The Old Fox and Goods

.::. 12-15-2010 .::. written as pt. 3 of my British Lit. final .::. Abigail Morris .::.

+  The Old Fox and Goods

            Two other exciting and hilarious tales which deal with the ideas of greed and trickery are Everyman and Volpone. Both are presented as plays with Everyman having apparently been written anonymously in the fifteenth century and Volpone by Ben Jonson in the early seventeenth century. The characters in Everyman are representations of the aspects common to everyman’s life—God, Death, Fellowship, Cousin, Beauty, Knowledge, Strength, Goods, Good Deeds, etc. In Everyman, after Death has been sent to retrieve Everyman, Everyman is granted an opportunity to gather his companions to go along with him and speak on his behalf. In Volpone, the characters are representative animal types as is found in fables—Volpone the fox, Mosca the Fly, Carbaccio the raven, Corvino the crow, Voltore the vulture, Peregrine the falcon, etc. The plot of Volpone revolves around the fox outwitting the greedy, scavenging, birds of prey.

            The most interesting and thought provoking scene in the mystery play, Everyman, is when Everyman seeks the accompaniment of Goods. When Goods is called upon he shows up and Everyman tells him that “all my life I have had joy and pleasure in thee,” (l.408)  and then he requests that Goods go along with him to speak on his behalf since ”money maketh right all that is wrong” (l.414, p.473). However, Goods replies “Nay, Everyman, I sing another song . . . thy reckoning I have made blotted and blind (ll.414-9, p.473).  Everyman tries to argue that the nature of Goods is not so unkind and then begins to lament the condition of his account for having loved Goods so well. Goods takes care to fully explain his design –“my condition is man’s soul to kill/if I save one, a thousand do I spill” (ll.443-442, p.473). So, in the end, it seems to be a sort of game in which Goods uses man’s greed to trick man into tainting their own souls.

            Volpone is a most amusing play for which Ben Jonson does not receive half as much credit as he always should have. From the very first line in the very first act and scene we begin to know Volpone’s mind and indeed his nature. “Good morning to the day, and, next, my gold!/Open the shrine that I may see my saint” (ll.1-2, p.1337). So, yes, the old fox loves his gold, but the scavengers love it more. To trick the three (Carbaccio the raven, Corvino the crow, Voltore the vulture) Volpone uses their greed against them. He, with Mosca’s help, disguises himself as an extremely elderly man and feigns deathly illness to convince them that he is a breath from death and in need of an adopted heir. The three birds of prey come bearing lavish gift on a normal basis, but upon each arrival Volpone and Mosca play their parts. With each visit they unwittingly add to the trickster’s fortune. And, so the game goes.

            Volpone has the understanding of the nature of man that Everyman was ignorant of. He further recognizes Goods (riches) for exactly what it is. In lines twenty-one through twenty-five on page 1337, Volpone speaks of gold as the character Goods of Everyman spoke of himself: “Dear saint,/riches, the dumb god, that giv’st  all men tongues,/that can’st do naught and yet mak’st men do all things,/The price of souls; even hell, with thee to boot,/Is made worth heaven.” Yet, when Mosca comments on the value of their riches and his own pleasure in them, Volpone replies “True, my beloved Mosca. Yet I glory/more in the cunning purchase of my wealth/than in the glad possession . . .” As is made evident by such lines and the ecstasy he draws from not only his own trickery, but even of Mosca’s, Volpone is truly cunning as a fox and though he does indeed love the Goods, he has grown to love the pleasures of the trickster infinitely more. Volpone and Goods have their trickster natures in common and both utilize man’s natural disposition toward greed.

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