Jacobean Morality and Moral Performativity in Volpone and Women Beware Women
Bilkent University, Turkey
Abstract: In Volpone, or the Fox, Ben Jonson conveys a moral message, blending the satirical comedy with the feigning death of the protagonist Volpone, who spreads the false news of his death to the legacy hunters. He uses the themes of avarice and moral corruption to criticise societal degeneration. Volpone, Mosca and the three legacy hunters create their self-deceit with a natural tendency towards greed, hypocrisy and disguise which also reveal their corrupt morality and the dramatic irony in the play. The play conveys serious criticism of society such as Corvino’s offering his innocent and chaste wife to Volpone to reach his legacy and, also the bad treatment of women. The trial scene bears a serious portrayal of injustice, slander, false witnesses, and the victimization of the innocent and morally good characters. On the other hand, Jonson demonstrates how a person’s greed leads to his downfall. Volpone’s inner world and motivations for his actions show that he is initially driven by negative traits; greed, extravagance and deception. The motivation behind the excessive need for pleasure and satisfaction, initially, is his need for more material possessions and his fortune, for which he commits unjust actions and acts out deceptive behaviour. Volpone’s realisation of his own negative traits and his fatal flaw eventually bring about his downfall. The play emphasises that the sinners are punished while the innocent are rewarded. In Women Beware Women, Thomas Middleton displays catastrophic consequences that stem from chaos in the tyrannical Duke’s court. The play ends with the death of characters at a court masque scene. It functions as a reiteration of the moral and religious order against earthly pleasures and lust. The Duke, who should be the administrative of the order, becomes the source of corruption in the play, therefore he is punished. In both plays, the former a Jacobean city-comedy and the latter a Jacobean revenge tragedy, societal destructions stemming from a lack of morality have been portrayed. This paper aims to discuss the importance of Venetian and Florentine societies’ tendencies in Jonson’s and Middleton’s plays that depict lack of morality and ethical values as a result of which social disorder becomes a reality and characters are portrayed in an endless endeavour to deceive one another, in order either to survive or to make profit out of any specific situation since higher authorities fail to fulfil their responsibilities.
Keywords: Volpone, Women Beware Women, Morality, Jacobean theatre, Masques, Masks