.’ (Harsnett qtd Parker ed., 283).

He vomits crooked pins!

Vomiting pins was a characteristic symptom of possession, as described in numerous accounts from the period, perhaps most notably from the fraudulent case of Anne Gunter, in which the girl 'cast out of her mouth and throat needles and pins in an extraordinary fashion' (Johnston, Robert, Historia Rerum Britannicarum, 1655, p 401 qtd Sharpe, James, The Bewitching of Anne Gunter, 2000, p 182) but was revealed to be a fraud by King James and Samuel Harsnett (chaplain and assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury).

Volpone's success here in convincing Corvino and Corbaccio that Voltore is vomiting pins, without any visual evidence, reinforces the pair's absolute gullibility, and simultaneously draws attention to the power of Jonson's auditory text.  This kind of spotlight or commentary on spectatorship is not uncommon in Jonson, and frequently calls into question the need for spectacular substantiation of the text's demands.  For more on visual and auditory texts in Jonson, and contextual issues surrounding court vs public theatres and Jonson's relationship with designer Inigo Jones, see Richard Cave's chapter on Visualising Jonson's Text in Eds. Cave, Richard et al., Jonson and Theatre: Performance, Practice, and Theory, Routledge, London, 1999.

Stop your wind hard, and swell.

Hold your breath and swell up. 

Feigned possession by devils and fake exorcisms were common deceptions in the Jacobean period.  King James was involved in a number of exposes, including the case of Anne Gunter of Windsor, who vomited pins (for an account of the case, see Sharpe, James, The Bewitching of Anne Gunter, 2000).  Documented confessions from the period (for example, that of William Somers of Nottingham, taken from Harsnet, Samuel, A Discovery of the fraudulent practises of John Darrell (1599), pp 213-14) depict similar techniques as those described by Volpone to imitate demonic possession (see note to ‘Volp.  Now ‘tis in his belly’; V.xii.28).


Poultry and game seller's (Parker ed., 284)

Do you see, Signor?

Ironically, the gullible Corvino does not see: Corvino consistently fails to see that Volpone is playing him for a fool, or, rather, for a 'chimera of wittol, fool and knave' (V.xii.91).

fall down, and seem so. I’ll help to make it good.Voltore falls.

Falling was a common symptom of having been possessed.  Voltore's fall, 'brilliantly executed by the gaunt John Carradine, who gyrated briefly like a top and wass suddenly horizontal' (Schoenbaum qtd Hibbard ed., 16) may, in light of Tyson's argument for a connection between Volpone and Othello, be seen as a parody of Othello's fall into a 'traunce'.  For an illuminating discussion of the early modern significance of ‘falling’ and the ‘great falling sicknesse’ associated with possession by Mohamed, see Vitkus, Daniel, J. “Turning Turk in ‘Othello’: The Conversion and Damnation of the Moor.” Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. 48. No. 2: Summer 1997 (pp. 145-176).

Do I live sir?

Ironically, ‘He’s as alive as I am, sir’.  

Compare with ‘and will maintain he lives with mine own life’ (V.xii.72).  

Parker disputes Kernan and Brockbank’s suggestion that Volpone reveals his identity to Voltore at this point on the grounds that this manner of revelation ‘could scarcely persuade Voltore he is still able to inherit from a dying man!’ (Parker ed., 283), but cites Tyrone Guthrie’s 1968 production as an example of this interpretation: ‘Colin Blakely lifted his eye-patch’ (Parker ed., 283) to reveal to Voltore his true identity as Volpone from beneath his Commandatore disguise.

stood affected



obscure, confused (Parker ed., 282)

Volpone whispers the Advocate

Note that this is an original Jonsonian stage direction, rather than an editorial stage direction.  The direction is taken from the 1616 folio, and is not found in the 1607 quarto editions


As yet (Parker ed., 282)


A person officially authorised to perform certain legal formalities, such as drawing up or certifying contracts, deeds, etc., administering oaths, and protesting dishonoured bills of exchange, esp. when it is necessary to ensure that the transaction will be recognised in foreign countries (

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