About the BookAfter Shakespeare, Ben Jonson was the most eminent writer of the Elizabethan stage. He is widely known for his humours and was the founder of the so-called “Comedy of Humours”.
Volpone is set in the background of Venice and directs its scrutiny on the rising merchant classes of Jacobean London. The play is not confined merely to follies in contrast with Jonson’s earlier comedies, but includes crimes, so that, as Coleridge remarks, “there is no goodness of heart in any of the prominent characters”. The play drew on elements of black comedy, city comedy and beast fable. A relentless satire of greed and lust, it remains Jonson’s most-performed play, and it is among the finest of Jacobean comedies. Jonson was of the opinion that the poet had a moral function to educate, and thus the purpose of Volpone is to teach lessons about greed. Although it is a comedy, the topic is quite serious. There are, however, many moments of humour in the play, especially when Volpone is feigning illness and lies disguised. The play is often denoted a play within a play.