How far do you agree that “Volpone” is a satire on contemporary society’s obsession with wealth above all else?

Topics: Sociology, Satire, Ben Jonson Pages: 5 (1610 words) Published: November 9, 2014
William Young 12AMP



From the outset, I agree that 'Volpone' is a satire on contemporary society's obsession with wealth above all else. However, there are alternative critical views that should be referred to before final judgement. Jonson heavily emphasises the satirical importance of prosperity in 'Volpone'. This is evident from the opening where Volpone religiously praises his wealth. His bed is surrounded by gold, his language suggesting Roman Catholic saint-worship: "shrine", "saint", "adoration" and "relic". [1] Volpone states, "Good morning to the day; and next, my gold!" [1] The adulation of his gold is compulsive, the imagery suggesting wealth is superior (or at least comparable) to religion. We can, therefore, infer this religious theme satirises society's obsession with wealth above all else, as religion was seen to be of utmost importance in Renaissance Italy; such blasphemy would have shocked Elizabethan audiences.

Volpone's riches are paramount, as suggested by, "O thou son of Sol." [1] This religious connotation is a hyperbole, an overstatement for dramatisation. Volpone is telling the audience that his wealth is 'son of the sun', or alternatively Jesus. Further evidence of sacrilege is Volpone's uttering to the treasure, "even hell is made worth heaven." [1] He explicitly values gold above spiritual redemption. The introduction supports the interpretation that 'Volpone' is a satire on contemporary society's obsession with wealth above all else; the significance of the protagonist's riches is enunciated first and foremost, to the extent that it is even comparable to religion. In context, Venice was the seat of decadence, making it the recipient of years of stereotype in English drama. This Italian city was considered the root of avarice; Volpone inhabits this microcosm of Venetian society. Jonson sets Venice as the backdrop to further the impact of 'Volpone' as a satire of society's obsession with wealth. To summarise Volpone's 'Hymm to Wealth', God has been dispossessed; a grown man is conversing with metal, foolishly dedicating his life to inanimate objects.

LC Knights explains that the opening scene signifies how "religion and the riches of the teeming earth are there for the purpose of ironic contrast." [2] Volpone's adoration of gold is a (perhaps exaggerative) comparison to contemporary society's praise of wealth. It can be argued that 'Volpone' is not primarily a satire on society's obsession with wealth; other significant sources of comedy, such as irony, are present, "Good morning to the day; and next, my gold!" [1] Volpone's opening line challenges our expectations. This is an example of situational irony; we expect prayer to be sacred but Volpone makes it boorish and secular. The opening associates religion with money, which is thought to be profane. Irony is a persistent theme throughout the play. A prominent example is Mosca's betrayal of Volpone, where the character at the bottom of the social food-chain outsmarts the protagonist and procures the fortune the three legacy hunters strive for. Therefore, critical analysis could suggest that 'Volpone' is instead an ironic satire on social class in contemporary society above all else. This is further evident when Voltore angrily expresses his anger regarding "being dispossessed by a parasite! A slave!" after Mosca is appointed as Volpone's heir. [1] Voltore is outraged because a being of social inferiority has triumphed over him. Contextually, in the Elizabethan world-view, the social order of the class system is linked to the order of the universe, making any destabilisation in the class system profoundly disturbing and needing rectification.

The social shame of greed and desperation are key themes in relation to satirising contemporary society's obsession with wealth above all...

Bibliography: [1] Jonson. B (1999) Volpone. Manchester University Press
[2] LC Knights, Some Shakespearian Themes (1959; Harmondsworth, 1966) page 73
[3] Venables. M. (1970) Volpone and the Alchemist, Basil Blackwell Oxford [4] Duncan. D. (1989) York Notes on Volpone, York Press
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