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Home » , » Comment upon the significance of the interlude (or jig) in the first act?
In the first act of the play Mosca presents Volpone with an entertainment acted by Nano (Italian dwarf), Androgyno (Greek 'man-woman' or hermaphrodite) and Castrone (Italian eunuch). It is composed by Mosca. It "is a kind of antimasque or jig, such as is found in many of our old plays. It is chiefly taken from one of Lucian's dialogue, and is meant as a ridicule on the metempsychosis."

The interlude is divided into two parts. The first comprises a dialogue between Nano and Androgyno. It describes the transmigration of the soul of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (6th century B.C). After taking various shapes in the course of a long time the philosopher's soul has finally entered the body of a fool, Androgyno, where it is most content to "tarry". In the second part Nano and Castrone sing a song in praise of fools.

The verse of the interlude is bad, deliberately bad so that it may indicate the poor literary taste of Mosca and Volpone, the author and the audience respectively. Mosca's bad taste is further emphasized by the fact that two works of wit admired by Jonson are vulgarized, the one being Lucian's The Cock from which the dialogue is derived and the other, Praise of Folly by Erasmus, from which the song is taken.

The themes of folly and metempsychosis are appropriate to the play. Pythagoras' idea about the transmigration of the soul, as presented in the interlude, emphasizes Jonson's theme of human degeneracy. Similarly, the theme of folly reminds as that most of the characters in the play are fools in as much as they sacrifice their souls for worldly gains. Further, by placing the soul of the fool in the body of the hermaphrodite establishes an identification between folly and monstrosity, the latter being another important theme in the play. Later in the play the description of the transmigration of Pythagoras' soul gains additional significance when it parallels the description of the miraculous journey of Volpone's cosmetic powder "Like Pythagoras' soul, the powder began its career as a gift from Apollo, and in its transmigrations through the goddess of love, the whore of Sparta, and the court ladies of France, it serves to underline the accient lineage of vanity as a special case of folly rehearsed in the interlude."

The interlude is visually shocking and unpleasant. The actors- Nano, Andrgyno and Castrone-are all physically abnormal. Their deformed bodies symbolize the spiritual deformity and abnormal values of Volpone, who is the father of these bastard children. But the question arises: Would the audience also enjoy their sight and performance? Here we must remind ourselves "that in Jonson's day people paid money to see 'monsters' such as these in fair-grounds." And what about Shakespeare's Caliban? Did the Elizabethan audience not find him, in the words of stephano, to be "a present for any emperor that trod on neat's leather"? Further, Jonson tempts his audience to show its own bad taste by enjoying this show as much as Volpone does.

Finally it must be said that if we do not bear in mind the above points we are likely to miss the significance of the interlude.


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