Ben Jonson – “Volpone” Act II scene 2

Volpone continues with his selling efforts, now using, remarkably enough, the method which is still employed by shopping channels, that is the fake lowering of the price. The regular price for a vial of this elixir is eight crowns and various aristos and cardinals are ready to pay thousands, but I sell it to you just for six crowns. Then another musical break by Nano and then Volpone, trying to attract Celia, goes into the time-honoured spiel of “you shall not give me not six, nor five, nor four…” etc. and goes down with the price to six pence plus a mystery bonus of great value. Celia then finally is tempted to throw a handkerchief with the money out of her window. Volpone thanks her profusely and reveals that the mystery bonus is a miraculous powder which was given by Apollo to Venus, then by her to Helen of Troy and lost in the turmoil. But fortunately now the recipe was recovered by a scholar from the ruins in Asia, a batch of the miracle powder produced and some of it (very diluted) sent to the French court, while Volpone has the rest, industrial strength. So it can be used not only for dying one’s hair, as the French ladies do, but it’s going to keep a lady who is using it beautiful and young forever. Volpone would go on, but the scene is interrupted by the arrival of Corvino. I wonder how it was staged in Jonson’s times. That’s really a lot of text to memorize (about 6 pages, I know that’s what the actors do, but still), and I wonder if the actor playing Volpone treated it as a framework for ad-libbing, because it surely lends itself to such a treatment. I think modern-day productions of Volpone do tend to cut it heavily.

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