Goodman Volpone

Henry Goodman lives up to his name by delivering an exceptional performance in the title role of Trevor Nunn’s RSC production of Volpone. Indeed, he is so good he risks slightly unbalancing the production: Mosca’s (Orion Lee’s) coldly calculated betrayal of Volpone is quietly impressive, but, in the main his is a functional performance, unable to match the virtuoso. Annette McLaughlin’s hilarious Lady Politic-Would Be deserves a special mention –  as does her accompanying twitter account  – but this is, ultimately, Volpone’s show. Perhaps accordingly, the production is somewhat lighter in tone than might have been expected: it’s hard to separate affection for the actor from affection for the character and so this Volpone effectively wins out at the end of the production, in a manner which might recall the twist ending of con artist movies like The Sting. Volpone is punished, of course, but he doesn’t seem too troubled by his sentence and it’s notable, too, that the production text (edited and modernised by Ranjit Bolt) makes Mosca’s punishment less severe. Minutes after the punishments have been issued, Volpone re-emerges for his epilogue and laps up the audience adulation. In his final lines ‘If there be, censure him; here he doubtful stands/If not, fare jovially and clap your hands’ Goodman pronounced ‘fare jovially’ in the Italian accent he had earlier used in his wonderfully rambling performance as Scoto of Mantua, and ‘clap your hands’ in the cockney accent used in his later disguise as the Guard. Goodman’s performances, and the delight he took in them, were celebrated above and beyond anything else. Rightly so, he was wonderful.

The seasoning of a play, is the applause.

Now, though the Fox be punish’d by the laws,

He yet doth hope, there is no suffering due,

For any fact which he hath done ‘gainst you;

If there be, censure him; here he doubtful stands:

If not, fare jovially, and clap your hands.

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4 thoughts on “Goodman Volpone

  1. Why should Jonson’s text be ‘edited and modernised’ by anybody? Cuts are one thing but alterations to the text, and insertions of extraneous material, are quite another. If you went to a Prom expecting to hear a Mozart symphony and were told that some pages of the score had been replaced with the work of a contemporary composer, you would be outraged. Why should drama be any different?

    1. They certainly shouldn’t be mandatory and I’m very happy to see an unmodernised production, but I don’t have a fundamental objection to the idea that they be altered in some way. Any modern production of any play from this period is going to be changed to some degree or other and that is inevitable – for one, we often have multiple texts of any given play: how do we know which one deserves priority? Theatre producers make many minor cuts too, often they go unnoticed and I’ve no objection to that either.

      The issue of modernisation is perhaps different. I don’t like the idea that these plays need to be modernised and I’m especially suspicious of the idea that non-Shakespearean Renaissance plays need modernisation. I don’t like the implication that they are less able than Shakespeare plays to connect with a modern audience. That said, I don’t object to modernisation of Shakespeare: I might disagree with local choices, but the concept, to me, is fine. These are plays that have been adapted for almost as long as they’ve existed and there is excitement and creativity in the art of adaptation. I’m in favour of a mixed approach and happy to see non-adapted (if such a thing can really happen) as well as lightly and heavily adapted Shakespeare shows. If I’m happy for that with Shakespeare, why not Jonson? I guess the danger is that people might think the modernisation was necessary and that is unfortunate, but it’s not a reason *not* to adapt.

      That’s my opinion, of course. Some people will have objected to the changes made in Volpone, others will have celebrated them. As it happens, I don’t think they all worked and didn’t mean to praise the modernisation, as such, merely to comment on its existence.

      EDITED: Sorry, Paul, I shouldn’t have mentioned edits, because, as you mention, they aren’t really an issue. I stand by my comments on modernisation though!

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