Jonson's Romish Foxe: Anti-Catholic Discourse in Volpone
University of Central Lancashire
Brunning, Alizon. "Jonson's Romish Foxe: Anti-Catholic Discourse in Volpone." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.2 (September, 2000): 4.1-32<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/06-2/brunvol.htm>.
In his Epistle to Volpone Ben Jonson complains about those "that profess to have a key for the deciphering of everything," railing that "[A]pplication is now grown a trade with many." Perhaps Jonson had good reason to protest about "these invading interpreters" as such readings had often led to trouble with authority. The Official papers relating to Jonson's imprisonment for his share in the 1597 lost work The Isle of Dogs reports "Information given upon a lewd play...containing very seditious and scandalous matter".  Some years later a letter written to an unknown Lady (probably the Countess of Bedford) by Jonson, again in prison for his part in the 1605 play Eastward Ho, protests that the play is "so mistaken, so misconstrued, so misapplied as I do wonder whether Ignorance, or Impudence be most, who are our adversaries" (H&S I 197).
Despite Jonson's constant protestations of innocence it seems that his work attracted and continues to attract readings which seek to locate close parallels between the fictional play world and the political and social context of its production. This reading is no exception. It argues that although Jonson's 1606 play Volpone is a richly multi-layered text which satirises greed and corruption at a general level, the play can also be read as an overtly Anti-Catholic discourse based around two key areas; the profanation of the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist and the allusion to corrupt priesthood through the presentation of the bestiary fox figure. The presentation of vice and corruption then acquires a resonance which links to a tradition of anti-Papist Tudor Reformation drama such as that presented by Bale and his contemporaries who sought to play out doctrinal dispute in a dramatic arena.
- However it has been commonly accepted that since a proclamation in 1559 and an Act in 1589 preventing or limiting the representation of religious matters on stage, that matters of doctrine were no longer to be dealt with directly in stage plays. Elizabeth had been quite understandably sensitive to the dealing of religious controversy and a notorious performance of a scurrilous Mock mass at Hinchenbrook in 1564 in which a Marian bishop was depicted as a dog with the host in its mouth reportedly made Elizabeth so angry that she walked out.  Following this a 1576 ecclesiastical decree at York stated that
no play or pageant [should] be played wherein the majesty of God the Father, God the Sonne or God the Holy Ghoste or then administration of either the sacraments of baptisme or the Lords supper be counterfeited or represented or anything played which tends to the maintenance of superstition and idolatrie which can be contrarie to the lawes of God or the realme. 
Jonathan Dollimore goes as far as to argue that Dr Faustus was the last play directly to interrogate matters of religion; after this religious criticism had to be far more covert.  Richard Dutton suggests that, although the 1589 Act had forbidden depiction of religious matters on stage, these prohibitions were not strictly enforced unless they touched directly on crown policy, especially in times of crisis such as the Marprelate controversy and the Essex rebellion when public order was threatened.  I will argue that Volpone, composed as it was hard on the heels of the biggest crisis to threaten the state, The Gunpowder Plot, constitutes a deliberate attempt to engage with matters of religion, an attempt to draw on Anti-Catholic sentiment that followed this threat to peace.
Jonson though was no Protestant propagandist. He had converted to Catholicism in prison in 1598 and continued to be a Catholic until 1610. However his continuing recusancy could only have increased the tense relationship with authority which his seemingly seditious plays had instigated. Already attacked by the Earl of Northampton for "poperie and treason" in Sejanus (H&S I 141), his release from prison in 1605 was to launch him into a period where to be a loyal subject, a good citizen and a Catholic was a great test of resourcefulness. As Ian Donaldson argues, a Catholic in this period was forced to lead a "divided life" where the employment of "behavioural and rhetorical strategies" was a means of survival.  This paper argues that Volpone forms part of this strategy, allowing Jonson a way of presenting elements of anti-Catholicism while at the same time stubbornly resisting rejection of his faith.
This sort of double dealing or duplicity has been the subject of several critical studies which speculate on Jonson's involvement in the Gunpowder Plot.  The facts known are that, following his release from prison, Jonson was reported attending a dinner party on the 9th October with Catesby and several of the Gunpowder plotters. On the 7th November he was summoned before the head of the Privy Council Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. The next day he was sent a letter which reveals that he had been summoned to find a priest who might be able to help the government root out the seditious recusants. His willingness to do service in this matter demonstrates that it was possible to be a loyal subject and a Catholic and that many Catholics condemned the traitorous act. However Jonson owed more than a good citizen's service to Salisbury. During his imprisonment he appealed by letter to a number of important figures including Salisbury, who had apparently shown him "former benefits." On this occasion too Jonson's pleas were successful and he remained further indebted to the Head of the Privy Council (H&S I 194 195). His letter to Cecil following his summons assures him that "there hath been no want in me, either of labour or sincerity in the discharge of this business, to the satisfaction of your Lord and the state." Furthermore he takes pains to disassociate himself from those who are "so enweaved in it, as it will make 500 Gent: less of the Religion within this week, if they carry their understanding about them." He goes on to give assurance that "For my self, if I had been a priest, I would have put on wings to such an occasion, and have thought it no adventure, where I might have done (besides his Majesty and my Country) all Christianity so good service" (H&S I 202). Here Jonson not only shows his willingness to serve King and country but cleverly distinguishes between those "so enweaved" and himself who would put his country before his religion, even if he were a priest.  He then goes on to elide religious difference in presenting himself as a servant of Christianity rather than of the Roman church. All these points locate Jonson as an individual anxious to avoid further incarceration and possible torture and willing to employ whatever strategic means necessary to evade association with treachery and sedition. Frances Teague argues that Jonson later did find the priest, probably Father Wright, and thus secured the future good will of the Privy council. 
It was in the period following this that Volpone was written. Jonson reports that he "laid the plot of my Volpone and wrote most of it, after a present of ten dozen of palm sack from my very good Lord Treasurer" (H&S I 188). I find it puzzling that Jonson's release from prison should be accompanied by such a present. The construction of the sentence suggests a correlation between the present and the writing of the play and I would speculate that Jonson might have included certain elements in order to please those he owed his freedom. The dedication of the play in the 1607 Epistle is to "The Two Famous Universities." The Chancellor of Cambridge was Salisbury and the Chancellor of Oxford was Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset, who was the Lord Treasurer and Jonson's benefactor.
The performance of Volpone in late February or early March came at a time of heightened anti-Catholic feeling in London. The plotters were executed in January and the trial and torture of the Jesuit priest Garnet took place in March, he was executed just after Easter on the first of May. For Catholics Father Garnet was, and remains, a faithful and courageous martyr; for the Protestant state, anxious to fuel hatred for Catholics, he was identified as the master of equivocation, a dissembling and counterfeiting Papist and a threat to English peace and security. To Garnet equivocation, described in his Treatise of Equivocation, was part of a doctrine which allowed the speaker's words to be taken in two ways, only one of which would be true, thus allowing the recusant to protect himself without actually lying. For Anti- Catholics, however, equivocation was evidence of the Jesuits' deceit and dissimulation. This paper argues that Jonson himself , as Donaldson suggests, was not unfamiliar with the Jesuit practice of equivocation. 
Jonson, despite his distancing from Catholic extremists, was still a recusant. Consistory Court records for Friday Januay 10th 1605/6 show his constant refusal to take the Anglican communion. Although he avers that
he and his wife do go ordinarily to Church and to his own parish Church and so hath done this half year but for their receiving he sayeth he hath refused to receive the communion until he shall be resolved either by the minister of the parish or some other in the scruple he maketh therein but his wife he sayeth for anything he knoweth hath gone to Church and used always to receive the Communion and is appointed to receive the Communion tomorrow (H&S I 220 221).
As the prologue tells us that Volpone was written in less than five weeks, a February/ March performance makes the most likely time for the composition of the play January coinciding with Jonson's series of court appearances up until May. This also confirms that "this last half year," that is since the Plot, Jonson had been attending church. He was able to conform to state religion so far but the Eucharist remained, as for many Catholics, a sticking point. Jonson was required to be tutored in this matter by some high ranking Anglican clergy including the Dean of St Paul's and the Archbishop of Canterbury and to present himself on the last court day of the next term to certify to the satisfaction of his conscience. All this has been well documented and discussed.  However when the Eucharistic parody in Volpone is read alongside this evidence it raises some complex issues about Jonson's public presentation of an Anti-Catholic attitude. His reluctance to take communion in private and his dramatisation of a depraved Mass ceremony on stage suggest an ambivalent and equivocal stance. The well known fact that the plotters took the sacrament before their attempted treason foregrounded the ceremony as a significant part of heretical behaviour. In addition such outward profaning of the sacred ritual might possibly be provoked by a more serious charge brought at the same time as his summons for non attendance at communion. This was the repeated insistent accusation that Jonson was "by fame a seducer of youth to the popishe religion" (H&S I 221 222). This was a far more serious crime than non attendance and would associate Jonson with the reviled Jesuit priests such as Father Wright, possibly responsible for Jonson's own conversion and described by Cecil as 'a notorious seducer and an Arch Enemy to this state of Religion now established'(H&S I 128). Such seduction, with its connotation of sexual impropriety, carried the death penalty. If Jonson still had contact with Wright, as Teague suggests, he would be anxious to avoid too much association with such "seducers." Consequently I argue that Volpone contains a number of allusions to Catholicism which would enable him to distance himself from this charge. By using a fictional and dramatic construction he creates a play world which can be read as a general satire on vice, greed and corruption, yet which if pressed could yield a specifically anti-Catholic reading.
The Epistle to the 1607 quarto can be seen as a deliberate attempt to draw attention to these matters. Dutton argues that Jonson almost seems to be alerting the reader to what he calls "covert allusions."  In the Epistle Jonson , in an echo of his letter to Salisbury from prison, protests that he should not be guilty by rumour or be implicated in other men's crimes. Surely this can be read as Jonson's way of protesting his innocence in the whole Powder treason and the charges of seducing youth to popish religion. He goes on to say "My works are read, allowed (I speak of those that are entirely mine) look into them." Here I believe that Jonson is drawing attention to aspects of the play, aspects that I will argue are overtly a satirical presentation of Catholic priests and the ritual of the Eucharist.
After the first production of Volpone by the King's Men at the Globe theatre, the 1606 Act of Abuses prohibited blasphemy and profanity on stage, yet in the Epistle Jonson denies blasphemy in the play: "I can, and from a most clear conscience, affirm that I have ever trembled to think toward the least profaneness." If the profanity of the play was levelled not at a Christian ceremony but at a Catholic one then this might excuse Jonson from accusation and provide some dramatic rejection of the ritual he seemed disinclined to renounce in private practice. This paper will now examine the textual evidence for a reading of the play as a parody of the Eucharist and the Jesuit priests who administer it.
Volpone begins, as we all know, with Volpone's blasphemous worship of his gold:
Good morning to the day; and next, my gold!
Open that shrine that I may see my saint.
[Mosca reveals the treasure]
Hail the world's soul, and mine! More glad than is
The teeming earth to see the longed-for sun
Peep through the horns of the celestial Ram,
Am I, to view thy splendour, darkening his;
That, lying here, amongst my other hoards,
Show'st like a flame, by night; or like the day
Struck out of Chaos, when all darkness fled
Unto the centre. O, thou son of Sol,
But brighter than thy father, let me kiss,
With adoration, thee, and every relic
Of sacred treasure, in this blessed room. (1.1 i-13)
The scene is not just a parody of religious worship in general but of the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist. Volpone's apostrophe to the small round coin mimic those of a priest performing the elevation of the host.  Edward B. Partridge notes that this speech is "a parody of a prayer" and goes on to comment that "to an age which, like the Elizabethan, at least knew the normal Christian attitude, this perversion of religious imagery must have been shocking" (72). Jonson is "not merely glancing at religious imagery here, but insisting on it in detail." He argues that "the religious terms crowd thick on the listener here: adoration, relic sacred, blessed" (72/3) and suggests that "The traditional Christian world is suggested in the listeners' minds by the various vehicles... which have become meaningful after long centuries of use" (76). Partridge's point is that the debasement of religious imagery by association with the material world is an indictment of a corrupt and mercenary society. While this reading is valid, Partridge's vague "normal Christian attitude" misses the specific Catholic references here. The "religious vehicles" which he argues have a long tradition are the very vehicles that Protestant reformers had sought to erase from the memories of listeners. Such vehicles in a period of extreme religious tension take on a resonance whose shock value lies not only in the transference of the religious to the mercenary but in the use of the terms themselves.
As Eamonn Duffy points out in Stripping of the Altars, a 1559 Elizabethan Injunction had sought to remove every aspect of idolatrous and superstitious Papist worship from people's religious observances and consequently the words shrine, relic and saint would have particular connotations to an audience who had been taught in countless sermons that such objects were dangerous remnants of the demonised Catholic faith.  Thus the opening scene of Volpone would be shocking, not only because of the inversion from the sacred to the profane, but also in the terms used; shrine, saint, relic, sacred treasure; not just the ritualistic worship of gold, but ritualistic worship itself; the veneration of idols, the revealing of the treasure, and the kissing of the coin.
Partridge's insistence on an inversion of values from the sacred to the material and visible, perhaps unwittingly, identifies a correlation between this theatrical scene and the Catholic ritual. One of the chief objections to the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist was that it was a spectacle which encouraged mindless gazing, a ritual of adoration, a series of empty actions. Archbishop Jewel draws on a common stock of associations of theatricality and Catholic ritual when he argues that "the sacraments of Christ to be used now as a stage play... to the end that men's eyes should be fed with nothing else but mad gazings and foolish gauds."  WhenVolpone commands Mosca to "open that shrine" the stage directions read "Mosca reveals the treasure."  The host was often veiled or curtained to be revealed before the sacring at particular times of year or to be kept hidden during Lent.  The revelation of the host at the crucial moment of sacring made visible the theatrical moment when the host became the body and blood of Christ. Another central part of the ceremony was the pax where just before his own communion "the priest kissed the corporas on which the host rested, and the lip of the chalice, and then kissed the paxbread, a disk or tablet on which was carved or painted a sacred emblem, such as the Lamb of God or the Crucifix."  So too Volpone's intent to "kiss/ with adoration, thee and every relic/ of sacred treasure, in this blessed room" (I.i.11-13) is reminiscent of the priest's own involvement in the sacrament of the altar.
Catholic doctrine argued that the host, the round wafer, was not only symbolic of Christ; it actually becomes Christ through the act of transubstantiation.  Through the actions and words of the priest the consecrated bread becomes the very material substance, the body and blood of Christ. This scene reinforces the Eucharistic connections by insisting on a number of connections between coin and Christ. Firstly the coin is the visible and material shape of the communion wafer. Secondly, Volpone speaks to the coin in an apostrophe, a direct address of praise. After the revealing of the treasure, he addresses the gold with the words "Haile the world's soul and mine" (I i 3). The term "haile" was traditionally used in the mediaeval mystery plays and was voiced to welcome the presence of Christ. In addition to this, images of Christ were also gilded, thus bringing in another visual connection.  The complex set of Christian references has been well documented by editors and critics who note a number of biblical and alchemical allusions. One reference important for my argument is the allusion to Easter. Volpone compares his action as transcending all other beginnings:
Haile! The world's soul, and mine! More glad than is
The teeming earth to see the longed-for sun
Peep through the horns of the celestial Ram,
Am I, to view thy splendour, darkening his. (I i 3-5)
The scene creates a version of the beginning of the world, the fiat lux and at the same time locates the setting as spring, also the beginning of the natural and ecclesiastical year. It is at this time of year, at Easter that the Eucharist takes on added sacred significance. Christ, whose name too is sometimes given as Aries,  died at Easter in order to give humanity in general and individuals in particular, a new birth, a new beginning. Easter communion carried extra significance for both Anglicans and Catholics although it also centred attention on the difference. Jonson's refusal to attend Anglican communion at Easter drew the higher fines of 5s 6d rather than the shilling normal fine. He is recorded as owing for two years 1604, 1605 that is "since the king came in" (H&S I 223). The suggestion of Easter as a setting for the ritual thus heightens the Eucharistic reference which is then profaned by its association with the mercenary world of acquisition and greed, where the affinity of Christ with gold is to elevate money rather than to glorify God. Such connection follows a post Reformation tradition of dramatic parody of church ceremony. John Bale, for example, focuses his satire particularly on the critique of Catholic ritual, as Whitefield White points out: "Bale found his most effective weapon was to prevent these revered images before spectators only to discredit them by depriving them of their original sacred context substituting a profane or diabolical one instead."  In this way Jonson is not only satirising the corruption of society through material values but discrediting the religious context. Indeed by the correlation of the two fields an analogy is made between the profane, diabolical and mercenary and the sacred field from which it is drawn.
The analogy between gold and the Eucharist continues throughout the play where gold is seen to have the restorative properties associated with the Eucharist in giving new life and restoring health. When Corbaccio brings Volpone a bag of coins Mosca says, "This is true physic, this your sacred medicine, / No talk of opiates to this great elixir" (I iv.71-2). Mosca then pours the coins into a bowl to minister them to Volpone, calling them a "blessed cordial" and saying that they will "recover him" (I iv.71-76). Later Mosca describes gold as
...such another medicine, it dries up
All those offensive savours! It transforms
The most deformed, and restores 'em lovely,
As 'twere the strange poetical girdle. (V ii 99-102)
By correlating the property of gold with that of the host Jonson is also drawing on anti-clerical attacks which condemned priests as confidence tricksters whose control of the distribution of the host was a form of economic power . As one early Lollard commentator complains, Christ's body becomes a vastly profitable marketable commodity: "thirty breads of this sort are sold for one halfpenny, but Christ was sold for thirty pence. The sacrament after this fashion is therefore a figment designed to enrich priests."  In another form of economic transfer objectors argue that the equation between the value of the bread and the value of Christ's body did not make sense. "If Christ's body were sold by Judas for thirty pennies (Matt 36.15), how could a wafer masquerade as Christ's body, for it was worth only one sixtieth of a penny?"  In addition, for reformers, the focus on the Eucharist as a physical rather than spiritual restorative led to an attack on the materialism of transformation. Eating and drinking the body and blood and Christ is a grotesque act of cannibalism according to many critics of transubstantiation. The inversion of sacred to profane suggests a downward transformation from the spiritual to the material plane, a profane commingling of the human and divine, the flesh and the spirit. Here on a larger scale than individual allusion the play's motif can be see to draw on the symbolic meanings of sacramental ritual. Miri Rubin points out that religious acts of eating embody an anxiety about these boundaries between sacred and profane: "The body is always a complex image, and eating the body is particularly a disturbing one especially that of eating a sacrificed body....The juxtaposition of simplest natural act eating, with the holiest and most taboo-ridden of nourishments, the human body, associates acts and symbols which in any other contexts would be abhorrent and unutterable."  On many occasions Volpone compares material acquisition with human consumption: 
Let me see, a pearl!
A diamant! plate! chequeens! Good morning's purchase;
Why, this is better than rob churches, yet;
Or fat, by eating, once a month, a man. (I.v.90-93)
Here cannibalism and religious theft are shown to be inferior methods of sustenance than the cheating of precious goods from individuals. However the suggestion is that these activities are comparable in some way. The reference to the monthly eating of a man might also allude directly to the monthly receiving of the host and the sustenance many churchgoers believed this gave. 
The play seems to delight in mixing images of the sacred and the profane and does so by correlating and commingling the greed of mercenary individuals in consumer society with the more ritualistic images of eating as a form of personal renewal and restoration. Don K. Hendrick argues that "The topic of cannibalism illustrates in a crucial way the seriousness of the vices in Volpone. Jonson has shaped cannibalism into a sign for fundamental vice and we see that its horror is not derived from a threat to human life, but from the desire to sustain life indefinitely and infinitely and at any cost."  The cannibalistic connotations of the Eucharist are not the only sites of anxiety about the material form of the ritual. Reformers were also concerned with the blurring of boundaries and categories. As Sarah Beckwith suggests, "The host in Catholic terms was a 'meeting place of finite and infinite, of flesh and spirit, of the material and the immaterial, of the sacred and the profane in the destabilising hybridity, the intoxicating boundary-blurring ambiguity of Christ's body."  Such lability was a central anxiety for Reformers who found the blurring of bodily boundaries unsettling. It is Celia, whose name means heavenly, who becomes one of the central metaphors for the host's material liquidity. She is described as
The blazing star of Italy! A wench
O' the first year, a beauty, ripe as harvest!
Whose skin is whiter than a swan, all over!
Than silver, snow, or lillies! A soft lip,
Would tempt you to an eternity of kissing!
And flesh that melteth in the touch to blood!
Bright as your gold and lovely as your gold! (I.v.108-117)
Her heavenly name, the eternity of kissing she promises, her perfect whiteness, purity and her association with the harvest could all connect her both with the Virgin Mary and with the physical properties of the host. This speech blurs the boundaries between flesh and blood uniting them with gold, thereby suggesting a connection with Christ. Like both gold and the Eucharist Celia has transformative powers which are suggested by her ability to raise Volpone from his 'death bed' in a divine form of resurrection and restoration.
Mosca too is an incarnation of the host's transfiguring properties. He celebrates his ability to be able to be in two places at once:
But your fine, elegant rascal, that can rise,
And stoop, almost together, like an arrow;
Shoot through the air, as nimbly as a star;
Turn short, as doth a swallow; and be here,
And there, and here, and yonder, all at once;
Present to any humour, all occasion;
And change a visor, swifter than a thought! (III.i.23-29)
One of the key objections to the doctrine of transubstantiation by Reformers was that it broke the material laws of physics. It was not possible for an object to be in two places at once. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer reinforces this: "the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in heaven and not here: it being against the truth of Christ's natural body to be at one time in more places than one." Marie Axton suggests that this duplicate existence was the focus of an attack on transubstantiation in the Tudor play Jack Juggler. Jack Juggler is a trickster who impersonates a page Jenkin Careaway in order to discredit him with his master Boungrace. He is chastised for his double identity:
Why thou naughtye vyllayne darest thou affirm to me..
That one man may have two bodies and two faces
And that one man at one time may be in two placys? (784-7)
According to Marie Axton, Jack Juggler is "descended from the Latin tradition of mimus" or impersonator. She goes on to say that "the identification of juggler with a Vice in an interlude is made explicit by John Higins in 1585 where he makes the definition: 'mimus: a vice in a play, a jester, a juggler, or merrie conceited fellow.'" Like Jack Juggler Mosca too is a Protean shape shifter, a confidence trickster. This definition allies Mosca and Jack Juggler not only with the host's transformative nature but also with the figure who effects that transformation, the priest. The association of the trickster figure with Catholic priests has a long heritage in anti-Catholic polemic. According to Reformers "Protestant derogation of the mass as play made the priest a juggler";  the transubstantiation of the Eucharist could never really happen so priests were therefore actors and conjurors who pretended or cheated their audience in a form of make believe. As Keith Thomas points out, "What was transubstantiation but a spurious piece of legerdemain...the pretence of a power plainly magical, of changing the elements in such a sort as all the magicians of Pharaoh could never do, nor had the face to attempt the like, it being so beyond all credibility." . In Discourse Concerning the Sacrament of the Lordes Supper [c1550] Nicholas Udall attacks "the iugling sleytes of the Romish Babylon" and, as Axton suggests, maintains that "Christ is no iugler neither doth he mock or daly with our senses...such iugling castes as the adversaries would have here in the matter of the sacrament."  The anxiety about the possibility of material transformation becomes effaced and ameliorated when attackers resort to the more comforting accusation that such ritual is simply a performative act without material efficacy. Theatre, as Paul Whitfield White points out, had become "a metaphor to expose the hypocrisy, deceitfulness and spiritual emptiness of the wicked usually associated with Roman Catholicism."  As consummate actors Volpone and Mosca become "jugglers divine," priest-like figures able to trick their credulous congregation into a belief in the restorative properties of their divine elixir, gold. Alvin Kernan's description of Volpone as a "high priest of the new cult"  locates him within this interpretation but I would argue that Volpone is configured in this play as a priest not only of the new cult of money but as a priest of the old cult, Catholicism, and furthermore is associated particularly with that most demonised of all Catholic clergy in anti -Roman propaganda, the Jesuit. Although it could be argued that in the Epistle Jonson criticises those who force a reading of his play for particular purposes, paradoxically he appears to be commanding the reader to play particular attention when he instructs the reader "look into them." He goes on to be specific about his intentions when he asks "where have I been particular? Where personal , except to a mimic, cheater, bawd or buffoon, creatures (for their insolencies ) worthy to be taxed? Yet, to which of these so pointingly, as he might not, either ingeneously have confessed, or widely dissembled his disease." Although mimic, cheater, bawd or buffoon are terms which may be applied to characters in his play the terms also have more specific connotations. As I have shown mimic and cheater are synonymous with Catholic priests in the eyes of anti Papist attackers. Buffoon is a term for jester, mocker and juggler- descriptions which might be used to describe the priest at Mass. Finally bawd, as Jerzy Limon suggests, might also be one of the sexual insults aimed at so called corrupt clergy.  The end of this sentence also suggests that such targets of satire might be equivocal in their denial or confession of their heresy, the term confession or dissembling again specifically associated with the priesthood at a time when the authorities were torturing the "dissembling" Jesuit priest Garnet in order to extract a confession of his part in the Powder Plot.
Further evidence that Jonson is drawing attention to his protagonist as a Jesuit priest is his use of the bestiary fox figure. Many critics have noted the moral dimensions of this analogy. However few critics have acknowledged the specifically satirical anti-Catholic or anti-Jesuit nature of the fox fable. Robert E. Knoll extensively discusses the debt Jonson owes to various bestiaries, including the Physiologus of Alexandria, a book from the second century AD which had entered into popular culture in England and in Europe. He argues that Jonson had two 16th century books in his library which drew on this earlier work. He also discuss other Fox stories which were part of a common stock of beast tales, including Caxton's version of the History of Reynard the Fox, which was a translation from the French Roman de Renard. Knoll does note that the fox was synonymous with Catholic priests but argues that "though he was doubtless aware of the specific allegorical uses to which the fox stories had been put, Jonson's play is not allegorical". 
I would argue that although the whole play cannot be read as an allegory it is possible to read the fox figure in the play at a number of levels. On one we have the general association from Aesop of the fox as a wily and cunning trickster figure, taken a little further, and exploring other fox fables such as that of Reynard, we can begin to attribute aspects of cheating and dissembling more closely with the fox. The titles of some Tudor plays, such as Bale's Yet a Course at the Romishe Fox and The Hunting and fynding out of the Romishe Foxe, attributed to Turner, suggest that Protestant dramatists were able to synthesise the fox's cunning with the trickster figure of the priest to relocate the accumulated attributes of the traditional figure into a target of reformation attack. In particular such plays might focus on the priest's performance of ritual drawing on the representation of the fox as a symbol of false piety.
Kenneth Varty, whose work on the representation of the fox figure in mediaeval and Tudor England has informed much of this study, details the way in which the association of the fox with cheating, dissembling and thus the devil became linked to the representation of hypocrisy and false religion and then used by critics of the church to attack priests. He includes pictures of carvings in many churches which depict the fox disguised as a priest whose dissembling enables him to prey on the unwary congregation who have gathered to hear his sermon. That the congregation depicted is usually made up of various birds furthers an analogy between the tales and Jonson's play . Corvino, Corbaccio and Voltore, the birds of prey, are attracted to Volpone's lair which Bonario's describes as "this altar" (III.vii.271).
In the carvings the fox is also depicted with an assistant who helps him out with his rituals. This assistant is an ape and Varty details many of the instances of fox/ape alliances.  As Richard Dutton points out, Nano is an ape-like figure who has a particular role to play in the mountebank scene.  The appearance of Volpone, Mosca and Nano in this scene as charlatan doctors adds another layer of reference to the tales as Varty suggests that, as well as playing the role of a false and dissembling priest, the fox, like Volpone, also masqueraded as both a minstrel and a physician and the ape was often known as Zani. Thus the employment of commedia del'arte types in this scene reinforces the allusions to the Reynard tales and by association to anti- clerical imagery. Apes were often used as figures shown performing empty imitations of acts. Miri Rubin describes a "Mitred ape elevating the host" which is considered to be a symbol of "mock piety used to parody the ritual of the church."  The association of Volpone with a physician also reinforces his priest-like function as Scoto's oil has many of the rejuvenating properties of the Eucharist. It is youth-restoring and life-giving and the scene could almost be seen as a further parody of the mass. 
The depiction of dissembling priests in carvings and in beast tales have an anti-clerical rather than anti-Catholic aim, as many of them are pre-reformation . However I would like to argue that Jonson does not draw on this tradition simply in order to reinforce Volpone and Mosca as symbols of mock piety in an age where gold is the object of worship. I believe that there is a far more specific agenda which links the diabolical pair with that element of the clergy, the Jesuits. Arthur F. Marotti details the demonisation of Jesuits following the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada. He describes an "anti- Jesuit mythology" which "took deep root in British culture."  The Jesuit's frequent need to hide enables Baxter to compare the life of this member of the Society of Jesus to that of a fox in his A Toile for Two legged Foxes (1600 ): "Experience hath taughte us, that when it hath been a matter un-doubted that a Foxe priest hath been readie to say masse, and therefore his denne hath beene compassed, the terriers have winded him, and all his pretie-trinkets have been found prepared for so great a peece of work: yet in the end the foxe would not be found."  The necessary habits of recusants and their strategies to avoid persecution led them to be condemned for being deceptive and underhand and even demonic.  Varty suggests that the Physiologus notes that like the fox "so also is the devil crafty in his ways, He who would partake of flesh dies. To this flesh belong adultery, covetousness, lust and murder."  The association of the fox with the devil through shared vices is carried forward to cumulate in the portrayal of the Jesuit as a devilish, vicious and cunning character. This anti-Jesuit attitude is overtly manifest in such Protestant propaganda plays such as Thomas Middleton's A Game at Chesse. Jerzy Limon points out that the Jesuits are depicted here following a traditional Reformation association of Papists with the sins of sexual depravity, luxurious living, lechery and covetous of the wives of others. He describes how George Downame in 1603 compiles a catalogue of Jesuit faults giving a list of their "abominations against nature" and in 1624 James Wadsworth lists ten commandments of the Jesuits, with the tenth being "govern thy neighbour's wife."  It could be argued that Volpone commits each of the seven deadly sins; pride, covetness, sloth, envy, wrath, gluttony and lechery, throughout the course of the play. Consequently he can be seen as a corrupt priest who is seen to invert the teaching of the seven cardinal virtues by the illicit and secret practice of sinful living. Volpone's seduction of Celia also epitomises the action of the lecherous priest who, according to Marotti, is accused of seducing women "into the subterranean vaults of their houses for bacchanalian revels."  Volpone's relationship with Mosca and his "unnatural offspring," the Eunuch, the dwarf and the hermaphrodite, also locates Volpone within a traditional accusation of priests as sexually 'abnormal' such as that in Bale's Three Lawes where the Catholic clergy are depicted as sodomisers.  In the Epistle Jonson refers to "bawds" in the same context as mimics and cheaters.
- Mosca too becomes incorporated in to the corrupt Priesthood. His name Mosca, meaning flesh fly, links him with the parasitic and corrupt clergy and his association with Beelzebub Lord of the Flies links him too with the devil, a reference reinforced with the description of himself as able "to skip out of my skin, now, like a subtle snake" (III.i.4-5). Julian Yates describes a number of pejorative terms used to describe Jesuits such as "parasites, two-legged foxes, household enemies, locusts, venomous vipers, caterpillars and serpents in the bosome."  Mosca's dissembling subtlety leads Leo Salingar to describe him as "the mobile demon of equivocation."  Jesuits, in anti-Catholic polemic,
are the superpapist, the diabolical schemers, liars who justify their deceit with the doctrine of equivocation and mental reservation, the international vagrants threatening the modern nation state, the political subversives with access to the wealthy and powerful. They are also Protean disguisers, appearing 'now a Cobler, now a Preacher, now a Tinker, now a Courtier, now a Peasan [peasant or country fellow]; now a States-man, and what not', 'the only contrivers of all the mischiefs in the World.' 
Part of the anxiety about the Jesuit priest's abilities is his capacity for transformation. Not only is the Jesuit, according to polemic, "a chameleon," he also has the worrying ability to be able to change, transform or convert others. Those who ended up in a Jesuit seminary were, according to Thomas Bell, in danger of being "'transformed', 'Jesuitized ', or 'Jesuited,'"  just as Jonson was presumably "seduced" by Father Wright and then charged with such seduction himself. Jesuit priests then were associated with foxes, parasites, serpents and the devil. They were categorised as mimics, jugglers, tricksters and cheating charlatans, hypocritical actors and dissemblers whose doctrine of equivocation enabled them to dissemble the truth. Lecherous and sinful, they loved luxury and lived off their ill-gotten gains and, most dangerously, they were able to seduce others to their corrupt and deceptive ways.
This reading has argued that Jonson's portrayal of Volpone draws on a tradition of Anti-Catholic polemic to create a dramatisation of a group of cunning characters who feign honesty to make money and who attempt to seduce youth and innocence. This is not to say that this is the prime aim of the play, or what the play is about, but that contextual evidence gives such elements added resonance. Such a reading points to Jonson's deliberate and pragmatic detachment from Catholicism in a time when being a Catholic was very dangerous indeed.
However this is somewhat complicated by an alternative reading in which Volpone has been identified by a number of critics, particularly Alvin Kernan, as a figure for Jonson himself.  David Riggs has argued for a reading of Jonson as Scoto  and critics have pointed out that the association of the physician and the satirist is commonplace. The anti-clerical fox was, as I have shown, depicted as both a physician and a wandering minstrel.
The correlation between Volpone and Jonson is furthered by contemporary references to Jonson as "our Fox of a poet"  which, while it may be a descriptive term for the composer of a famous and popular play, provides a more sinister link between Jonson and the Catholic powder plot. William Slights notes the connections between the name Fawkes and Fox,  and Fawkes himself used the pseudonym Johnson, creating an interesting parallel. In addition to a political reading of the characters of the plays the Venice setting could be seen as significant, as Richard Dutton points out: "Venice was the middle ground in the struggle between Protestants and Catholics in the Counter Reformation."  It was to the Ambassador for Venice that Jonson went in search of a priest on instructions of the Privy Council following the Gunpowder plot.
B. de Luna makes an interesting reading of Jonson's words in his letter reporting his failure to find this priest to Salisbury. In her detailed discussion of Catiline as a complex allusion to the Gunpowder Plot she argues persuasively that Jonson himself was actually a priest or was at least suspected of being so. She argues that his answer "For myself if I had bene a priest. I would have put on wings to such Occasion .." (her emphasis) suggests that he had at least been accused of such.  The charges against Jonson which accused him of being "by fame a seducer of youth to the popish religion" might support this. However in the Epistle Jonson links the function of the poet with that of the priest when he describes himself as being "a teacher of things divine no less than human."
For a final connection between Jonson and Volpone I would like to turn to the ending of the play, which is called by Volpone himself "mortifying of a fox" (V.xii.125). Apart from meaning to kill, to be insensible and to hang, as in game before eating, mortification has a religious term which means rejecting flesh and the devil in a form of abstinence. This form of mortification follows confession and is a kind of penance in which the passions and appetites are subjected. This is true of Volpone but also true of Jonson who might consider himself to be mortified in his own submission. In his letters from prison Jonson admits a sense of contrition. To Salisbury he protests that he has changed his approach to play writing: "I have so attempred my style, that I have given no cause to any good Man of Grace" (H&S I 195), to Montgomerie he offers with humility, "[I]f the future services of a man so removed to you and low in Merit, may aspire any place in your Thoughts, let it lie upon the forfeiture of my humanity, if I omit the least occasion to express them" (H&S I 199) and finally again to Salisbury he ends by stating that "freeing us from one prison, you shall remove us to another, which is eternally to bind us and our Muses, to the thankful honouring of you and yours to Posterity" (H&S I 196). Jonson thus escapes Volpone's punishment, "to lie in prison, cramped with irons,/ Until thou be'st sick and lame" (V.xi.123-4). This punishment is also depicted in some church carvings where the fox is "stripped of his religious garb, footcuffed and transferred to the stocks"  and is a chilling echo of the punishment of those plotters who, unlike Jonson, were unable to convince the state of their innocence. The avocatore's warning, "Mischeefs feed/ Like beasts, till they be fat and then they bleed" (V.xi.150/152) might serve to reinforce the threat to any potential plotters. The term Mischeef was applied to the Gunpowder Plot and Jonson's letter to Cecil on the 8th November refers to the plot as "this present mischeefe" (H&S I 202) . The plot was also known after in a popular rhyme which focused particularly on the Jesuit Priest Garnet as "Mischeefes Mysterie...The Powder Plot."  Jonson comments on the over-harsh punishment in the Epistle where he argues that it is "the office of a comic-Poet to imitate justice and instruct to life." In his play the fox priest's punishment imitates the praemunire of all recusants whose "substance all be straight confiscate" (V.xii.119). In his imitation of justice in the play Jonson echoes the punishment inflicted on recusants, a punishment he had felt some measure of himself. It could be argued though, that in binding himself to Salisbury, he had escaped one prison only to incarcerate himself in a prison of compromise and submission.
Volpone/Jonson has the last word in the epilogue where he states that he has been punished by the laws and asks for forgiveness, the final stage of the sacrament of penance. Jonson might here be alerting both audience and authority to his full contrition. However Jonson, like his trickster figures, could be seen as the "mobile demon of equivocation." Here the portrayal of himself as a fox has one final connotation. It is often the wolf which is associated with corrupt clergy, as in Milton's Lycidas; Volpone is described by Mosca as "wolfish" (V:12.). However Brennan argues that while the wolf was a symbol of corrupt clergy the fox became a figure for a clergyman who might outwardly conform to Anglican practice while secretly worshipping as a Catholic.  Antonia Fraser describes the life of "church Papists" who were described as "Papists which can keep their consciences to themselves" and who, like the foxy clerics, had to be seen to attend the Anglican Church of England services while privately keeping with the Old Faith.  In 1606, possibly in May, Thomas Dekker produced a pamphlet entitlted A Papist at Armes; de Luna argues that a verse entitled "A Papist Passant, or The Plodder" almost certainly alludes to Jonson:
A Papist passant is of other cullor,
For hees not nice to let his zeale be showne,
And that his works may make his glory fuller,
Through echoing Mouths (like trumpets) are they blown:
He keeps the laws & twice a yeere is known
To sit it'h [sic] Church: why? For Religion! No:
But that growing safe, he may be let to grow,
Hee texts will cite, and wrest: to Church and State
Heele give by-blowes, but sure to give no bruize;
And of the Kings proceedings wildly prate,
But warily, that none shall him accuse;
Or (if he fall ith Snare) he will abuse
Even his own Conscience to get forth: forsweare
The Pope; his coate heele change 12. Times a yeere. 
De Luna details the many references to Jonson within this verse. Such references, to his self preservation, his flattery of the King in epigrams, his allusion to other texts and, I would argue, his abusing of his own conscience in Volpone, where he might be seen to "forsweare the Pope," all confirm Jonson's ambiguous role in State affairs. Of particular interest here is the reference to Jonson's churchgoing. As DeLuna points out "though Jonson did not officially leave the Roman Catholic Church until 1610, he 'conformed himself' in the intervening years by attending Anglican services at least twice a year to avoid the stiff fines penalizing recusancy."  In other words, he was a Church Papist. Jonson's final conversion is an uncanny echo of Volpone's drinking the sacramental wine at the beginning of act V: "in token of true reconciliation he drank out the full cup of wine" (H&S I 141).
I have suggested two alternative readings here; one which sees Jonson as an anti-Catholic propagandist attacking the rites of the Roman church and the corrupt clergy who were represented as chameleon equivocators full of sin, greed, pride and lust; and a second, more convincing, but complex reading in which Jonson himself is equated with the energetic and vital trickster who is set to meet a harsh end in the stocks but ends by asking the audience to set him free. The serious charges against Jonson were "stayed at seal." Both Herford and Donaldson speculate that "some powerful influence ...may have intervened" on Jonson's behalf (H&S I 43). Donaldson suggests that it may have been his patron D'Aubigny.  Whoever set Jonson free from threat of punishment even death, released him from the dangerous accusations of recusancy which this paper has argued informs the production of a complex and equivocal play in which the trickster fox is both punished and forgiven.
1. C.H. Herford and Evelyn Simpson, Ben Jonson. 11 vols. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1925-52, I, 217. All my quotations from Jonson are taken from this edition and henceforward reference will be given in the text.
2. It might even be argued that the Hinchenbrook incident of the portrayal of a dog with the host in its mouth could be a fox.
3. Cited in in E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1923), IV, 264-5.
4. Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984), 119.
5. Richard Dutton, Mastering the Revels:The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama (Basingstoke: Macmillan,1991), 77-8.
6. Ian Donaldson, Jonson's Magic Houses:Essays in Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997), 55.
7. See Richard Dutton, Ben Jonson to the First Folio (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 1983, 143-55, and B. De Luna, Jonson's Romish Plot (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), 113-25.
8. This is a point which was crucial in the Oath of Allegiance controversy (see Donna Hamilton, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England [Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1992], 115).
9. Frances Teague, "Jonson and the Gunpowder Plot," Ben Jonson Journal 5 (1998), 249-252, 250.
10. Donaldson, Jonson's Magic Houses, 64.
11. B. De Luna argues that the high ranking status of these tutors for a playwright suggests that rejection of the Catholic ceremony in favour of the less ritualistic Anglican one might prove a public example of the true path (Jonson's Romish Plot, 135).
12. Dutton, To the First Folio, 139-147.
13. A 1968 production by Tyrone Guthrie emphasised the sacramental ritual of this scene by having Volpone act out a "malicious parody of the mass."
14. Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven: Yale UP, 1994), 390, 568.
15. Cited in Louis Montrose, "The purpose of playing: reflections on Shakespearean anthropology," Helios 7 (1980), 51-7.
16. Phillip Brockbank notes that the Quarto edition is without stage directions although the Folio has twenty nine. He suggests that Jonson approved these latter (Philip Brockbank, ed., Volpone [London : Ernest Benn, 1988], introduction, xxxv). However speculation about stage business can only remain conjectural.
17. Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, 111.
18. Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, 125.
19. The issue of transubstantiation had exercised scholars since the 11th Century. See Sarah Beckwith, Christ's Body: Identity Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings (London: Routledge, 1993).
20. I am grateful to Dr Pamela King for pointing this out at the conference on "Lancastrian Shakespeare" held at Lancaster University in July 1999.
21. Edward B. Partridge, The Broken Compass (New York: Columbia UP, 1958), 72-6; Alvin Kernan, The Cankered Muse: Satire of the English Renaissance (New Haven: Yale UP, 1959), 1-6; L. C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (London: Chatto, 1937), 202; John S. Weld, "Christian Comedy: Volpone," Studies in Philology 51 (1954), 172-193, 173; John Creaser, "Volpone: The Mortifying of the Fox," Essays in Criticism 25 (1975) 329-56, 333.
22. Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, 274.
23. Paul Whitfield White, "Theatre and Religious Culture," in John D. Cox, ed., A New History of Early English Drama (New York: Columbia UP, 1997), 136.
24. Lollard proceedings against William and Richard Sparke held in Bishop Chedworth's register at Lincoln 1457. Reproduced in Lincoln Diocese Documents 1450-1544, ed. Andrew Clark, Early English Text Society no. 49 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1914) 91-3; cited in Sarah Beckwith, "Ritual Church and Theatre: Medieval Dramas of the Sacramental Body," in David Aers, ed., Culture and History 1350-1600 (Brighton: Harvester,1992), 69.
25. Beckwith, "Ritual," 69.
26. Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991), 359.
27. Partridge notes that cannibalism in this play can be associated with a "parody of the communion," citing several instances in the play when Volpone makes a meal of gold and other precious objects (Partridge, Broken Compass, 106). Harold Skulsky also makes very detailed analysis of the cannibalism motif in "Cannibals vs. Demons in Volpone," Studies in English Literature 29:2 (1989), 291-308.
28. Keith Thomas, Religion and the decline of Magic (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), 30.
29. Don K. Hendrick, "Cooking for the Anthropopogi; Jonson and his audience," Studies in Engligh Literature 17 (1977), 233-45, 238.
30. Beckwith, Christ's Body, 25.
31. Marie Axton, Three Tudor Classical Interludes (Cambridge: Brewer, 1982), 19.
32. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 60.
33. Axton, Three Tudor, 19.
34. Whitfield White, "Theatre and Religious Culture," 139.
35. Kernan, Cankered Muse, 1.
36. Jerzy Limon, Dangerous Matter: English Drama and Politics in 1623/4 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986), 114.
37. Robert E. Knoll, Ben Jonson's Plays: An Introduction (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1964), 95.
38. Kenneth Varty, Reynard the Fox (Leicester: Leicester UP 1965), 65, 66.
39. Dutton, To the First Folio 148-9.
40. Rubin, Corpus Christi, 346.
41. Keith Thomas describes how the host was often seen to have miraculous properties leading to people keeping it on hand as a form of charm or medicine (Religion and the Decline of Magic, 37-9). This was discouraged by the church but there are many details of the host being used in this way.
42. Arthur F. Marotti, ed., Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism in Early Modern English Texts (Basingstoke: Macmillan,1999), 11.
43. Julian Yates, "Parasitic Geographies: Manifesting Catholic Identity in Early Modern England," in Marotti, Catholicism, 68.
44. Yamada Yukimo suggests that "the fox is a synonym for cheater but also for the devil" (Volpone and The Devil is an Ass: Damnation and Salvation through Metamorphosis," Studies in English Literature 58:2 (December, 1981), 195- 211, 195.
45. Varty, Reynard the Fox, 91.
46. Limon, Dangerous Matter, 114-28.
47. Marotti, Catholicism, 19.
48. Whitfield White, "Theatre and Religious Culture," 141.
49. Yates, "Parasitic Geographies," 68.
50. Leo Salingar, "Comic Form in Ben Jonson: Volpone and the Philosopher's Stone," in Marie Axton and Raymond Williams, English Drama: Form and Development (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1977), 63.
51. "An Account of the Jesuit's Life and Doctrine" (1661), sigA4. Cited in Marotti, Catholicism, 12.
52. Thomas Bell, The Anatomie of Poperie (London, 1603). Cited in Yates, "Parasitic Geographies," 67.
53. See especially Kernan, The Cankered Muse.
54. David Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard UP, 1989), 137.
55. De Luna, Jonson's Romish Plot, 88.
56. William E. Slights, "The Play of Conspiracies in Volpone," in Harold Bloom, ed., Ben Jonson's Volpone, or the Fox (New Haven:Chelsea House, 1988), 115.
57. Dutton, To the First Folio, 150.
58. De Luna, Jonson's Romish Plot, 137.
59. Varty, Reynard the Fox, 82.
60. Cited in Antonia Fraser, Faith and Treason: The Story of The Gunpowder Plot (New York: Doubleday, 1996),133.
61. Michael Brennan, "Foxes and Wolves in Elizabethan Episcopal Propaganda," Cahiers Elisabéthains 29 (1986), 83-86, 84.
62. Fraser, Faith and Treason, 26.
63. A Papist at Armes (1606); cited in de Luna, Jonson's Romish Plot, 84-5.
64. De Luna, Jonson's Romish Plot, 87.
65. Donaldson, Magic Houses, 63.
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© 2000-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).