Volpone as a beast fable

Question: Justify Volpone as a beast fable.


The beast fable is a prose or verse fable or short story that usually has a moral. In beast fables, animal characters are represented as acting with human feelings and motives. The tales of the Greek legendary writer Aesop are the best examples of beast fables in Western literature. Panchatantra of India is the best-known Asian collection of beast fables. In the 20th century literature “Volpone” by Ben Jonson (1572-1637) has been generally recognized as a beast fable.

Art of characterization

The beast fable presents animal protagonists whose behavior and nature can be compared with that of humans, usually in terms of satire or allegory. These comparisons are usually made without paying too much attention to the behavior of the actual animal. Volpone is a different beast fable since its characters are humans not animals but the human characters have animal-like features.

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Bestiality of human beings

As the drama “Volpone” is a reversed beast fable, the play starkly displays the bestiality of human beings. Here it is presented.

Fox and fly

The protagonist of the drama Volpone resembles the cunning fox who tries to lure his prey by pretending to be sick and dying. The parasite of Volpone, Mosca is like a fly that eats and pollutes everything on which it can sit upon.

Vulture, raven, and crow

The three legacy hunters are like predatory birds. Voltore who does not have any familial ties is a vulture. Corbaccio is a raven. A raven is notorious for its hostility to its children or young ones if they do not resemble it. In this respect, Corbaccio is like a raven who disinherits his own son because Bonario is so different from his father. Similarly, Corvino is a crow. He is greedy for harvest. His harvesting nature is expressed through Mosca:

“Did e’er man haste so for his horns?

A courtier would not ply it so for a place.”

The parrot

In the sub-plot, the name of Sir and Lady Politic Would-be is derived from parrots. Like a parrot, Sir Politic has no imagination, but he has the capacity to imitate others. Lady Would-be exhausts or tires everyone with her endless chatter. Her imitation of the Venetian fashion also fits with her name and character.

Literary devices

The literary devices of the beast fables are satire, allegory, wit and humor, and dramatic irony. All the devices are prolific in the play “Volpone”. All the characters are allegorical. Sir Politic Would-be is a symbolic one to attack the high English officials. Volpone’s worship of gold at the very outset of the play is the allegory of religious satire.

“Good morning to the day; and next, my gold:

Open the shrine, that I may see my Saint.”

In the case of dramatic irony, “Volpone” is starkly similar to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Therefore, “Volpone” is a perfect beast fable from the perspective of literary devices.

 The morality

Morality is the predominant purpose of the beast fables. The moral of the play lies in the trial. All the evildoers who are like beasts are punished according to their nature of crimes. Volpone is crippled with iron chains in prison. All his property is given to the hospital and is kept in prison until he becomes sick. Mosca is beaten by a whip and then sent as a galley slave. Corbaccio is sent to a monastery where he would learn how to die well and his son Bonario inherits his property. Voltore is suspended from his profession and banished from Venice. Corvino must pay three times more money to Celia which he had taken as dowry. All the wrongdoers are given exemplary punishments. So, the moral of the story is “Grasp all lose all”.


In conclusion, the great satirist and reformer Ben Johnson criticize human beings for amendment. He is not sympathetic at all in his censure, but his rebuke is remedial. He attacks greed, hypocrisy, treachery, flattery, lust, and so on by dint of the beast fable technique.

SI Sabuj
SI Sabuj
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