Q. Discuss the fdunction of the beast imagery and beast fable in Volpone. Ans. Beast imagery is used in Volpone to represent the deformity and degeneration of the characters and the moral abnormality of Venice supposed to be the hot bed of crime, knavery, lust and prostitution. Driven by the hideous desire for fortune, the major characters stoop to a new low in wickedness and dissipation and this is well illustrated by the beast imagery. Celia and Bonario being good characters never employ any imagery or symbol of animals. They are the persons of basic goodness; therefore, they resort only to angels, gods and goddesses.
Whereas on the other hand Corvino though is Celia’s husband, is well isolated and identified by his beast like character and nature. Corbaccio, Mosca, Corvino, Vlotore and Volpone all fall in line. Besides, bestial imagery builds up the background for the plot to move. It is an important ingredient of the plot. The alternative title also for the play is “The fox”. Volpone himself mentions the association of birds and beast early in the play. He like an animal wears furs. Corbaccio’s cane becomes a part of ‘that filthy covetous wretch with the three legs’. The prominent imagery in Volpone is the beast imagery.
All the major character derive their names from predatory birds or animals therefore, Volpone is the artful fox, Mosca a fly dthat feeds on everything, Voltore the vulture, Corbaccio the raven and Corvino the crow. They not only derive their names from animals but behave also like them. They prance, skip, creep or slither like beasts. These characters are not allegorical abstractions; they are the human beings who behave like animals. After giving the suitable background of ‘gold’ Volpone gives the first reference of the beast imagery when Voltore comes knocking.
After getting the exquisitely carved plate from Voltore, Volpone cannot help restrain his beast like tendencies and asks Mosca a question using the beast imagery. Volpone is not the only one to resort to beast imagery to express himself better or define others more clearly. Corbaccio and Corvino also use animal imagery quite frequently and find their plassions reflected in the animal world. Enraged by his son’s behaviour, as reported by Mosca and driven by his own greed, Corbaccio disclaims Bonario as It appears that more debased a character is, the more prone he is to employ bestial imagery.
The characters of the subplot are not untouched by the use of his imagery and Lady Would-be gladly accuses Celia of the base virutes and censures her in the following words, Out, thou chameleon harlot! Now thine eyes Vie tears with the hyena. The subplot of the play is linked to the main plot by the beast fable. Sir Politic, the main character of the subplot is a parrot, his wife is the female parrot who not only chatters but mimics also and Peregrine is the falcon.
When it comes to punishment the characters are accorded the ‘reward’ as per their names and characters they played in the play. Volpone is to be in chains as an animal is and has to suffer all the diseases he so shamelessly pretended to be suffering from in the play. Volpone describes his punishment as ‘the mortifying of a fox’. Voltore the vulture is exiled from the society of learned men and left to prey in the woods. Corbaccio is confined to monastery and Corvino the cuckold is to wear the horns and roam about in the Venetian streets.
The beast fable sketchesd the fox as one who deludes the predatory birds pretending to be dead on the ground and then foxes them and deprives them of their shares. Thus it is clear that Jonson has deliberately used the beast fable in the play. One of the most important functions that the beast fable provides is that it helps in revelation of the gradual descent of many characters. Volpone, as it is, presents the negative sides of Renaissance. Man was supposed to occupy a middle position in what was called the Great Chain of Being. He was gifted with free will as well as reason.
If he used them following ethical and moral conduct for his spiritual uplift then he transcended the earthy status and became an angel but if he did otherwise he was condemned for life and fell into the category of evil. This is what is the aim of beast fable in the play. The characters in the zeal of Renaissance spirit try to attain the unattainable; that land of fabulous gold by taking a detour and fall. They are governed by the misguided notion of transcendence and their desire for transformation leads only to their deformation.