Volpone, written by Ben Jonson in the early 17th century, is a play that can be classified as a dark comedy due to its satirical and grotesque portrayal of the corruption and greed of its characters. The play is set in Venice and follows the story of Volpone, a wealthy and cunning nobleman who pretends to be on his deathbed in order to trick his greedy acquaintances into offering him gifts and bribes in exchange for being named his heir.
One of the key elements that makes Volpone a dark comedy is its satirical tone. Jonson uses the play to critique the social and moral decay of the society in which it is set. The characters in the play are portrayed as being driven solely by their greed and desire for wealth and power, with no regard for moral or ethical considerations. Jonson exposes the hypocrisy and corruption of the upper classes, highlighting the dishonesty and deceit that pervades their lives.
Another element that contributes to the dark comedic tone of the play is its use of grotesque imagery and language. The characters in Volpone are often portrayed in a repulsive and exaggerated manner, with their physical deformities and flaws being exaggerated for comedic effect. For example, the character of Corvino is described as having “a face like a fowl’s arse” and Mosca is described as having “a head like a sharp-nosed pike.” This use of grotesque imagery serves to highlight the moral ugliness of the characters and their actions, while also adding a layer of dark humor to the play.
The play’s plot also contributes to its classification as a dark comedy. The central premise of the play revolves around Volpone’s elaborate scheme to deceive and manipulate his acquaintances. While his actions are undoubtedly immoral, they are also darkly humorous in their absurdity and the lengths to which Volpone is willing to go to achieve his goals. The play’s resolution, in which the characters are ultimately punished for their greed and deception, also adds to its dark comedic tone.
Despite its satirical and grotesque elements, however, Volpone is also a play that explores deeper themes and ideas. The play raises questions about the nature of greed and the corrupting influence of power, as well as the ethical and moral considerations that should guide human behavior. While the play may be seen as a commentary on the society in which it is set, it also has a wider relevance to contemporary society and the issues that we face today.
In conclusion, Volpone is a dark comedy that combines elements of satire, grotesque imagery, and absurdity to create a biting critique of the moral decay of the society in which it is set. Through its portrayal of the greed and corruption of its characters, the play exposes the hypocrisy and immorality that can pervade human behavior, while also offering a darkly humorous take on the absurdity of their actions. Ultimately, however, the play is more than just a satire; it is a complex exploration of the themes and issues that continue to shape our world today.