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Volpone and Beast Fable: Early Modern Analogic Reading

Richard Dutton
Huntington Library Quarterly
Vol. 67, No. 3 (September 2004), pp. 347-370
DOI: 10.1525/hlq.2004.67.3.347
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/hlq.2004.67.3.347
Page Count: 24
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<em>Volpone</em> and Beast Fable: Early Modern Analogic Reading


Abstract In “Volpone and Beast Fable: Early Modern Analogic Reading,” Richard Dutton considers the political register of Volpone, generally underestimated in criticism of the play, in relation to its use of beast fable. Other studies have acknowledged that the play's debt to “fox lore” encompasses may kinds of sources, such as bestiaries and emblem books, as well as the non-classical beast epic Reynard the Fox (translated by Caxton in 1481); in arguing for a more pointed political register in Volpone, Dutton acknowledges a pervasive rather than a direct reliance on a variety of sources but points to the importance of an overriding connection between beast fable and the tradition of political satire. He furthermore suggests that two examples would have been especially relevant for analogically minded contemporary readers: Spenser's Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale (“called in” in 1591); and Thomas North's translation of Anton Francesco Doni's Moral Philosophy, published in 1570 and reissued in 1601. The first is relevant not only because of its run-in with the censors over criticism of the Cecils but because of its preoccupation with disguise and personation. North's translation of Doni's beast-tales—dedicated to the Earl of Leicester—would have provided a “template” of trust, loyalty, and deceit in the political context, one that would have evoked the Cecils once again, in a way that was deniable but entirely open to view.

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