“The seasoning of a play is the applause.”
Ever since Coleridge declared that “The Alchemist” was among the three most perfect plots ever devised, there was such excessive emphasis on the plots of Jonson, that T.S Eliot reacted by declaring that what holds his plays together is a unity of impression that radiates into plots and personages alike. Yet one cannot deny that Jonson’s plays are generally well-constructed, and that they obey the classical principles of action, time and place further, the classicism of the plot is also evident in the five-fold structure of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. The only hindrance to unity of the plot however is the subplot, which was been judged to be unnecessary or excrescences by a number of critics, since it dose not in any number contribute to the thematic core of the main plot. Yet, a discerning study would reveal that the subplot is intimately connected to the main plot.
The play begins with an exposition in tune with classical principal .Unlike the Shakespearean practice of often beginning with minor characters, jonoson begins with Volpone himself. The very first utterance of Volpone takes the heart of the play, his adoration of gold striking the keynote of the play: ’Good morning to the day; and next my gold! Open the shrine that I may see my saint’. Volpone reveals at length his scheme of dunning the legacy hunters, and subsequently, all the gulls arrive, revealing there perverted values and distorted natures. Voltore brings a plate for Volpone, Corbaccio changes his will to please him, Corvino prostitutes his wife to satisfy his carnality, and Lady Would-Be offers herself to gain his legacy.
The complication which had begun in the first act itself even Mosca convinced Corbaccio that writing a will in the name of Volpone as the inheritor would please Volpone, leading him in turn to makes Corbaccio the legatee. The second act furthers the complication by introducing a new but related theme that of greed for carnal pleasures. Mosca the parasite had tempted Volpone in this new direction by describing the beauty of Celia in rapturous terms, and then suggesting that he could behold here by creating a stage beside here window and selling salves as mountebank from the stage . Volpone is successful in making Celia buy the medicine, but by the husband who arrives suddenly and is instantly jealous. The action moves towards the crisis when Bonario hears Celia’s for help from the chamber and rushes in to rescue her, This is contrary Mosca’s plan, his original plan having been get awry by the delay of Corbaccio as well as premature arrival of Corvino with Celia. Bonario not only assaults Volpone but also reports the entire matter to the authorities. Volpone realizes that he is to suffer its judicial consequences. According to Italian law, his property would be confiscated and he would be branded with iron.
The falling action begins with the trials of Volpone, thought Jonson’s artistry leads him to create a series of counter-movements in the plot in order to sustain the audience’s curiosity and interest. Mosca turns the table on Bonario and Celia by making the father and the husband give false witness with regard to the son and wife coactively, evidence which is naturally considered unimpeachable by the judges. But just when Volpone as well as Mosca’s future seem secure with the discrediting of the two occurs a reversal in the plot. Volpone, incensed at his being denied a legacy, reveals everything to the judges. And yet, just when the gamesters to be up for Volpone and Mosca another reversal occurs Volpone succeeds in persuading Voltore to decal before the judges that it was under the influence of an evil spirit that he had deposed against Volpone. The resolution of the plot follows when Volpone angered at Mosca’a treachery, reveals all, and the ends with each receiving his deserved punishment.
Literary critics have almost universally dismissed the subplot of Volpone as irrelevant and discordant. The only possible reason that can be cited is that it is a kind of comic relief to offset the sustained gloom of the main plot. But one may point out that beneath apparently frail link between the two plots, there lurk more fundamental connections. The first is what john Rea in his edition of Volpone calls the ‘common beat fable’. If Volpone is the fox, and Mosca the parasitic fly, Sir Pol is the imitating parrot. The perfection that he mimics is Volpone himself, for Like Volpone himself finds he not only concerns himself with intrigues, but also plans a get-rich-quick scheme. But whereas Volpone is eminently successful, he is an utter failure, thereby in to comic focus the fact that adopt cannot be a mountebank. Lady Would-Be, on the other hand, apes the local style in dress and cosmetics, reads the Italian poets, and tries to rival the lascivious Venetians in their own game of education. She is also intrinsically connected with the main plot, in being one of the legacy hunters, though she adds a new element to it by dint of her femininity.
Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert,
2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature