Ben Jonson's Volpone
adapted by Martin Foreman
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The extract on this page may be used without charge for auditions and teaching only. It may not be used in any public performance, whether paid or unpaid, in any medium, without the written approval of the author.
If used in auditions or teaching, the author would appreciate being informed here.
To apply for performance rights for part or all of the play, contact the author here. Volpone is visited by the English Lady Would-Be VOLPONE (loudly) Who is it? Mosca? Enter!
Enter a female SERVANT
SERVANT Signior Volpone?
SERVANT My Lady Would-Be begs leave to visit.
VOLPONE (suddenly weak) Now? I am not well.
Heard offstage: LADY WOULD-BE If he is ill, he needs my help.
VOLPONE (rushing to his bed) The cure may be worse than the disease.
Enter LADY WOULD-BE.
LADY WOULD-BE (to servant) You! Come here. Is this curl in the right place? And this? Why is this higher than the rest?
SERVANT attends to Lady Would-Be's hair
LADY WOULD-BE (cont) Is it better now?
SERVANT One little hair here still sticks out, my lady.
LADY WOULD-BE Indeed? And where were your eyes when you attended me this morning? Only now you see it? Are you not ashamed? Sort it. How often have I instructed you, laid out the principles, disputed every error, praised every grace - praise that you seldom earned? No teacher has been so patient in the art of dressing hair than I.
SERVANT Yes, my lady.
LADY WOULD-BE What will the Italians say? "The English lady, she cannot dress herself." It is a slander on our country to walk out with undressed hair. Well, wait for me in the servants' quarters. The blush on my cheek is too faint. No matter, go wait for me.
SERVANT Yes, my lady.
VOLPONE (aside) Here comes the storm.
LADY WOULD-BE (goes to the couch; intimately) How is my brave Volpone?
VOLPONE Troubled with noise. I cannot sleep. I dreamt that a strange fury entered my house and spoke so loud that my roof was blown away.
LADY WOULD-BE I too had a fearful dream, if I could but remember it.
VOLPONE (aside) Damnation. Now she will tell me it.
LADY WOULD-BE It seemed a rainbow, bright and delicate . . .
VOLPONE Madam, if you will, no more. I sweat and suffer at the mention of any dream. See how I tremble.
LADY WOULD-BE Poor soul! What you need now to stimulate the heart is crushed pearl in syrup of apples and tincture of gold. Add lemon, bitter plums . . .
VOLPONE (aside) She is in full flight!
LADY WOULD-BE . . . essence of amber. Of course you have muscadel wine.
VOLPONE Will you take a glass and leave?
LADY WOULD-BE Saffron - it must be English - half a dram. Sixteen cloves, a little musk, dried mint, barley . . .
VOLPONE (aside) She will not stop. Once I feigned illness, now I truly suffer.
LADY WOULD-BE Apply with a scarlet cloth.
VOLPONE (aside) A never-ending torrent. She never stops.
LADY WOULD-BE Shall I make you a poultice?
VOLPONE No, no, no. I feel much better now.
LADY WOULD-BE I have studied a little medicine, but now I have a passion for music, except in the forenoon when I must spend an hour or two in painting. A lady should practise all the arts. Good conversation, knowledge of literature, a talent to write but above all, as Plato tells us, music. Pythagoras too, I believe, says the same. With face and clothes, our voice is woman's greatest ornament.
VOLPONE The poet says the highest female grace is silence.
LADY WOULD-BE Which poet? Petrarch, Tasso or Dante? Guarini? Ariosto? Aretine? I have read them all.
VOLPONE (aside) Is there no escape?
LADY WOULD-BE I think I have some of them with me.
VOLPONE (aside) The sun and tides will cease before her tongue falls quiet. I am doomed.
LADY WOULD-BE Here is The Faithful Shepherd. Our English writers often steal from this author. Petrarch is more passionate. Dante is hard. For wit there's Aretine, although his pictures are not for polite company. You are not paying attention.
VOLPONE Alas, my mind is disturbed.
LADY WOULD-BE In that case, we must turn to philosophy.
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