Victor Frankenstein may be the leading character in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but a hero he is not. He is self-centered and loveless, and there is nothing heroic about him. There is a scene in Chapter twenty-four where Captain Walton is confronted by his crew to turn southwards and return home should the ice break apart and allow them the way. Frankenstein rouses himself and finds the strength to argue to the Captain that they should continue northwards, or suffer returning home “with the stigma of disgrace marked on your brows.” He quite obviously has alterior motives and if he were not the eloquent, manipulative creature he so egotistically accuses his creature of being, he might not have moved the Captain and the men so much that they are blind to the true source of his passion. Unfortunately for Frankenstein, the crew, (however “moved”) stand firm in their position. Yet the things he says in his motivational speech are prime examples of the extent to which Frankenstein is blind to his own faults and yet will jump at the chance to harangue others. He is so self-centered that his lack of interaction and love for others after his experiment has been completed, would barely qualify him as a person, if the difference between being human and being a person lies in the ability to have relationships with others.
One week later Frankenstein, maybe in an attempt to strum Walton’s heartstrings by seeming the virtuous sufferer his melodramatic presence might falsely suggest him to be, declares, “When actuated by selfish and vicious motives, I asked you to underatake my unfinished work…,” and then, “Yet I cannot ask you to renounce your country and friends to fulfil this task.” It is as if he is some sort of premature proponent of reverse psychology. It seems a bit of a stretch to interpret his indecisive nature at this moment as an illumination of the conflict brewing deep within, when you consider that he has never truly demonstrated genuine concern for anyone close to him, let alone a man he only just met and befriended to further his cause. He says, “…and I renew this request now, when I am only induced by reason and virtue,” and then almost in the same dying breath, “I dare not ask you to do what I think right, for I may still be misled by passion.
Volpone was first brought out at the Globe Theatre in 1605 and printed in quarto in 1607,
Volpone was first brought out at the Globe Theatre in 1605 and printed in quarto in 1607, after having been acted with great applause at both Universities, and was republished by Jonson in 1616 without alterations or additions. Volpone is undoubtedly the finest comedy in the English language outside the works of Shakespeare. Daring and forcible in conception, brilliant and faultless in execution, its extraordinary merits have excited the enthusiasm of all critics. The great French historian of English literature, Henri Taine, has devoted to it some of the most splendid pages of his famous work. “Volpone,” he exclaims,
œuvre sublime, la plus vive peinture des mœurs du siècle, où s’étale la pleine beauté des convoitises méchantes, où la luxure, la cruauté, l’amour de l’or, l’impudeur de vice, déploient une poesie sinistre et splendide, digne d’une bacchanale du Titien.
In none other of his plays, not even in The Alchemist, in Bartholomew Fair, or in The Silent Woman, is Ben Jonson’s prodigious intellect and ardent satirical genius so perfectly revealed as in Volpone. The whole of Juvenal’s satires are not more full of scorn and indignation than this one play, and the portraits which the Latin poet has given us of the letchers, dotards, pimps and parasites of Rome, are not drawn with a more passionate virulence than the English dramatist has displayed in the portrayal of the Venetian magnifico, his creatures and his gulls. Like Le Misanthrope, Le Festin de Pierre, like L’Avare, Volpone might more fitly be styled a tragedy, for the pitiless unmasking of the fox at the conclusion of the play is terrible rather than sufficient. Volpone is a splendid sinner and compels our admiration by the fineness and very excess of his wickedness. We are scarcely shocked by his lust, so magnificent is the vehemence of his passion, and we marvel and are aghast rather than disgusted at his cunning and audacity. As Mr. Swinburne observes, “there is something throughout of the lion as well as the fox in this original and incomparable figure.”
Volpone’s capacity for pleasure is even greater than his capacity for crime, and Ben Jonson has added to these two salient characteristics a third, which is equally dominant in the Italian—the passion for the theatre. Disguise, costume, and the attitude have an irresistible attraction for him, the blood of the mime is in his veins.