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Flashcards in Context - Volpone Deck (24):

The Golden Age
Ovid's Metamorphosis: Book One, 'The Three Ages'

- "there was no fear of punishment"
- "they lived safely without protection"
- "people passed their lives in gentle peace and security."

- Volpone - "Well did wise poets, by thy glorious name, / Title that age, which they would have the best; / Thou being the best of things"


The Silver Age
Ovid's Metamorphosis: Book One, 'The Three Ages'

- "Jupiter ruled the world"
- "Jupiter shortened spring's first duration and made the year consist of four seasons"


The Bronze Age
Ovid's Metamorphosis: Book One, 'The Three Ages'

- "bronze age, with fiercer natures, readier to indulge in savage warfare, but not yet vicious"
- "Immediately every kind of wickedness erupted into this age of baser natures: truth, shame and honour vanished; in their place were fraud, deceit, and trickery, violence and pernicious desires"
- "friend was not safe with friend, relative with relative, kindness was rare between brothers" - Volpone, The Tempest
- "husbands longed for the death of their wives, wives for the death of their husbands" - last passages of Paradise Lost


Montaigne: An extra from the essay 'On Cannibals'

- "the laws of nature govern [humans] still"
- he is famous for arguing that man is not in any way superior to the beasts, in fact, quite the contrary


PL - The Book of Genesis

Eve - "But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die"

God - "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed"
God - "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be thy husband, and he shell rule over thee"


Ovid - Overview of the Latin Poet

- Ovid wrote 'Metamorphosis' in the epic meter of dactylic hexameters
- the topics of Ovid's love-based poetry and his works on the days of the Roman calendar, known as fasti, give us a look at the social and private lives of ancient Rome in the time of the Emperor Augustus


V + PL - Montaigne (1533-1592)

- Montaigne is famous for arguing that man is not in any way superior to the beast, in fact, quite the contrary" - PL and V

- the Renaissance was a period of expanding horizons, and one in which three was a vast increase in knowledge of the world and its inhabitants
- at the same time Europeans were recovering Latin culture and a much more complete grasp of Greek literature. Science was developing. New horizons made previous truths seem wrong or parochial (having a limited or narrow outlook or scope)


V - Aesop's Fables: the Fox and the Crow

- fox sees a crow fly off with a piece of cheese
- the fox asks to hear a song by charming her
- the crow began to caw, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped by the Fox


V -Aesop's Fables: Reynard the Fox, devil or hero?

- fox feigns death in order to lure carrion birds, thus catching the crow's wife; impersonates a doctor; commits a rape, is put on trial, and escapes justice
- "And not a fox / Stretched on the earth, with fine delusive sleights, / Mocking a gaping crow?


Relevance of London in Volpone

- grew up in London and Westminster which were legally separate cities before they were amalgamated due to rapid expansion. London was the country’s largest port, handling the vast majority of overseas trade. The East India Company (1600) and the Virginia Company (1606) brought in both foreign luxury goods and drugs that Lady Would-be recommends to Volpone.

- People were able to accumulate large fortunes through the growth of large business ventures. Another part of the trading world is illustrated by Volpone’s parody of salesman’s patter when he assumes the character of Scoto.


Who was Thomas Sutton

- from London.
- He made his fortune by money-lending.
- He kept his money in chests at home and was pursued by legacy-hunters.
- This led many contemporaries to see Sutton as a model for Volpone


Who was John Hall and what did he write?

- a seventeenth century writer
- “Man in business is but a theatrical person, and in a manner but personates himself” before, like Volpone, “in his retired and hid-actions, he pulls off his disguise, and acts openly”



- Venice was the centre for mercantile prosperity
- the city also had a reputation for Machiavellian evil-doing
- its exotic setting is appropriate and lends richness to this tale of deception, greed, lust and luxury
- Johnson’s depiction of Venice was only made possible through thorough research, which he himself carried out.
- He had various friends who knew Italy well, for example, the writer John Florio and Henry Wotton who was made ambassador to Venice.

- Like London, Venice was a great place of wealth and was a great place for observing the indulgence of luxuries and lust that Volpone’s life epitomizes.
- Italy was known for being Roman Catholic and was associated with Niccolò Machiavelli whose name became a byword for cunning and immorality.
- Lady Would-be’s style of dress and sexual freedom can be seen as an imitation and fascination of courtesans and transvestites from Venice


Example of political turmoil in 16th century England

- St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestants in Paris
- attempted invasion of England by Catholic Spain's Armada in 1588
- anti-catholic feeling increased support for the Puritans, who challenged the authority of the Church of England, headed by the Queen. They claimed it was insufficiently reformed and needed to move further away from the Roman Catholic Church


what political event happened right before Volpone was written?

- after the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the accession of James VI of Scotland as James I of England, the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot planned to blow up James and his entire parliament on 5 November 1605


Jonson's relation to Volpone

- Jonson was a public figure, prone to dramatic commentary on literature and philosophy, highly personalized poems (as opposed to the mystery of Shakespeare's sonnet cycle), as well as heavy involvement in the royal entertainments of both King James I and Charles I
- His birthplace and the names of his parents remain unknown. His dad died after he was born. Parallels with the ambiguity of Volpone's family life
- many scholars have made attempts to interpret the writing of Volpone as a psychological way of resolving a fundamental conflict that we know existed within him. This conflict was between Jonson's violent and impoverished past and his fairly conservative view of life and art, which was grounded in his classical education at Westminster.


Jonson's background

- born in 1572
- grew up in the village of Charing Cross
- Charing was home both to the townhouses of courtiers (nobles who attended at the court of Queen Elizabeth) as well as masses of the urban poor, living in close proximity
- As David Riggs notes, Jonson was "surrounded by extremes of poverty and wealth from the earliest years of his life."
- his father died before he was born - parallels with Volpone's lack of familial bonds


reasons why Jonson was frowned upon

- in 1605, he was arrested for co-writing a play titled Eastward Ho, which the censors interpreted (probably correctly) as a derogatory statement on the newly crowned King James.
- That year, he had also separated from his wife.


Jonson's values

- Jonson's seeming delight in portraying his quick-witted, tricky types, which may have been characters he identified with on an emotional level. But intellectually, he identified with Celia and her value system.
- So, according to critics such as Riggs, Volpone serves as the repudiation (rejection) of what Volpone the character symbolizes: Jonson's rambunctious, reckless side, which had nearly cost him his marriage, livelihood, and respectability.
- The conflict between the two value systems—one full of desire and greed and another based on Christian morality and reason—is central to Volpone and seems to have been a conflict with which Jonson dealt personally. e.g. broke up with his wife
- He was converted to Roman Catholicism, although he returned to the Church of England (Protestant) 12 years later


Jonson's family and education

- born in London a month after his father died
- Jonson's stepfather was a bricklayer, who successfully ran his own business
- he was educated at Westminster school
- there is a possibility that he may have learned Greek at school by reading some of the works of the satirist Lucian, one of many classical authors whose influence can be detected in Volpone


literary allusions

- Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice'
- Shakespeare's 'Othello': lots of character manipulation, Iago traps characters into an intricate net of lies. He achieves this by getting close to all characters and playing on their weaknesses while they refer to him as "honest" Iago, thus furthering his control over the characters (parallels with Satan). F.R. Leavis describes Othello as "egotistical"


literary history

- 'The Isle of Dogs', a play written jointly by Jonson and Thomas Nashe, it was put on at the New Swan Theatre and seriously offended the authorities. It caused him to be arrested
- it was performed at the Globe theatre, which held about 3,000 people and was relatively cheap. It therefore brought together a large, socially mixed and potentially riotous group of people who might be a danger to public order (Satan embodied the proletariat who were also a threat to society - led the revolution)
- consequently, the government had no hesitation in using censorship at a time of political instability to crack down on plays that might spread subversive ideas.

- 'Every Man in his Humour', based o the theory that varying combinations of the grow humours led to varying character types (blood, phlegm, black bile and choler)
- the character Musco uses disguise to deceive and control the other characters, which foreshadowed both Volpone and Mosca, but unlike them he is excused at the end when he removes his disguise and confesses, because the magistrate admires his ingenuity


the plot

- momentum is generated almost entirely through the energy of Volpone and the virtuosity of Mosca and which provides a bewildering variety of action
- Jonson had a genius for farcical detail



- he put forward the transmigration of the soul
- Nano describes how Pythagoras descended through the bodies of various men and women if increasing meanness before inhabiting the body of Androgyno