Volpone; or, the fox by ben jonson

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VOLP: 'Tis true, 'tis true. What a rare punishment

Is avarice to itself!

MOS: Ay, with our help, sir.
VOLP: So many cares, so many maladies,

So many fears attending on old age,

Yea, death so often call'd on, as no wish

Can be more frequent with them, their limbs faint,

Their senses dull, their seeing, hearing, going,

All dead before them; yea, their very teeth,

Their instruments of eating, failing them:

Yet this is reckon'd life! nay, here was one;

Is now gone home, that wishes to live longer!

Feels not his gout, nor palsy; feigns himself

Younger by scores of years, flatters his age

With confident belying it, hopes he may,

With charms, like Aeson, have his youth restored:

And with these thoughts so battens, as if fate

Would be as easily cheated on, as he,

And all turns air!


Who's that there, now? a third?

MOS: Close, to your couch again; I hear his voice:

It is Corvino, our spruce merchant.

MOS: Another bout, sir, with your eyes.


--Who's there?


Signior Corvino! come most wish'd for! O,

How happy were you, if you knew it, now!

CORV: Why? what? wherein?
MOS: The tardy hour is come, sir.
CORV: He is not dead?
MOS: Not dead, sir, but as good;

He knows no man.

CORV: How shall I do then?
MOS: Why, sir?
CORV: I have brought him here a pearl.
MOS: Perhaps he has

So much remembrance left, as to know you, sir:

He still calls on you; nothing but your name

Is in his mouth: Is your pearl orient, sir?

CORV: Venice was never owner of the like.
VOLP [FAINTLY.]: Signior Corvino.
MOS: Hark.
VOLP: Signior Corvino!
MOS: He calls you; step and give it him.--He's here, sir,

And he has brought you a rich pearl.

CORV: How do you, sir?

Tell him, it doubles the twelfth caract.

MOS: Sir,

He cannot understand, his hearing's gone;

And yet it comforts him to see you--
CORV: Say,

I have a diamond for him, too.

MOS: Best shew it, sir;

Put it into his hand; 'tis only there

He apprehends: he has his feeling, yet.

See how he grasps it!

CORV: 'Las, good gentleman!

How pitiful the sight is!

MOS: Tut! forget, sir.

The weeping of an heir should still be laughter

Under a visor.
CORV: Why, am I his heir?
MOS: Sir, I am sworn, I may not shew the will,

Till he be dead; but, here has been Corbaccio,

Here has been Voltore, here were others too,

I cannot number 'em, they were so many;

All gaping here for legacies: but I,

Taking the vantage of his naming you,

"Signior Corvino, Signior Corvino," took

Paper, and pen, and ink, and there I asked him,

Whom he would have his heir? "Corvino." Who

Should be executor? "Corvino." And,

To any question he was silent too,

I still interpreted the nods he made,

Through weakness, for consent: and sent home th' others,

Nothing bequeath'd them, but to cry and curse.

CORV: O, my dear Mosca!


Does he not perceive us?
MOS: No more than a blind harper. He knows no man,

No face of friend, nor name of any servant,

Who 'twas that fed him last, or gave him drink:

Not those he hath begotten, or brought up,

Can he remember.
CORV: Has he children?
MOS: Bastards,

Some dozen, or more, that he begot on beggars,

Gipsies, and Jews, and black-moors, when he was drunk.

Knew you not that, sir? 'tis the common fable.

The dwarf, the fool, the eunuch, are all his;

He's the true father of his family,

In all, save me:--but he has giv'n them nothing.
CORV: That's well, that's well. Art sure he does not hear us?
MOS: Sure, sir! why, look you, credit your own sense.


The pox approach, and add to your diseases,

If it would send you hence the sooner, sir,

For your incontinence, it hath deserv'd it

Thoroughly, and thoroughly, and the plague to boot!--

You may come near, sir.--Would you would once close

Those filthy eyes of yours, that flow with slime,

Like two frog-pits; and those same hanging cheeks,

Cover'd with hide, instead of skin--Nay help, sir--

That look like frozen dish-clouts, set on end!
CORV [ALOUD.]: Or like an old smoked wall, on which the rain

Ran down in streaks!

MOS: Excellent! sir, speak out:

You may be louder yet: A culverin

Discharged in his ear would hardly bore it.
CORV: His nose is like a common sewer, still running.
MOS: 'Tis good! And what his mouth?
CORV: A very draught.
MOS: O, stop it up--
CORV: By no means.
MOS: 'Pray you, let me.

Faith I could stifle him, rarely with a pillow,

As well as any woman that should keep him.
CORV: Do as you will: but I'll begone.
MOS: Be so:

It is your presence makes him last so long.

CORV: I pray you, use no violence.
MOS: No, sir! why?

Why should you be thus scrupulous, pray you, sir?

CORV: Nay, at your discretion.
MOS: Well, good sir, begone.
CORV: I will not trouble him now, to take my pearl.
MOS: Puh! nor your diamond. What a needless care

Is this afflicts you? Is not all here yours?

Am not I here, whom you have made your creature?

That owe my being to you?

CORV: Grateful Mosca!

Thou art my friend, my fellow, my companion,

My partner, and shalt share in all my fortunes.
MOS: Excepting one.
CORV: What's that?
MOS: Your gallant wife, sir,--


Now is he gone: we had no other means

To shoot him hence, but this.

VOLP: My divine Mosca!

Thou hast to-day outgone thyself.


--Who's there?

I will be troubled with no more. Prepare

Me music, dances, banquets, all delights;

The Turk is not more sensual in his pleasures,

Than will Volpone.


Let me see; a pearl!

A diamond! plate! chequines! Good morning's purchase,

Why, this is better than rob churches, yet;

Or fat, by eating, once a month, a man.


Who is't?
MOS: The beauteous lady Would-be, sir.

Wife to the English knight, Sir Politick Would-be,

(This is the style, sir, is directed me,)

Hath sent to know how you have slept to-night,

And if you would be visited?
VOLP: Not now:

Some three hours hence--

MOS: I told the squire so much.
VOLP: When I am high with mirth and wine; then, then:

'Fore heaven, I wonder at the desperate valour

Of the bold English, that they dare let loose

Their wives to all encounters!

MOS: Sir, this knight

Had not his name for nothing, he is politick,

And knows, howe'er his wife affect strange airs,

She hath not yet the face to be dishonest:

But had she signior Corvino's wife's face--
VOLP: Has she so rare a face?
MOS: O, sir, the wonder,

The blazing star of Italy! a wench

Of the first year! a beauty ripe as harvest!

Whose skin is whiter than a swan all over,

Than silver, snow, or lilies! a soft lip,

Would tempt you to eternity of kissing!

And flesh that melteth in the touch to blood!

Bright as your gold, and lovely as your gold!

VOLP: Why had not I known this before?
MOS: Alas, sir,

Myself but yesterday discover'd it.

VOLP: How might I see her?
MOS: O, not possible;

She's kept as warily as is your gold;

Never does come abroad, never takes air,

But at a window. All her looks are sweet,

As the first grapes or cherries, and are watch'd

As near as they are.

VOLP: I must see her.
MOS: Sir,

There is a guard of spies ten thick upon her,

All his whole household; each of which is set

Upon his fellow, and have all their charge,

When he goes out, when he comes in, examined.
VOLP: I will go see her, though but at her window.
MOS: In some disguise, then.
VOLP: That is true; I must

Maintain mine own shape still the same: we'll think.


ACT 2. SCENE 2.1.

SIR P: Sir, to a wise man, all the world's his soil:

It is not Italy, nor France, nor Europe,

That must bound me, if my fates call me forth.

Yet, I protest, it is no salt desire

Of seeing countries, shifting a religion,

Nor any disaffection to the state

Where I was bred, and unto which I owe

My dearest plots, hath brought me out; much less,

That idle, antique, stale, gray-headed project

Of knowing men's minds, and manners, with Ulysses!

But a peculiar humour of my wife's

Laid for this height of Venice, to observe,

To quote, to learn the language, and so forth--

I hope you travel, sir, with license?

PER: Yes.
SIR P: I dare the safelier converse--How long, sir,

Since you left England?

PER: Seven weeks.
SIR P: So lately!

You have not been with my lord ambassador?

PER: Not yet, sir.
SIR P: Pray you, what news, sir, vents our climate?

I heard last night a most strange thing reported

By some of my lord's followers, and I long

To hear how 'twill be seconded.

PER: What was't, sir?
SIR P: Marry, sir, of a raven that should build

In a ship royal of the king's.

PER [ASIDE.]: This fellow,

Does he gull me, trow? or is gull'd?

--Your name, sir.
SIR P: My name is Politick Would-be.
PER [ASIDE.]: O, that speaks him.

--A knight, sir?

SIR P: A poor knight, sir.
PER: Your lady

Lies here in Venice, for intelligence

Of tires, and fashions, and behaviour,

Among the courtezans? the fine lady Would-be?

SIR P: Yes, sir; the spider and the bee, ofttimes,

Suck from one flower.

PER: Good Sir Politick,

I cry you mercy; I have heard much of you:

'Tis true, sir, of your raven.
SIR P: On your knowledge?
PER: Yes, and your lion's whelping, in the Tower.
SIR P: Another whelp!
PER: Another, sir.
SIR P: Now heaven!

What prodigies be these? The fires at Berwick!

And the new star! these things concurring, strange,

And full of omen! Saw you those meteors?

PER: I did, sir.
SIR P: Fearful! Pray you, sir, confirm me,

Were there three porpoises seen above the bridge,

As they give out?
PER: Six, and a sturgeon, sir.
SIR P: I am astonish'd.
PER: Nay, sir, be not so;

I'll tell you a greater prodigy than these.

SIR P: What should these things portend?
PER: The very day

(Let me be sure) that I put forth from London,

There was a whale discover'd in the river,

As high as Woolwich, that had waited there,

Few know how many months, for the subversion

Of the Stode fleet.

SIR P: Is't possible? believe it,

'Twas either sent from Spain, or the archdukes:

Spinola's whale, upon my life, my credit!

Will they not leave these projects? Worthy sir,

Some other news.
PER: Faith, Stone the fool is dead;

And they do lack a tavern fool extremely.

SIR P: Is Mass Stone dead?
PER: He's dead sir; why, I hope

You thought him not immortal?


--O, this knight,

Were he well known, would be a precious thing

To fit our English stage: he that should write

But such a fellow, should be thought to feign

Extremely, if not maliciously.

SIR P: Stone dead!
PER: Dead.--Lord! how deeply sir, you apprehend it?

He was no kinsman to you?

SIR P: That I know of.

Well! that same fellow was an unknown fool.

PER: And yet you knew him, it seems?
SIR P: I did so. Sir,

I knew him one of the most dangerous heads

Living within the state, and so I held him.
PER: Indeed, sir?
SIR P: While he lived, in action.

He has received weekly intelligence,

Upon my knowledge, out of the Low Countries,

For all parts of the world, in cabbages;

And those dispensed again to ambassadors,

In oranges, musk-melons, apricocks,

Lemons, pome-citrons, and such-like: sometimes

In Colchester oysters, and your Selsey cockles.

PER: You make me wonder.
SIR P: Sir, upon my knowledge.

Nay, I've observed him, at your public ordinary,

Take his advertisement from a traveller

A conceal'd statesman, in a trencher of meat;

And instantly, before the meal was done,

Convey an answer in a tooth-pick.

PER: Strange!

How could this be, sir?

SIR P: Why, the meat was cut

So like his character, and so laid, as he

Must easily read the cipher.
PER: I have heard,

He could not read, sir.

SIR P: So 'twas given out,

In policy, by those that did employ him:

But he could read, and had your languages,

And to't, as sound a noddle--

PER: I have heard, sir,

That your baboons were spies, and that they were

A kind of subtle nation near to China:
SIR P: Ay, ay, your Mamuluchi. Faith, they had

Their hand in a French plot or two; but they

Were so extremely given to women, as

They made discovery of all: yet I

Had my advices here, on Wednesday last.

From one of their own coat, they were return'd,

Made their relations, as the fashion is,

And now stand fair for fresh employment.

PER: 'Heart!


This sir Pol will be ignorant of nothing.

--It seems, sir, you know all?

SIR P: Not all sir, but

I have some general notions. I do love

To note and to observe: though I live out,

Free from the active torrent, yet I'd mark

The currents and the passages of things,

For mine own private use; and know the ebbs,

And flows of state.
PER: Believe it, sir, I hold

Myself in no small tie unto my fortunes,

For casting me thus luckily upon you,

Whose knowledge, if your bounty equal it,

May do me great assistance, in instruction

For my behaviour, and my bearing, which

Is yet so rude and raw.
SIR P: Why, came you forth

Empty of rules, for travel?

PER: Faith, I had

Some common ones, from out that vulgar grammar,

Which he that cried Italian to me, taught me.
SIR P: Why this it is, that spoils all our brave bloods,

Trusting our hopeful gentry unto pedants,

Fellows of outside, and mere bark. You seem

To be a gentleman, of ingenuous race:--

I not profess it, but my fate hath been

To be, where I have been consulted with,

In this high kind, touching some great men's sons,

Persons of blood, and honour.--



PER: Who be these, sir?
MOS: Under that window, there 't must be. The same.
SIR P: Fellows, to mount a bank. Did your instructor

In the dear tongues, never discourse to you

Of the Italian mountebanks?
PER: Yes, sir.
SIR P: Why,

Here shall you see one.

PER: They are quacksalvers;

Fellows, that live by venting oils and drugs.

SIR P: Was that the character he gave you of them?
PER: As I remember.
SIR P: Pity his ignorance.

They are the only knowing men of Europe!

Great general scholars, excellent physicians,

Most admired statesmen, profest favourites,

And cabinet counsellors to the greatest princes;

The only languaged men of all the world!

PER: And, I have heard, they are most lewd impostors;

Made all of terms and shreds; no less beliers

Of great men's favours, than their own vile med'cines;

Which they will utter upon monstrous oaths:

Selling that drug for two-pence, ere they part,

Which they have valued at twelve crowns before.

SIR P: Sir, calumnies are answer'd best with silence.

Yourself shall judge.--Who is it mounts, my friends?

MOS: Scoto of Mantua, sir.
SIR P: Is't he? Nay, then

I'll proudly promise, sir, you shall behold

Another man than has been phant'sied to you.

I wonder yet, that he should mount his bank,

Here in this nook, that has been wont t'appear

In face of the Piazza!--Here, he comes.



VOLP [TO NANO.]: Mount zany.
MOB: Follow, follow, follow, follow!
SIR P: See how the people follow him! he's a man

May write ten thousand crowns in bank here. Note,


Mark but his gesture:--I do use to observe

The state he keeps in getting up.
PER: 'Tis worth it, sir.
VOLP: Most noble gentlemen, and my worthy patrons! It may seem

strange, that I, your Scoto Mantuano, who was ever wont to fix

my bank in face of the public Piazza, near the shelter of the

Portico to the Procuratia, should now, after eight months'

absence from this illustrious city of Venice, humbly retire

myself into an obscure nook of the Piazza.

SIR P: Did not I now object the same?
PER: Peace, sir.
VOLP: Let me tell you: I am not, as your Lombard proverb saith,

cold on my feet; or content to part with my commodities at a

cheaper rate, than I accustomed: look not for it. Nor that the

calumnious reports of that impudent detractor, and shame to our

profession, (Alessandro Buttone, I mean,) who gave out, in

public, I was condemn'd a sforzato to the galleys, for

poisoning the cardinal Bembo's--cook, hath at all attached,

much less dejected me. No, no, worthy gentlemen; to tell you

true, I cannot endure to see the rabble of these ground

ciarlitani, that spread their cloaks on the pavement, as if

they meant to do feats of activity, and then come in lamely,

with their mouldy tales out of Boccacio, like stale Tabarine,

the fabulist: some of them discoursing their travels, and of

their tedious captivity in the Turks' galleys, when, indeed,

were the truth known, they were the Christians' galleys, where

very temperately they eat bread, and drunk water, as a

wholesome penance, enjoined them by their confessors, for base


SIR P: Note but his bearing, and contempt of these.
VOLP: These turdy-facy-nasty-paty-lousy-fartical rogues, with

one poor groat's-worth of unprepared antimony, finely wrapt up

in several scartoccios, are able, very well, to kill their

twenty a week, and play; yet, these meagre, starved spirits,

who have half stopt the organs of their minds with earthy

oppilations, want not their favourers among your shrivell'd

sallad-eating artizans, who are overjoyed that they may have

their half-pe'rth of physic; though it purge them into another

world, it makes no matter.
SIR P: Excellent! have you heard better language, sir?
VOLP: Well, let them go. And, gentlemen, honourable gentlemen,

know, that for this time, our bank, being thus removed from the

clamours of the canaglia, shall be the scene of pleasure and

delight; for I have nothing to sell, little or nothing to sell.

SIR P: I told you, sir, his end.
PER: You did so, sir.
VOLP: I protest, I, and my six servants, are not able to make

of this precious liquor, so fast as it is fetch'd away from my

lodging by gentlemen of your city; strangers of the Terra-firma;

worshipful merchants; ay, and senators too: who, ever since my

arrival, have detained me to their uses, by their splendidous

liberalities. And worthily; for, what avails your rich man to

have his magazines stuft with moscadelli, or of the purest

grape, when his physicians prescribe him, on pain of death,

to drink nothing but water cocted with aniseeds? O health!

health! the blessing of the rich, the riches of the poor! who

can buy thee at too dear a rate, since there is no enjoying

this world without thee? Be not then so sparing of your purses,

honourable gentlemen, as to abridge the natural course of life--
PER: You see his end.
SIR P: Ay, is't not good?
VOLP: For, when a humid flux, or catarrh, by the mutability of

air, falls from your head into an arm or shoulder, or any other

part; take you a ducat, or your chequin of gold, and apply to

the place affected: see what good effect it can work. No, no,

'tis this blessed unguento, this rare extraction, that hath

only power to disperse all malignant humours, that proceed

either of hot, cold, moist, or windy causes--
PER: I would he had put in dry too.
SIR P: 'Pray you, observe.
VOLP: To fortify the most indigest and crude stomach, ay, were

it of one, that, through extreme weakness, vomited blood,

applying only a warm napkin to the place, after the unction

and fricace;--for the vertigine in the head, putting but a drop

into your nostrils, likewise behind the ears; a most sovereign

and approved remedy. The mal caduco, cramps, convulsions,

paralysies, epilepsies, tremor-cordia, retired nerves, ill

vapours of the spleen, stopping of the liver, the stone, the

strangury, hernia ventosa, iliaca passio; stops a disenteria

immediately; easeth the torsion of the small guts: and cures

melancholia hypocondriaca, being taken and applied according to

my printed receipt.


For, this is the physician, this the medicine; this counsels,

this cures; this gives the direction, this works the effect;

and, in sum, both together may be termed an abstract of the

theorick and practick in the Aesculapian art. 'Twill cost you

eight crowns. And,--Zan Fritada, prithee sing a verse extempore

in honour of it.
SIR P: How do you like him, sir?
PER: Most strangely, I!
SIR P: Is not his language rare?
PER: But alchemy,

I never heard the like: or Broughton's books.

NANO [SINGS.]: Had old Hippocrates, or Galen,

That to their books put med'cines all in,

But known this secret, they had never

(Of which they will be guilty ever)

Been murderers of so much paper,

Or wasted many a hurtless taper;

No Indian drug had e'er been famed,

Tabacco, sassafras not named;

Ne yet, of guacum one small stick, sir,

Nor Raymund Lully's great elixir.

Ne had been known the Danish Gonswart,

Or Paracelsus, with his long-sword.

PER: All this, yet, will not do, eight crowns is high.
VOLP: No more.--Gentlemen, if I had but time to discourse to you

the miraculous effects of this my oil, surnamed Oglio del Scoto;

with the countless catalogue of those I have cured of the

aforesaid, and many more diseases; the pattents and privileges of

all the princes and commonwealths of Christendom; or but the

depositions of those that appeared on my part, before the signiory

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