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Home » , » What is dramatic irony? Write a note on the use of dramatic irony in Volpone?
Dramatic irony consists in the contrast of the two aspects of the same remark or situation. A remark made by a character in a play may have one meaning for him, and another meaning for some of the other characters and the audience; or one meaning for the speaker and the audience, and another meaning for the other characters; or one meaning for the speaker and the other characters and another meaning for the audience. Similarly, a situation in a play may have a double significance, all the facts being known to the audience and some of the characters, and not being known to the other characters; or known to the audience only and not known to any of the characters. The use of irony in a tragic play heightens the tragic effect; in a comic play it enhances the comic effect.

The use of irony in Volpone is one of the most conspicuous features of the play. The whole of the first Act, after the entry of Voltore, is, for instance, pervaded by irony-both in the situation and the dialogue. When Voltore enters Volpone's house, we already know what he has come for, but we know also the knavery of Volpome and Mosca who have been exploiting the legacy-hunters and who plan to continue doing so. We know, further, that Volpone's sickness is feigned while the birds of prey think Volpone to be a dying man. This irony in the situation lends a comic edge to the entire dialogue that follows. 

As soon as Voltore is announced, Volpone puts on his furs and caps and his sick dress. Mosca promptly applies the ointment to his eyes to make them look rheumy. Volpone seeks the aid of his feigned cough, consumption, gout, apoplexy, palsy, and catarrh with which he has been "milking the hopes" of the legacy-hunters. As Voltore enters, Volpone starts coughing, and Mosca whispers into Voltore's ears that he is Volpone's sole heir.
       

You still are what you were, sir. Only you,Of all the rest, are he commands his love.

The irony here is obvious because we know well that neither Voltore nor any of the others is the heir. Mosca then begs Voltore not to forget him when Volpone's property passes into his hand, and goes on to speak of a copy of the will which he will supply to Voltore without any delay.It is the same with the second interview. Mosca describes some of the grave symptoms of Volpone's sickness to Corbaccio-gaping mouth, hanging eyelids, stiffness of the joints, cold sweat, and so on. And Corbaccio says: "Excellent, excellent". Volpone has not yet made his will, Mosca tells Corbaccio. But he promises to see to it that the will is made in Corbaccio's favour. He even makes Corbaccio agree to his suggestion that Corbaccio should first draw up his own will and name Volpone as the heir. There is irony in almost everything that Mosca says to Corbaccio, and there is irony too in the situation because Volpone lies quietly listening to, and enjoying, this talk.

Then comes Corvino. He is told by Mosca that Volpone is now on the brink of death. He is also told that he, being the favourite, has been named as the heir. But the fun reaches its climax when Corvino joins Mosca in shouting insults into Volpone's ears, thinking that Volpone is utterly insensible to what goes on around him. This scene, is indeed, hilarious because of the use of irony in it.

Volpone's entire performance as a mountebank in Act II is fraught with irony. We as well as Volpone's servants know his real identity but Sir politic, peregrine, Celia, Corvino, and the whole crowd of people take him for a mountebank. The situation thus becomes enjoyable, and the entire speech of Volpone advertising his miraculous oil acquires a humorous character. When subsequently Mosca calls at Corvino's house, we feel greatly amused by Corvino's guess, which is totally off the mark, that Volpone is dead. We know the true reason for Mosca's visit, and so the situation becomes ironical. The irony in the situation makes the entire talk of Mosca in this scene ironical too. Mosca pretends that doctors have advised Volpone to sleep with a young, lusty woman and cleverly leads Corvino to make an offer of his own wife Celia for the purpose. This is what Corvino says to Mosca at this point:
         
Go home, prepare him, tell him with what zealAnd willingness I do it.
   
This arouses our mirth because of the irony of the situation in which Corvino speaks these words. But Mosca's reply is itself highly ironical. Mosca gives an assurance to Corvino that he will be the sole heir and that all other "clients" will be "banished". The scene which now follows between Corvino and Celia, after Mosca is gone, is one of the supreme examples of dramatic irony. Corvino tells his wife that he is not jealous at all and that she should get ready to accompany him to " a solemn feast at old Volpone's where he will convince her how far he is "free from jealousy or fear". There is double irony here : (i) Celia does not know the reason why Corvino is taking her to Volpone's house, while Corvino and the audience know the reason. (ii) Corvino himself does not know, while the audience knows, that the recipe for curing Volpone's illness is a pure fabrication and not a treatment decided upon by doctors in conference.

In Act III, we have irony in the scene in which Mosca works upon Bonario's mind. We know that Mosca himself urged Corbaccio to name Volpone as his hero in his will. But Bonario is given the impression that Corbaccio has disinherited him out of spite, treating him " as a mere stranger to his blood ". Mosca pretends that he is giving this information to Bonario" for the pure love which I bear all right/And hatred of the wrong ", while his real purpose is to cause a rift between son and father. After his initial hesitation, Bonario is taken in. In this Act the interview between Volpone and Lady Would-be is also characterized partly by the same kind of irony as we have noted in the previous interviews between Volpone and the legacy-hunters. Lady Would-be, thinking Volpone to be really an invalid, suggests various remedies and recipes for his aliments.

In this Act we also witness Corvino trying to coax Celia into submitting to Volpone's embraces and caresses. The manner in which he describes Volpone as an infirm, impotent man incapable of doing any real harm to Celia's honour is very amusing because he is labouring under an illusion of Volpone's sickness. He describes Volpone as
           
An old, decrepit wretch,That has no sense, no sinew; takes his meatWith others' fingers; a voice, a shadow;And what can this man hurt you?

Knowing the reality as we do, we cannot help laughing at Corvino's ignorance. Corvino's whole argument acquires an ironical character here. In Act IV there is plenty of irony in the scene where Lady Would-be mistakes Peregrine as a harlot in a man's disguise : "a female devil in a male outside". She scolds both her husband and Peregrine, the latter in very harsh terms. When her mind is disabused of suspicion by Mosca's intervention, and she apologizes to Peregrine, asking him to " use" her, it is Peregrine's turn to mistake her meaning and to think that she is offering her body to him.

The first court scene is pervaded throughout by Irony. Each of the legacy-hunters speaks like one inspired; each tries to outdo the others in his support for Volpone; even Lady Would-be rises to the occasion, so to speak. The reason is that each of them is under the impression of being the sole heir, while we know that each of them has been duped. When the court rises, Mosca speaks to each of them re-assuringly so that the belief, which each harbours, is further confirmed.

Act V too contains several examples of irony. Each of the legacy-hunters, visiting Volpone' house on hearing the fictitious news of Volpone's death, thinks that Mosca is preparing an inventory of the goods on behalf of him. Only we, the audience, or the two villains them-selves, are aware of the true situation-namely, that Volpone is not dead, and that none of these legacy-hunters will ever acquire the inheritance. This situation and the manner in which each "client" is rebuffed by Mosca are very entertain-ing. The discovery that Mosca is the heir adds to the irony because, while the legacy-hunters take the will to be genuine, we are aware that it is only a trick.

The scene in which Sir Politic is befooled by Peregrine is another example of the use of irony. We know that the visitor who calls on Sir Politic is Peregrine in disguise, and that the three officers who come to search Sir Politic's house are really Peregrine's collaborators in his plot. But Sir Politic does not know the reality and is, accordingly, gulled. The irony here provides much mirth.

There is much irony in the rest of this Act too. Volpone disguises himself as a court official and causes a lot of harassment to the three birds of prey. The fact of his disguise being known to us, besides the two plotters themselves, we greatly enjoy the caustic remarks Volpone makes. When Voltore pretends, at the disguised Volpone's behest to be first possessed with and then rid of an evil spirit, we are greatly amused because the Magistrates are not aware of the reality.
Dramatic irony in volpone

To sum up, much of the comedy in this play proceeds from the use of dramatic irony. The skill with which this device of irony has been employed is admirable, and the mirth and laughter which it gives rise to considerably relieve the gloom of some of the scenes in the play.

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