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The names of many of the characters of Volpone are taken from Florio’s Italian Dictionary A Worlde of Words which was published in 1598. These provide important clues for the audience. Volpone, for example, was defined as ‘an old fox, an old reinard, an old craftie, slie, subtle companion, sneaking, lurking wily deceiver’. From his entrance in the first scene the audience is made aware that the dominating passion or ‘humour’ of Volpone is greed: his character is clearly revealed in the opening speech of the play. Jonson’s characterisation is not to be faulted: psychology is familiar with people suffering from an idée fixe or an obsession. As Edmund Wilson has pointed out, the characters of both Volpone and his creator Ben Jonson fit comfortably into Freudian theory as anal erotic types. ‘Such people, according to Freud, have an impulse to collect and accumulate …’ But we do not need to psychoanalyse either Ben Jonson or Volpone to realise that the basic impulse of the play’s central character is pathological.
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