Discuss Volpone as a dark comedy 


Volpone” is a Jacobean comedy play written by Ben Jonson (1572-1637) in 1605. It is often classified as a dark comedy due to its themes of greed, deception, and manipulation. Here are some points of discussion that highlight how “Volpone” can be considered a dark comedy.

Satirical Elements:

Volpone” is a satirical play that criticizes the greed and corruption of its characters, as well as the society that enables them. The play mocks the wealthy characters who are willing to do anything to acquire even more wealth, including lying, cheating, and stealing.

More Notes: Volpone

Deception and manipulation:

The characters in “Volpone” engage in elaborate schemes and deceptions to achieve their greedy objectives. Volpone pretends to be gravely ill, while his servant, Mosca, acts as his cunning accomplice, manipulating the potential heirs to Volpone’s fortune. The various disguises, false identities, and duplicitous actions of the characters create a sense of irony and absurdity, adding to the dark comedic elements of the play. Mosca, Volpone’s cunning servant, helps him in deceiving others for their wealth. This is evident in lines such as,

“Give him the hint of opportunity, 

He’ll run himself upon the danger straight, 

Like rats in glass traps, to some tempting bait”

Moral ambiguity:

“Volpone” blurs the lines between right and wrong, as the characters engage in morally questionable actions to fulfill their desires. The characters are often cunning and manipulative, displaying a lack of moral integrity. For instance, Volpone’s dupes, such as Corvino and Corbaccio, eagerly offer bribes and betray their own family members in pursuit of wealth. This is highlighted in lines such as:

“Ambition, madam, is a great man’s madness”

Social criticism:

“Volpone” contains biting social commentary, particularly aimed at the corrupt and materialistic society of Jonson’s time. The play satirizes the upper-class characters who are willing to engage in unethical behavior for personal gain. The play exposes the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the elite. The exaggerated and often absurd situations in the play highlight the flaws of human nature and societal values in a darkly comedic manner.

Irony and wordplay:

Volpone” uses irony and wordplay to create comedic situations, often at the expense of the characters’ ignorance or foolishness. For example, the characters often use double entendres and puns to deceive and manipulate each other, leading to humorous misunderstandings. This is exemplified in lines such as:

“Good morrow to the day; and next, my gold! 

Open the shrine, that I may see my saint” 

Dramatic tension:

Despite its comedic elements, “Volpone” also contains moments of dramatic tension that heighten the dark comedy. The characters’ schemes and deceptions often come close to unraveling. It leads to suspenseful and dramatic situations. The interplay between comedy and tension adds depth and complexity to the play, making it a dark comedy that challenges conventional comedic norms.

Black Humor:

“Volpone” is a play that deals with dark and taboo subjects, such as greed, death, and betrayal. As a result, the play employs black humor, which is humor that arises from these darker subjects. For example, there are scenes in the play where characters engage in sexual innuendo or make jokes about death, which can be both funny and unsettling.


“Volpone” is a dark comedy that satirizes greed, explores moral ambiguity, provides social criticism, and employs irony and wordplay for comedic effect. Through its witty dialogue and complex characters, Jonson’s play offers a sharp critique of human nature and societal corruption.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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