Ben Jonson – “Volpone” Act V scene 12

The judges are perplexed, examining all the papers Voltore submitted which say that Bonario and Celia are innocent, although Celia probably was not ravished because Voltore still believes Volpone was impotent. Volpone impersonating the officer says that the parasite is going to come soon and is instantly rebuked by one of the lawyers for being too impolite. Volpone then whispers under breath to Voltore that Volpone is still alive and the whole story about his death was just a ploy to test him. Since Corbaccio and Corvino insisted he was possessed, it is now his best bet to fake it. So Voltore throws himself on the ground and Voltore claims he sees all the stuff known from exorcisms – him spitting pins, glazed eyes, the demon manifesting itself in various parts of his body. No pea soup vomit or 360 degrees head spin, though, because Jonson did not take his info from The Exorcist, but from a book by Samuel Harsnett which, ironically enough, was a condemnation of the exorcisms performed by a Puritan minister, which Harsnett calles “Popish impostures”. The book must have been a big hit, because Shakespeare also borrowed from it a list of devils’ names recited by Edgar in King Lear. So it seems that it was the go-to source for any writer who wanted to describe a possessed character (or pretending to be possessed). Corbaccio and Corvino of course confirm Volpone’s claims, because they want Voltore very much to be declared possessed as well. Voltore then, as Volpone claims, spits out his demon in the shape of a blue toad and now free of it, looks at his notes again and claims although they are written in his hand, they are all lies written under devil’s influence.

At this point, Mosca arrives and all the judges are busy sucking up to such a rich and powerful man, one of them even declaring he would like to marry his daughter. Volpone whispers that he managed to undo the whole intrigue and convince Voltore to back him up again. Now everything depends on Mosca who should confirm that Volpone is still alive. But in a surprising turn (well, surprising to Volpone, because we saw it a long way coming) Mosca pretends not to recognize Volpone in the officer, instead apologizing to the court for being so late and justifying himself by the fact that he was busy with the preparations for the funeral.

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