For my tutorial this week I wrote a paper on inheritance and legacy in Ben Jonson’s play Volpone, which is basically about a greedy guy called Volpone (Italian for “sly fox”) who takes advantage of other greedy guys by pretending to be on his death bed, accepting gifts from those hopeful to be written into his will. Writing my paper felt like a blog post on minimalism (with slightly more academic and slightly less conversational phrases)!
In conjunction with the play I read Isabella Whitney’s poem Will and Testament, a highly entertaining satire of the detailed lists of random stuff people leave behind. She chooses to leave behind things like the buildings in London and her portion of meat from the butcher’s shop every day. A recommended read for a minimalist chuckle.
The characters in Volpone seem to do nothing but chase after money and status, neglecting and even sacrificing their friends and loved ones. Their focus on obtaining stuff dominates their lives to the extent that they cannot be identified in any other way.
Don’t be a one-dimensional medieval man. Think about the value of stuff and the value of things like the literature that makes us think about the value of stuff.
Robert Herrick puts it best in his Lyric for Legacies:
GOLD I’ve none, for use or show,
Neither silver to bestow
At my death ; but this much know,
That each lyric here shall be
Of my love a legacy,
Left to all posterity.
Gentle friends, then do but please
To accept such coins as these
As my last remembrances.