Examine Jonson's use in Volpone of animal imagery

Authors Avatar

Examine Jonson’s use in Volpone of animal imagery

Volpone whilst being a satirical comedy can be considered a beast play, as all the principle characters are people, but have animal names and display characteristics of the animals they represent.  Jonson was a Renaissance dramatist and poet and was concerned with classical precedent.  In Volpone, Jonson adapts a traditional beast fable that is found in Aesop’s fables and presents a moral ending.  Jonson refers to Aesop’s fable of the fox that cunningly tricks a crow into dropping its cheese, in act one scene two.  As Volpone tricks Voltore into giving him “A piece of plate” (P115), he remarks to Mosca “and not a fox / Stretched on the earth, with fine delusive sleights, / Mocking a gaping crow?” (P115).  I think this reference to the fable suggests how easily Volpone will take wealth from the other characters.  Jonson refers to the same Aesop’s fable again in act five, scene eight.  “A witty merchant, the fine bird, Corvino, / That have such moral emblems on your name, / Should not have sung your shame, and dropped your cheese, / To let the Fox laugh at your emptiness.” (P271)  I think Jonson illustrates the fable directly in this quotation as the fox is laughing at the crow for dropping his presents and singing his out his declaration of cuckoldry to the court.

The animal imagery in Volpone is very obvious immediately to the audience as he names most of the characters after birds or animals and suggests the depravity inherent in each of the individuals, whist at the same time creating caricatures of them.  I think in doing this Jonson wanted to draw attention to the animalistic side of society and show how people’s behaviour can be no better than animals, which prey on each other.  I think Jonson’s naming of the characters suggests what the play goes on to prove, that human beings can easily reduce themselves to animals as they lose their values through greed.

Join now!

Jonson’s naming of the character Volpone, Italian for fox, creates an instant image of the character.  I think that Jonson’s metaphor creates an image of a sly, cunning character. Volpone asks Mosca for “[his] furs, and night caps” (P31).  In staging the play, I would dress Volpone in reddish brown clothes trimmed with fur to complement his character, but not to distract from the fact that he is still a man and not a fox.  I think Jonson is saying that he is not an animal but has lost his human qualities.  His name leaves the audience in no ...

This is a preview of the whole essay