Maurice Tourneur’s French screen version of Volpone,1 the best film adaptation of Jonson’s satiric comedy,2 was released in Paris in 1941 and reached the United States in 1947, at a time of social, ideological and economic change. A detailed analysis of the film’s paratext, which includes press reviews, interviews and a sophisticated advertising campaign throughout the United States between 1947 and 1949, yields valuable information on the changing nature of the targeted audience. Analysis of the socio-political and economic context casts light on the positive reception of Tourneur’s Volpone, an icon of French refinement that perfectly met the demands of American audiences for cultural capital in the prosperous aftermath of World War II.

The fact that the source text is an early seventeenth-century English comedy, transposed into the film medium by a twentieth-century French screenwriter and film director, and shown in a subtitled version all over the United States during the late 1940s, speaks of the key role played by adaptations as a means of ensuring the afterlife of classical texts.3 Well aware that texts are heavily dependent on their contexts of production and reception,4 I have paid special attention to the circumstances that surrounded the production and reception of Ben Jonson’s initial hypotext5 in 1606. For the same reason, I have looked into the different contexts that may have affected the play’s successive hypertextual transformations over a period of three hundred and fifty years.6

In order to offer an informed assessment of Tourneur’s film version, I have identified the most outstanding features of its previous hypotexts, especially Stefan Zweig’s 1926 German stage adaptation of the play7 and [End Page 109] Jules Romains’ 1928 French adaptation of Zweig’s version.8 Taking into account that Romains was also the screenwriter of Tourneur’s film version of the play, special attention has been paid to the specificities of the film medium9 in terms of length, plot and character portrayal to account for the differences between both adaptations. Finally, as Tourneur’s French film was shown with English subtitles in the United States, the most relevant changes it underwent before its American release have been pointed out.

The political, ideological and commercial contexts of production and re-production have been addressed in all cases, especially when dealing with the film’s reception in the United States. The rich archival evidence I have gathered on the film’s distribution and reception has confirmed to what extent the text is dependent on its context of reception.10 These circumstances are particularly relevant when analyzing a text with a high satirical content, as both individuals and institutions are likely to take offence at it. This is why, for example, both Zweig and Romains, while retaining Jonson’s denunciation of greed and lust in their respective versions, adapted them to their target audiences.11 These versions, moreover, explored the issue of xenophobia in a way that suited the personal tastes of their adaptors: sarcastic in the case of Zweig—himself a Jew—and more subtle in that of Romains. Attention to their reception history reveals that some texts were performed with few changes, whereas others were subjected to substantial pruning before being staged and/or shown. The first case applies to Zweig’s theatrical adaptation as performed in Germany in the late twenties, where, according to the reviews of contemporary newspapers, audiences did not find fault with any aspect of the play. The situation had been different in Austria, where Zweig’s adaptation was first performed on 6 November 1926. On that occasion, most reviews of the performances that took place in Vienna’s Burgtheater highlighted the play’s salaciousness,12 in spite of the systematic deletions that the promptbook evidences.

The situation was reversed in the case of Romains’ stage adaptation, as no reviews of the 1928 performances at the Parisian Atelier13 condemned the text’s ribaldry, even though Romains’ adaptation of Zweig’s version did not remove a single word that could be deemed immoral. Romains was clearly aware of the high tolerance of French audiences towards lewdness, as well as of their reduced tolerance of violence. That is why [End Page 110] he substantially reduced the numerous instances of violence Zweig had included in his adaptation, which, neither German nor Austrian audiences, had objected to.

Romains’ film version of the play was as suited to the tastes and sensibilities of his audience as his stage version had been a few years before, and aptly circumvented the restrictions of religious and political censorship. That is why, when released in Paris in 1941, neither the Central Catholique nor the Propagandaabteilung, found fault with any of the issues it addressed.

When, in late 1947, the political and commercial situation in the United States favored the importation of foreign motion pictures, the Distribution Company, Siritzky International, adapted the French film for American audiences. Their subtitled version carefully omitted those immoral or profane elements the Catholic League of Decency might deem offensive, in spite of which the film received a negative rating, which, however, did not prevent them from exhibiting the film throughout the United States over a period of fifteen months.14 What is more, that negative rating was taken advantage of as part of a carefully designed advertising campaign that addressed the changing interests of their target audience,15 an increasingly sophisticated group who were less squeamish about morals and, above all, longed for quality products, such as carefully produced French films.16 It is on this period of fifteen months that the present article focusses to illustrate the American reception of Volpone’s best film adaptation. The research I have undertaken shows that the timing was perfect for the adaptation to succeed, as the commercial situation had directly affected the degree of tolerance on the part of censors, which, in turn, had increased the demand for complex and demanding quality products on the part of audiences.

This article tries to fill an important gap in the analysis of the performance history of Jonson’s Volpone, an approach that, according to James Loxley, is “the most obviously ‘living’ criticism of Jonson.”17 The analysis here undertaken has made clear that scriptwriters and directors have seldom ignored their audiences’ Erwartungshorizon,18 but have consistently shown an awareness of their social, ideological and political background. For a proper assessment of the extent to which this has taken place, special attention has been paid to the play’s paratext—Genette’s [End Page 111] second type of transtextuality—19 that includes, not only the authorial prefaces, dedicatory epistles and epilogues, but also the reviews, press notes, theatre programs, advertisements and publicity campaigns of each production.

As I have had the chance of realizing while mapping the reception history of Volpone, all this paratextual evidence relates to a specific ideological, cultural, political and, not least, commercial context, which, though extremely relevant, has seldom received the attention it undoubtedly deserves. On this point, I side with Laurie Osborne,20 Jerome McGann,21 Barbara Hodgdon,22 Linda Hutcheon23 and Herbert Coursen,24 when they highlight the need to pay fuller attention to the performance’s paratext, and, particularly, with Peter Holland’s25 sound emphasis on the relevance of the material circumstances of a work’s context of production and reception.

The pages that follow address the play’s different contexts of production and reception and provide an overview of Volpone’s stage history from its first performance in 1606 to the American reception of Tourneur’s film version in the late 1940s.

Ben Jonson’s Volpone, or The Fox (1606–1788)

As Patterson,26 Dutton,27 and Clegg,28 among others, have convincingly argued, censorship regulations were loosely applied in the age of Jonson, a fact that must have favored theatrical experimentation during what has come to be known as the golden age of English drama.

The scarcity of written evidence of the activity carried out by the Masters of the Revels—the official censors—during the Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline periods opens up different possibilities as to their behavior on specific occasions. However, Ben Jonson’s experience with theatrical censorship speaks of the distance between the penalty a playwright could expect for exceeding the limits of what was politically and morally acceptable, and what actually happened if he did so. On two occasions at least did Jonson’s plays cause serious offence to the authorities, in spite of which his punishment did not go beyond two brief periods of imprisonment. This happened in 1597 and 1605, the years when The Isle of Dogs and Eastward Ho! were respectively staged. On both occasions, Jonson collaborated with other playwrights: Thomas Nashe in the first [End Page 112] case, and George Chapman and John Marston in the second. Both plays indirectly alluded to issues of public concern: Queen Elizabeth’s refusal to nominate a successor, in the first play, and the arrival of a large number of Scots looking for advancement at the court of James I, in the second. Although severe measures were announced on both occasions, they never materialized: neither were the playhouses in London demolished in 1597, nor did the authors of Eastward Ho! suffer bodily mutilation in 1605.

On other occasions, Jonson completely escaped punishment. This was the case with his play Sejanus in 1604. Although the parallels between its corrupt royal favorite and those in the court of James I could be easily drawn by censor and audiences alike, the Master of the Revels chose to ignore them and licensed the play for performance, probably taking advantage of the play’s distant setting.

This tolerant attitude towards potentially offensive plays was the norm rather than the exception during the Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline periods, as the performance of the successive Masters of the Revels evidences. Edmond Tilney (1581–1610), Sir George Buc (1610– 1621) and Henry Herbert (1623–1642) succeeded in supervising the increasing theatrical activity in London, which was closely dependent on the monarchy and the aristocracy, as they were the patrons of the acting companies licensed to perform in London. This circumstance, and the fact that the Masters of the Revels received a fee for each play they licensed for performance, may help understand to what extent they tried to cater for both ideological and commercial interests simultaneously. The competition for performance rights between Pembroke’s Men and the Admiral’s Men when the Isle of Dogs was put on stage may account for the severe reaction the authorities showed on that occasion. Similarly, the fact that Eastward Ho! was performed without a license may explain why its authors were threatened with mutilation, something that didn’t happen when Sejanus was staged, in spite of the serious offence its subject matter might have caused to the king himself. This time Jonson complied with the regulations, as he submitted the script for approval and rewrote the parts the censor found in need of improvement, after which the Master of the Revels signed and sealed the licensed copy.

At the time Sejanus was staged, a number of important changes were taking place in the theatrical sphere, which increased the monarchy’s control over the companies that were acting in the London theatres. They [End Page 113] ceased being under the protection of noblemen and came under the direct control of the different members of the royal family. As the companies’ patrons had direct commercial interest in what actors performed, it is not difficult to conclude that they followed the court’s standards regarding what was ideologically and morally correct. A look at a number of plays from the period reveals that these standards were broad, as strict limits were only set to openly seditious matter or potentially riotous scenes. On most occasions, censors seem to have been happy with a thinly veiled presentation of dangerous matter. When closely looking into Jonson’s dedicatory Epistle to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (1607), one gets the impression that authors often went beyond the subtle disguise of improper contents and indirectly invited readers to uncover what lay behind the play’s innocent surface. Similarly, the attractive nature of Volpone’s rascals makes the play’s avowed didactic nature suspect, a fact that did not interfere with its success, until the outbreak of the Civil War brought about the closing of the theatres.

Jonson’s satiric comedy on greed and lust was first performed at the Globe in March 1606, and, later that year, before the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Before proceeding further, I am offering a detailed summary of the plot, as I will later discuss significant revisions in different adaptations. Volpone consists of two plots, which revolve around the idea of intelligent and imitative vice. The first type of vice affects the Venetian characters in the play, whereas the second kind is typical of the English visitors to Venice. The characters in the first group are resourceful and witty, whereas the characters in the second group are vulgar and dull, in spite of which they think very high of themselves. They all have symbolic names, which, in all cases, point to their most outstanding quality. Volpone, the leading role, is as cunning as a fox, whereas Voltore, Corbaccio and Corvino crave his fortune in the same way as the birds of prey search for carrion. Volpone’s parasite—Mosca—draws new clients to Volpone’s house by spreading the rumor that the Venetian magnifico is seriously ill. As Volpone has not named an heir yet, this fly attracts the greedy birds to the dying fox’s house by making them entertain the hope of inheriting the rich man’s fortune. They compete with each for Volpone’s money by offering him costly presents. Corbaccio goes as far as [End Page 114] to disinherit his only son—Bonario—in favor of Volpone, as a means of proving the extent of his love for the dying man. Corvino, in turn, offers his young and beautiful wife—Celia—to provide the dying man with the warmth and comfort the doctors have presumably recommended for his recovery. On hearing about Celia’s beauty—and her husband’s extreme jealousy—Volpone strikes upon the idea of approaching her window disguised as a mountebank. He is instantly attracted to her, and asks Mosca to find a way for him to have her. When Corvino brings Volpone his wife, the announced recovery immediately takes place, and the lively fox tries to seduce heavenly Celia. As the lady’s unassailable virtue does not give way, he tries to rape her, but is timely prevented from doing so by Corbaccio’s son, whom Mosca has brought to his master’s house so that he may state that his father is handing his fortune over to Volpone. Corvino’s impatience to offer Volpone his wife, in order to win the longed for prize, makes him arrive before Mosca has dispatched Bonario, which is the reason why the young man finds himself in Volpone’s house when Corvino delivers his wife to him. When Volpone is taken to court to answer for his crimes, Voltore, the lawyer, argues a false case, so that Volpone is declared innocent whereas Bonario is declared guilty of attempted murder on Volpone, and Celia is accused of marital infidelity with Bonario. Lady Pol, a character from the secondary plot, who was not in Volpone’s house when the crime presumably took place, and who had never met Celia before, attests to Celia’s immorality by declaring at court that she had once caught Celia with her own husband, Sir Politic Would be. The truth is that Lady Pol had once mistaken Peregrine—an English gentleman—for a woman in disguise, although Peregrine had no interest in Sir Pol beyond teasing him for his eccentricity. Lady Pol is the only character from the secondary plot who visits Volpone with the hope of having a share of his fortune, and, as her ridiculous presents and affected manners do not succeed in drawing Volpone’s interest, she willingly accepts to declare in Volpone’s favor when she is offered the chance of being included in his will.

The hopes of all characters eventually vanish when Nano, Androgyno and Hermaphrodite—members of Volpone’s household that provide him with entertainment—announce their master’s death, and everybody [End Page 115] discovers that Mosca has been named his only heir. Volpone, who disguises himself as a commendatore, relishes the situation and further torments them with insolent questions. However, his luck changes when Mosca plays a final trick on him in order to retain possession of his master’s fortune, but Volpone thwarts Mosca’s plans by uncasing himself before the judges and letting the truth come out. That way the play’s ending meets the principles of poetic justice, according to which vice is punished and virtue is rewarded. Volpone, Mosca, Corbaccio, Corvino and Voltore are severely punished by the law, whereas Celia and Bonario are rewarded for their virtuous behavior. The harmless English couple, who were in Venice to learn Italian manners, receive their due at the hands of Peregrine, who exposes their vanity and has them return to their home country. Theirs is a private kind of punishment, as opposed to the public one the characters of the main plot receive. A commercial republic as powerful as Venice could not leave vice unpunished. That is why Volpone is put to jail for the rest of his life; Mosca is sent to the galleys; Corbaccio is confined in the Monastery of San’ Spirito; Voltore is disbarred, and Corvino is taken to the pillory. Conversely, Celia is sent back to her father with her dowry trebled, and Bonario is asked to manage the estate his father had bequeathed to Volpone.

Jonson, aware of the bitter tone of the comedy’s ending, added an epilogue where Volpone, following the severe punishment decreed by the Court of Law, reappeared on stage to deliver a few lines where he asked his spectators to “fare jovially” (5.12.156). The actor playing Volpone was probably hinting at the play’s humor, which perhaps was not as amiable as he had claimed in the prologue to his play when he said: “only a little salt remaineth” (Prologue 34).

In the Epistle that Jonson addressed to the two universities, he also felt the need to justify the comedy’s harsh ending as necessary for the fulfilment of its didactic aim.29 According to him, his play aimed at the improvement of men and the refinement of drama; it was free from obscenity and profanity,30 and did not contain any personal allusions.31 Any spectator or reader acquainted with Jonson’s dramatic output would have immediately realized the true intention of his words, which was no other than draw them to his play, as the mere denial of the play’s personal allusions, obscenity or profanity, was probably an invitation to look for [End Page 116] them in the play. At the same time, they must have anticipated that the play’s humor was not as free from “gall and copp’ras” as he had claimed it was.32

This kind of humor, which was highly esteemed in Jonson’s lifetime, would not always be appreciated to the same extent, as the history of the play’s reception reveals. Volpone’s later fortunes would be closely dependent on the changing political situation that underwent periods of great freedom—such as the Restoration—33 and periods of greater restraint, such as the year 1737, when the Stage Licensing Act was passed. Unlike Elizabeth I, James I, or Charles I, Sir Robert Walpole—Britain’s powerful prime minister—was not ready to tolerate the satiric portrayals a number of contemporary plays had made of him. The changes the Stage Licensing Act brought about in the tastes and expectations of audiences turned Jonson’s comedy into a scarcely appealing play for any of the two licensed houses, and Volpone would be last staged in 1754.

This situation was briefly reverted following George Colman’s 1771 sanitized version of the play.34 Colman, aware that audiences expected clear plots with a palatable subject matter, excised the play’s secondary plot, the mountebank scene and Volpone’s “deformed” family as contrary to theatrical decorum. In spite of all the excising, however, the play would be last performed in 1788.

Jonson’s Volpone would not be revived until 1921, when the Phoenix Society staged it. 136 years had gone by since its last performance.

Stefan Zweig’s Volpone, eine lieblose Komödie in drei Akten (1926)

Five years after Volpone’s revival in England, Stefan Zweig staged his German adaptation of the play in Vienna’s Burgtheater. His free version of Volpone became an instant success, which led to its translation and adaptation into a variety of languages.

Zweig’s version was shorter than Jonson’s comedy. He suppressed the secondary plot, with the exception of Lady Would Be, whom he transformed into Canina, a courtesan who—like the rest—was only interested in Volpone’s fortune. The version suppressed Volpone’s “deformed” family, and Volpone, who was not a rich Venetian, but a Levantine, did not disguise himself as a mountebank or as a commendatore. [End Page 117] He was cast as a more despicable character, as he did not have the chance of feeling attracted to Colomba (Jonson’s Celia) before asking Mosca to bring her to his bed. All he wanted was to hurt her husband Corvino.35

The play’s ending was different. No character was severely punished, so that Volpone was not confined in jail; Mosca was not sent to the galleys; Corbaccio was not sent to the Monastery of San’ Spirito, and his fortune was not handed over to his son. Corvino was not taken to the pillory, and was not asked to return his wife to her father with her dowry trebled; Colomba did not take offence at what had happened, and, therefore, did not abandon her husband. Leone—Corbaccio’s son—who had prevented Colomba’s rape, did not receive any money from his father, and was punished for defying the judges. Colomba, whom he had saved, did not say a word to help him. Mosca conned Volpone out of his whole fortune. He returned the greedy birds of prey the presents they had given Volpone, but Corbaccio’s, Corvino’s and Voltore’s greed remained unpunished, even though Corbaccio had disinherited his son in favor of Volpone; Corvino had offered him his wife, and Voltore had argued a false case at the court of justice. Volpone was the only character punished for his greed, and was made to flee Venice. He nevertheless had the chance of going to Genoa, where his wife and son expected him, and where he had the means to lead a comfortable life (a ship full of merchandise that Mosca had not reserved for himself).

The play’s tone was dark and gloomy, as Volpone was obsessed with inflicting pain on others, and terrified at the idea of being tortured himself. Canina was willing to punish Leone (Jonson’s Bonario) in a gruesome manner, by applying honey to his lips in order to attract wasps to them; she was also ready to apply a flame to Volpone’s “corpse” in order to test whether he was alive or dead. The judge himself, when he discovered the truth about Volpone, was ready to have his corpse hanged, and his tongue nailed to the gallows. The adaptation’s oppressive tone, however, was seldom criticized, probably because it was staged in the farcical way Zweig had suggested in the play’s opening stage direction: “Als commedia dell’arte zu spielen, leicht, rasch, eher karikaturistisch als naturalistisch.”36

Volpone, eine lieblose Komödie, was the work of an Austrian Jew at a time of increasing xenophobia, an issue his author addressed in a sarcastic way.37 Nobody, however, seemed to notice it, and the play was successful [End Page 118] in Germany and Austria, although Austrian audiences objected to its presumed lewdness.38 In spite of its farcical tone, however, the Nazis banned Zweig’s adaptation in 193239 and the play did not return to the stage until 1947.

Jules Romains’ Volpone, en collaboration avec Stefan Zweig d’après Ben Jonson (1928)

Jules Romains was asked by Stefan Zweig to adapt his version of Volpone to the tastes of French audiences. The huge success his adaptation encountered when performed at the Atelier in 1928 is the best proof of his remarkable achievement.

Jules Romains’ version took greater care of dramatic motivation and had a sunnier atmosphere than Zweig’s. In it, Canina posed a real threat to Corbaccio and Corvino, as she was highly tempting and let them know that she intended to marry Volpone. She gave them grounds for their fierce competition over Volpone’s gold.

Romains’ version had a more amiable tone, and carefully removed all traces of Volpone’s and Canina’s sadism. Its ending, however, did not follow the principle of poetic justice, as Volpone was the only character punished for his greed. Unlike in Zweig’s version, he did not have a wife, son or ship in Genoa where he could lead a comfortable life after leaving Venice.

Romains’ adaptation was successfully performed by an experienced cast of actors, which prompted its translation into a good number of languages.

Maurice Tourneur’s Film Version of Volpone (Screenplay by Jules Romains) (1937–1941)

In 1937 Romains was asked to write the screenplay for a film version of Volpone. Baroncelli started shooting it. However, in 1938, he abandoned the project, which was taken over by Maurice Tourneur in 1939.40 Tourneur was an experienced stage and film director who, at the advent of talking films, was aware of the importance of good scenarios and proficient actors for the production of quality motion pictures. He immediately realized that, in spite of the scarcity of material means—it was shot during [End Page 119] World War II—he counted on what really mattered. The outcome could not have been better, and Volpone would be singled out by critics as the most outstanding film of his entire career.41

Romains’ screenplay was perfectly suited to the requirements of the new medium, as it was shorter, and the motivation of its characters was made clearer through the addition of several scenes. In his film version, Volpone’s device to trick the greedy birds out of their money was justified, as they had previously deceived him and openly despised him on account of his race.

Finally, the film eliminated a number of scenes and expressions the Centrale Catholique might have found offensive because of their immorality,42 particularly those related to the life and expectations of Canina, the courtesan, and the ones that portrayed Corvino’s selling of his wife. That is why film viewers were not given details of Canina’s long experience in the world’s oldest profession43 or of the love preferences of the husband that Mosca had secured for her.44

The film was released on 10 May 1941 in German occupied France. It was licensed for screening by the Propagandaabteilung45 because it fulfilled the requirements Goebbels had prescribed for French motion pictures, especially its amiable tone.46 The fact that it was a film version of a classical work of literature probably explains their tolerant attitude towards the film’s approach to sensitive issues, such as the family and the church.47 Finally, France’s anti-Semitic atmosphere—and the film’s farcical tone—made critics blind to the film’s denunciation of racial hatred.48

American Reception of Tourneur’s Volpone (1947–1949)

Six years after its release in Paris, Tourneur’s Volpone was shown in New York. What at first could be surprising in view of the film’s contents, tone and approach, may be understood when looking into the commercial and ideological changes that were taking place in the United States at that time.

It is important to look at the new regulations that affected the production, distribution and exhibition of films, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act being the most relevant one, as, in 1948, it brought about the end of the film industry monopoly and, subsequently, the need to import foreign films. As there had been a decrease in the production of national [End Page 120] motion pictures, this second option was economically advantageous for distributors, especially considering the economic situation in Europe in the aftermath of World War II.49

Following the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, moreover, the Motion Picture Production Code50 was abandoned, which entailed that films no longer had to be submitted to the censor for approval. It must be noted, however, that this change did not take place overnight, as during the last years of Joseph I Breen’s office as chief censor,51 a number of films by independent producers were shown without the censor’s seal, and even advertised that fact. Foreign films had been exempted from that pre-requisite, in spite of which, the Catholic League of Decency had systematically rated them. This influential institution52 had often condemned films previously approved of by the MPPCA, especially when discovering anything that could be regarded as immoral or profane. In view of this, producers had been very careful to exclude any scene or expression the Catholic League could have esteemed dangerous for the moral well-being of American filmgoers.

Producers had also taken into account the findings of the Audience Research Institute (ARI) on the behavior of audiences.53 They had consequently adapted their films to the tastes and expectations of audiences, which had had little chance of evolving, due to their lack of exposure to any product that deviated from a strict set of rules. The ARI’s activity, which had started in 1936, was discontinued in 1948, exactly the year when the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was approved.

As a result of the powerful influence of the MPPCA, the Catholic League of Decency and the ARI, most films produced, distributed and exhibited in the United States between 1936 and 1946 were very similar in terms of plot, language and tone. They consisted of a simple plot that could be easily followed by all sorts of audiences; their language was uncomplicated and direct; their tone, both mildly entertaining and moralizing.

The situation would progressively change, which accounts for the variety of films that were simultaneously advertised around this time. In 1947, it was possible to find an advertisement of a film that encouraged family life alongside one that promised adult pleasures. This fact reveals that audiences were no longer homogeneous, and that a new group of spectators was emerging. It also speaks of the attention this new group had [End Page 121] received on the part of film distributors, who tried to cater for their needs and interests. To judge from the available evidence, these spectators were proud of their refined tastes and looked for high-quality products. They frequented the new “art houses”—fashionable and elegant film theatres— where they could see subtitled European films,54 share their humanistic agendas, and discuss their technical details with other attendants.55

It was at the Ambassador, a well-known art house in New York56 that the Film Distributing Group Siritzky screened Tourneur’s Volpone on December 26, 1947. The film would be shown all over the United States until April 1949,57 and a large number of reviews, interviews and advertisements were published58 in a variety of quality newspapers.59 Close attention to the advertising campaign reveals that the Distributing Group adapted it to the changing circumstances, initially drawing the readers’ attention to the film’s presumed bawdiness, and, later, paying increased attention to its high technical quality and its moral values.60 The importance they lay on the defense of human freedom and tolerance comes as no surprise if we take into account that Siritzky International was a Jewish Distribution Company whose exhibition circuits had been confiscated by Greven, Head of the Propagandaabteilung, in German occupied France.61

When Siritzky adapted Volpone for distribution in the United States, the Catholic League of Decency was an influential group among believers of different faiths, which led them to make the necessary changes to prevent a negative rating on their part. That is why, although Romains had already adapted his film version of Volpone to the requirements of the Central Catholique and the Propagandaabteilung, the American film distributors further adapted it for American audiences. Their subtitled version cut some scenes and parts of dialogue they knew the stricter Catholic League of Decency would never approve of, and added a preface and an epilogue where they underlined the film’s safe nature.62 The changes affected mainly those sections the League of Decency could regard as profane or immoral, and were so conscientiously done that the viewer had no way of knowing that Canina was a courtesan, that Corvino had offered Volpone his wife, or that Volpone had tried to rape her. The Prologue, moreover, highlighted the film’s educational nature by reminding the audience that it was an [End Page 122] update of Jonson’s classical piece of drama. The Epilogue underlined the play’s didactic nature by supplying an ending that—unlike that of the film—met the requirements of poetic justice. It revealed that—according to historical records—Volpone and Mosca had not escaped punishment, but had been sent to the galleys.

In spite of all the care the Distributing Group took to adapt Tourneur’s film to the requirements of the Catholic League of Decency, it received a negative rating, which the New York Times announced on January 21, 1948.63 This was probably used by the Distributing Group as part of their advertising campaign, as the news of the film’s condemnation for its alluring presentation of vice64 was followed by Siritzky’s misleading reply, where they announced that Tourneur’s film would not undergo any changes.65 The same strategy was employed on February 15, 1948, when the screenwriter himself declared that the film would not be modified, without specifying whether the required changes were already present in the film as it was being shown or not. They said, “The National Legion of Decency’s recent condemnation of the French-made adaptation of Ben Jonson’s Elizabethan comedy, ‘Volpone,’ is ‘inconceivable’ to Jules Romains, Gallic literary light and an adaptor of the offering. Says M. Romains in a cable from Paris, ‘No classical masterpiece could stand eliminations such as those the Legion has asked for. I am sure the Legion’s common sense will induce it to reconsider its decision’.” 66

What started as a misleading hint at what the Distributors had presumably done, that is to say, leave the film as released in France, soon became an open declaration of the film’s presumed ribaldry. Volpone would be advertised as the epitome of the forbidden fruit American audiences had been prevented from tasting during the previous decade. On 27 December 1947, T.M.P., from the New York Times, said the censors had been “very liberal” in their treatment of Volpone, and defined the film as a “rollickingly naughty motion picture.”67 On 26 March 1948, the headlines of the advertisements that preceded the film’s opening in Washington, similarly proclaimed its “lusty, natural, uninhibited, bawdy, ribald, and, cynical” nature.68 This headline was supplemented with a good number of tag lines that highlighted, in a sensationalist manner, these very features: [End Page 123]

“Straightforward ribaldry” (New Yorker)

. . . .

“Adult, gusty, and delightfully bawdy!” (Newsweek)

“Lusty, natural, uninhibited, bawdy, ribald, and cynical” (PM)

. . . .

“Naughty Motion Picture!” (New York Times)

“The bawdiest picture I have ever seen on the screen!” (N. Y. Daily News)

A quick look at a couple of quotes shows to what extent texts had been manipulated to emphasize the film’s presumed luridness. Tags reproduced, for example, the only mention that the New York Times article had made to the “naughty” character of the film.69 It similarly extracted the only allusion to the film’s presumed “straightforward ribaldry” that could be found in the article from the New Yorker it quoted and reprinted as part of the advertisement issued the day of the film’s release.70 That advertisement went even further, as its headline read: “Every laugh a blush!”—a statement that was signed by Walter Winchell, as a means to give it greater credibility.71 It, again, reproduced in a slightly modified order, the sensationalist quotes printed the day before.

Both advertisements, published in the Washington Post, employed images as a means of reinforcing the authenticity of their message.72 Although the first one did not mention the name of the adaptor, but made the spectator believe that it was a film version of Ben Jonson’s play, it nevertheless included a large image of Canina, the courtesan Zweig had created to replace Jonson’s Lady Would-Be in his theatrical adaptation of Volpone. She had been so thoroughly deprived of her characteristic features for its American release that it was difficult to know what her profession was. Even though the film offers but a brief glimpse of Canina’s legs, a lateral opening in her skirt that allows a partial view of her left leg makes it possible for the reader of the advertisement to anticipate what the film has in store for him. Three days after the film’s opening, a review by Richard L. Coe published in the Washington Post called the reader’s attention to the film’s presumed defiance of moral rules.73 He said: “’Volpone,’ at the Hippodrome, is a deliciously amusing farce that could never have come from the careful caterers in Hollywood,”74 an idea he later amplified when he said: “All this lusty, uninhibited behavior is refreshing stuff to watch, particularly to anyone who gets regular doses of the non offensive niceties of our homegrown product.”75 An example of this non-offensive [End Page 124] stuff could be found side by side with the advertisement of the film I Remember Mama, which opened the same day as Volpone. A loving picture of the motherly figure surrounded by her family was accompanied by the following lines: “Irene Dunne . . . as the wonderful mama of the most lovable family ever to win your heart.”76 Right under this touching image, readers could discover a drawing of Corvino hurriedly carrying his wife Colomba in his arms—an image that visually translates his true intentions when he takes her to Volpone, but that does not actually take place in the film. Under the drawing, in handwriting, a short description of the image for the reader’s guidance: “The Casual Husband and the even more Casual Wife!,”77 where the ambiguous adjective “casual” leads the reader into believing that the couple’s behavior—especially the wife’s—is out of keeping with what is considered normal or acceptable.

Attention to the advertisements of movies in the newspapers reveal that, although the majority of films followed the rules, and went as far as to quote the assessment they had received from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, the reader could also find on the same page advertisements that emphasized the film’s risqué tone. Thus, for example, on page 9 of the New York Times published on December 27, 1947, the film Shoe Shine is advertised as “one of the year’s ten Best!”78 by making it known that this is the MPPCA’s rating. A thin line, however, separates it from the picture of demi-nude Viviane Romance, starring Julien Duvivier’s “absorbing and adult” Panic.79 The juxtaposition of such different films—no matter how much the tags and images deviate from the film’s true nature—speak of a changing climate where audiences are no longer homogeneous, which implies that film offerings must meet their different demands.

Although the film’s lurid elements were often highlighted by means of suggestive illustrations and sensationalist tag lines, close attention to the different means employed to advertise the film reveal that other aspects received greater and more sustained attention on the part of advertisers, especially the high quality of the new product and the exclusive nature of the audience they addressed.80

Analysis of the advertising campaigns of Volpone reveals the high admiration American audiences felt for French actors. The fact that some of the best film stars were also proficient stage actors was highlighted whenever possible, as can be stated in the case of Volpone, some of whose [End Page 125] first rate actors were among the most reputed stage players in France, and had already performed in Volpone’s most successful stage version in the 1920s.81 It is therefore no mere coincidence that a long article on Jouvet’s career appeared in The New York Times on 1 February 1948, precisely when Tourneur’s Volpone was successfully running at the Ambassador.82 Although no play by Jouvet’s theatre Company was being performed at that point in New York, the article highlighted his successful career as stage player and director, and only occasionally pointed to his experience in the field of film. Although Jouvet’s part in the film that Americans were being shown at that time was only briefly mentioned in the article, and was not highlighted in the headlines, it is not difficult to discover the article’s obvious contribution to the enhancement of the figure who performed one of the most important roles in the film. A strong connection was thereby made between the most talented French troupe and this art film produced in France and shown at the Ambassador. In the article readers are informed that “Jouvet is considered one of ‘the Big Four’ of the French theatre,”83 and that he has “rejuvenated” the traditional classic theatre of Molière.” Could there be anyone better than him to “rejuvenate” Jonson’s classic theatre for them? Readers are also made aware of Jouvet’s accomplished style when told that “there is always in a play staged by Jouvet such perfection that one has the feeling of being before something completely achieved.”84 Could anyone wait to go and see him at the Ambassador?

The article begins by alluding to Jouvet’s self-exile during the German occupation of France, which brings to mind that Siritzky International, actual distributors of the film in the United States, had had their exhibition circuit confiscated during the Occupation. It is no mere coincidence that Lillian N. Gerard, author of the article, starts by reminding readers that Jouvet has worked admirably for the stage and the screen, and has defended the artist’s freedom of expression. She says, “A man without a country for five years, Louis Jouvet of the Gallic stage and screen wandered with his troupe over South and Central America during the French occupation.”85 The article then links Jouvet’s admirable behavior to the film’s screenwriter, Jules Romains, who had regularly provided Jouvet’s troupe with valuable screenplays, and who, like him, had gone into exile during the Occupation: “The self-exiled Jouvet on his return to his native land told a reporter why he did not share the common destiny of his people. The Germans [End Page 126] wanted him to continue operating his theatre, the Athenée, but said Jouvet simply: ‘One can only create in the theatre with liberty and with pleasure. Romains and Girardoux were forbidden in Paris, so I performed their plays 6,000 kilometers away.’”86 It is not difficult to link this article to the one published by A.H. Weyler in the New York Times two weeks earlier, where Romains’ defiance of the League of Decency’s restrictions had been made public.87 He had regretted the League of Decency’s narrowness, as, in his view, they had magnified minor moral issues while ignoring the battle humankind was fighting for its freedom. He had also made clear that their rating questioned America’s international reputation as the epitome of democracy. Art theatre attendants were made to feel part of that privileged group able to enjoy a select kind of entertainment made in France by reputed French screenwriters and actors who were well known for their defense of freedom.

Another feature that made art theatre attendants feel above the average moviegoer was the information they were provided with regarding cinematographic aspects, such as the name of the film director,88 a feature that, again, associated the movie picture with higher forms of art.89 Thus, the New York Herald Tribune informed its readers that the film had been shot “under the direction of Maurice Tourneur,”90 and specified that it was “a fine cinema translation of a theatrical classic.”91 It made them aware of the close connection between this film and the theatre and drew their attention to the specificity of the different semiotic systems at play in the film. The Herald Tribune, moreover, highlighted the importance of the camera to avoid the static effect of plays: “when the camera has a chance to move away from Volpone’s house Tourneur uses it to re-create in pictures the architectural and social flavor of old, powerful Venice.”92 John McCarten, from The New Yorker, similarly spoke of the perfect symbiosis between the accomplished French actor Harry Baur and Tourneur’s camera, “there isn’t a movie actor in America who could stay within range of the same camera with him and not be reduced to inconsequentiality,”93 and concluded that this accomplished actor was “the most satisfactory Volpone you ever laid your eyes on.”94

Finally, most reviewers pointed to the film’s cynical wit, a kind of humor that Americans seldom found on screen, as it had been carefully excluded from pictures addressed to large vulnerable audiences. This [End Page 127] new foreign product, aimed at select and adult audiences, could ignore that repeated piece of advice that had prompted screenwriters to avoid sparkling, brilliant, or sophisticated dialogues in their films.95 The campaign’s defiance of long accepted rules went as far as to point out that Volpone did not comply with the MPPC’s requirement that evil should be punished in a convincing way. As a matter of fact, G.K., from Los Angeles Times, openly declared on 1 April 1949, that the ending of this satirical but comic film, “unlike Ben Jonson’s own finis, which has everybody getting his just deserts, gives the most cynical touch of all.”96 The relationship between the film adaptation and the English literary classic, that had been argued to justify the film’s suitability for the screen one year earlier, no longer seemed to be necessary in April 1949, when the film’s deliberate departure from Ben Jonson’s didactic ending was openly celebrated.97


The fascinating afterlife of Jonson’s hypotext confirms my working hypothesis that Volpone is a living palimpsest that successive hypertexts have transposed into the stage and screen, thereby making it relevant to a variety of audiences across different languages and cultures. In my analysis of the American reception of Tourneur’s Volpone, I have repeatedly stated that scriptwriters and directors have devised their performances with specific audiences in mind, and have seldom ignored that Erwartungshorizon whose relevance Hans Robert Jauss fittingly highlighted in his Literaturgeschichte als Provokation der Literaturwissenschaft (1970).

The analysis of the film’s rich paratext, moreover, has revealed that commercial interests were essential to overcome ideological and political constraints in mid-twentieth-century America, and that Volpone’s conclusion that gold makes the world go round, not only guided the fox’s behavior in Jacobean England, but has been a recurrent trait of its varied afterlife. [End Page 128]

Purificación Ribes
University of Valencia
Purificación Ribes

Purificación Ribes is Full Professor of English at the University of Valencia, Spain. She has gained official recognition for four six-year periods of international quality research activity. She has been Head of several research projects on the edition, translation, and reception of Early Modern English Literature. Her publications include bilingual annotated editions of John Donne’s Songs and Sonnets (Cátedra) and Ben Jonson’s Volpone (Cátedra); bilingual editions of Ausias March’s poems; a monograph on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; a volume on the Reception of the Classics (University of Valencia); Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century English Literature: An Anthology; a number of book chapters on John Donne’s religious poetry (Peter Lang), Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (Reichenberger), Burnand’s Venus and Adonis (Hakkert), The Spanish reception of Lear’s Fool (Folly in Llull, Cervantes & Shakespeare), the Spanish reception of Jonson’s Volpone (Delaware), as well as numerous articles on Early Modern English Literature in specialized journals. She is currently working on the reception of Ben Jonson’s Volpone.


I am very grateful to the anonymous reviewers and the editor of Comparative Drama for their constructive comments on the earlier version of this essay.

1. Volpone, directed by Maurice Tourneur (Production Ille de France Films, 1940).

2. Ben Jonson, Volpone, or The Fox, ed. Richard Dutton, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, ed. David Bevington, Martin Butler, and Ian Donalson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 3: 1–191. Line references are to this edition.

3. See Aaltonen on the necessary process of adaptation any theatrical text must undergo in order to meet the social, cultural, historical and geographical needs of its target audience. Sirku Aaltonen, Time Sharing on Stage: Drama Translation in Theatre and Society (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2000).

4. As Robert Shaughnessy, Timothy Corrigan, Ali Behdad, and Dominic Thomas point out, acquaintance with these contexts is essential for the understanding of texts, not as static entities, but as dynamic beings that live on through translation into other languages, cultures and media. Robert Shaughnessy, Shakespeare Effect: A History of Twentieth Century Performance (Gordonsville, V.A.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 6. Timothy Corrigan, “Literature on Screen, a History: in the Gap,” in The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen, ed. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelelan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 33. Ali Behdad and Dominic Thomas, Companion to Comparative Literature (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 10.

5. Gérard Genette’s fifth type of transtextuality as defined in Palimpsestes. La littérature au second degrée. (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1982).

6. I share David Damrosch’s contention that “we can do better justice to our texts, whether perennial classics or contemporary works, if we really attend to what we are doing when we import them and introduce them into new contexts.” David Damrosch, What is World Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 25. Manfred Pfister further develops this idea when he claims that “theorizing and exploring translating as a social practice highlight, for instance, questions of political constraints (censorship) or support (sponsorship), [as well as] the economics involved in the international transfer of texts.” Manfred Pfister, introduction to Translation Practices: Through Language to Culture, ed. Ashley Chantler and Carla Dente, Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft, vol. 122 (Amsterdam, NLD: Editions Rodopi, 2009), 12.

7. Stefan Zweig, Ben Jonsons Volpone: eine lieblose Komödie in drei Akten (Postdam: Kiepenheuer Verlag, 1926).

8. Jules Romains, Volpone. En collaboration avec Stefan Zweig d‘après Ben Jonson (Paris: Les Oeuvres Libres, 1928).

9. See Robert Stam, Literature through Film: Realism, Magic and the Art of Adaptation (Malden and Oxford: Blackwell, 2005); Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo, eds., A Companion to Literature and Film (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), and Phyllis Zatlin Theatrical Translation and Film Adaptation (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2005).

10. The analysis of the rich evidence gathered on the American reception of Tourneur’s Volpone confirms Kaye and Whelehan’s contention that “‘classic’. . . in fiction and film. . . [is] an historically mutable term, connected to commercial considerations, class-determined modalities of taste and necessarily situated in the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture.” Heidi Kaye and Imelda Whelehan, “Introduction: Classics across the Film/Literature Divide,” in Classics in Film and Fiction, ed. Imelda Whelehan, Deborah Cartmell, and Deborah Hunter (London: Pluto Press, 2000), 9.

11. See Schäffner on the increasing attention paid by scholars to the different ways of overcoming the resistance of restrictive ideological target cultures. Christina Schäffner, “Politics and Translation,” in A Companion to Translation Studies, ed. Piotr Kuhiwczak and Karin Littau (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2007), 140.

12. Mirto Felusich went as far as to say, “Der Geschlechtswitz ist ein Zeichen geistiger Primitivität; besitzt Herr Zweig, der freie, der sehr freie Bearbeiter Johnsons, diese?” (Bawdy humor is the sign of spiritual primitivism. Does Mr. Zweig, the free, the freest of Jonson’s adaptors, own such kind of wit?) Mirto Felusich, “Kunst und Wissenschaft. Burgtheater. Zum ersten Mal: Volpone, eine lieblose Komödie nach Ben Jonson, frei bearbeitet von Stefan Zweig,” Österreichische Tageszeitung, November 7, 1926, 6. Translation mine.

13. It was first staged at the Théâtre de l’Atelier, Paris, on November 23, 1928.

14. See Goldsman on the power of distributors to control what is available to audiences. Muriel Goldsman Cantor, “The Role of the Audience in the Production of Culture: A Personal Research Retrospective,” in Audience Making: How the Media Create the Audience, Sage Annual Reviews of Communication Research 22, ed. James S. Ettema and D. Charles Whitney (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 1994), 169.

15. See Wolf and Munday on the power of reviews to condition the image of translation in the target audience, thereby guiding and affecting their reception. Michaela Wolf, “Culture as Translation and Beyond. Ethnographic Models of Representation in Translation Studies,” in Crosscultural Transgressions, ed. Theo Hermans (Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing, 2002), 189. Jeremy Munday, The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies (London: Routledge, 2009), 214.

16. Tourneur’s Volpone must have been an excellent choice, for, according to Louis Delluc, “Monsieur Maurice Tourneur . . . is evidently the French film director who has worked best in America. He used American technical processes with a brilliant ease and sometimes with virtuosity, which is all the same a compliment. But he stayed French. . . He is always seductive.” Louis Delluc,”Les Cinéastes. Maurice Tourneur,” Paris-Midi, November 5, 1919, quoted in Eric LeRoy, “Maurice Tourneur ‘le grand français du cinéma,’” Griffithiana: Rivista della Cineteca dei Friuli/Journal of Film 47 (May 1993): 59.

17. James Loxley, “Critical Reception,” in Ben Jonson in Context, ed. Julie Sanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 80.

18. As understood by Hans Robert Jauss, Literaturgeschichte als Provokation der Literaturwissenschaf (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1970).

19. Genette, Palimpsestes.

20. Laurie Osborne, “Shakespearean Screen/Play,” in Companion to Shakespeare and Performance, ed. Barbara Hodgdon and W.B. Worthen (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 163.

21. Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991), 13.

22. Barbara Hodgdon and W.B. Worthen, eds. A Companion to Shakespeare in Performance (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 2.

23. Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (New York: Routledge, 2006), 143.

24. Herbert R.Coursen, Contemporary Shakespeare Production (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), xi.

25. Peter Holland, English Shakespeares. Shakespeare on the English Stage in the 1990s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

26. Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Reading and Writing in Early Modern England (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984).

27. Richard Dutton, Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991). Richard Dutton, “Censorship,” in New History of Early English Drama, ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 287–304. Richard Dutton, “Jurisdiction of Theatre and Censorship,” in A Companion to Renaissance Drama, ed. Arthur Kinney (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 223–36. Richard Dutton, Volpone and the Gunpowder Plot (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

28. Cynthia Susan Clegg, “Burning Books as Propaganda in Jacobean England,” in Literature and Censorship in Renaissance England, ed. Andrew Hadfield (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), 165–86.

29. “And though my catastrophe may, in the strict rigour of comic law, meet with censure as turning back to my promise, I desire the learned and charitable critic to have so much faith in me to think it was done of industry. . . . But my special aim being to put the snaffle in their mouths that cry out ‘We never punish vice in our interludes’, etc., I took the more liberty . . . and fitly, it being the office of a comic poet to imitate justice and instruct to life” Ben Jonson, The Epistle, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, 3: lines 82–92.

30. “For my particular, I can—and from a most clear conscience—affirm that I have ever trembled to think toward the least profaneness, have loathed the use of such foul and unwashed bawdry as is now made the food of the scene.” Jonson, Epistle, lines 33–35.

31. “My works are read, allowed (I speak of those that are entirely mine). Look into them. What broad reproofs have I used? Where have I been particular? Where personal. . . ?” Jonson, Epistle, lines 41–43.

32. “All gall and copp’ras from his ink he draineth.” Ben Jonson, Prologue, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, 3: 33.

33. 1660–1710

34. George Colman, Volpone, or the Fox. A Comedy as Altered from Ben Jonson (London, 1778).

35. [Volpone] “Was brauchte ich [. . .] dieses Kalb Colomba, hatte nicht Lust auf sie eine Handvoll . . . nur Bosheit, nur Bosheit, nur Feuerzünden und Heißmachen, und jetzt brennt es mir selbst in den Nieren” (Why did I have to [. . .] take that moon-calf Colomba? I didn’t have a grain of desire for her . . . just malice . . . just malice . . . just lighting a fire under them, and now it’s burning in my own bowels). Zweig, Volpone, 85; Ruth Langner, trans., Ben Jonson’s Volpone. A Loveless Comedy in 3 Acts. Freely Adapted by Stefan Zweig (New York. The Viking Press, 1928), 104–105.

36. (To be played as a Commedia dell’arte, lightly, quickly, caricatured rather than realistic). Langner, Ben Jonson’s Volpone, n.p.

37. Notice, for example, Corvino’s contemptuous remark on the healing effects of the potion Zweig’s Jewish doctor had given Volpone: “[Corvino] Sag’ ich’s nicht immer, man soll sie brennen und austreiben, diese verdammten Juden! Überall müssen sie sich einmengen!” (Haven’t I always said they ought to burn up those damned Jews and drive them out? They stick their noses into everything). Zweig, Volpone, 50; Langner, Ben Johnson’s Volpone, 55.

38. According to Victor Wittner, “Stefan Zweig hat diese Handlung wie die Charaktere mit erstaunlich kräftiger Hand nachgezeichnet und sogar mit offenbarer Lust der Derbheit ihre Freiheit gelassen. Und so ertönten diesmal auf der Bühne des Burgtheaters Worte und Wendungen, die hier niemals ausgesprochen werden durften.” (Stefan Zweig has rendered both action and characters with striking energy, to the point that he has even shown an open taste for coarseness. As a matter of fact, the Burgtheater has resounded with words and expressions that would have never been allowed on stage.) Victor Wittner, “Wiener Schauspielabende,” Das Theater 8, no. 1 (1927): 22. Translation mine.

39. It was last performed in Meiningen in January 1932.

40. See Jacques Deslandes, “L’affaire Volpone,” l’Avant-Scène. Cinéma 189 (June 1977): 6.

41. According to Harry Waldman, Volpone is “Tourneur’s greatest film.” Maurice Tourneur. The Life and Films (London: McFarland, 2011), 160. Waldman’s sentiment is shared, among others, by Marcel Lobet, who said, “Quelles sont les oeuvres de Maurice Tourneur qui émergent de l’oubli? . . . Volpone.” (What will Maurice Tourneur be best remembered for? . . . Volpone.) Marcel Lobet, “Maurice Tourneur peintre, acteur, régisseur de théâtre, il réalisa plus de deux cents films,” Le Soir (Belge), August 11, 1961. Translation mine.

42. He knew that French Catholic reviewing groups had been warned by Pope Pius XI in his Encyclical Letter Vigilanti Cura that “the motion picture has become the most popular form of diversion” and that “there does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema.” Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter on the Motion Picture: Vigilanti Cura, June 29, 1936,

43. Theatregoers listened to Canina’s detailed account of her past experience with men, and her wish to get married: “J’avais cru d’abord que le plus ennuyeux c’était d’avoir toujours le même homme. Eh bien, vois-tu, quand on en a toujours changé depuis l’âge de douze ans, chaque nuit un nouveau—et ils vous demandent, et ils vous disent, et ils vous font tous la même chose—alors, ça devient ennuyeux aussi (1.7)” (I used to think that having always the same man was boring. But, you see, when you’ve had a different one each night since you were twelve—and they all want and say and do the samewhy, that gets boring too, in time. Now I would like to try it with one man). However, filmgoers received a much shorter explanation: “Eh bien! vois-tu, quand on en ja toujours changé, ça devient ennuyeux aussi” (But you see, when you’ve had a different one each time, why, that gets boring too).

44. Spectators at the Atelier were given the following information on Canina’s future husband: “Il a un nom long comme le Grand Canal, sept prénoms, neuf noms de famille et il ne fait la chose qu’avec les hommes. Je te l’achète. Il te laissera tranquille nuit et jour (5.3)” (He has a name as long as the Grand Canal, seven Christian names and nine surnames, and no taste for women. I’ll buy him for you. He’ll leave you in peace day and night). However, filmgoers only listened to the following: “Il a un nom long comme le grand canal, sept prénoms, huit nomes de famille. Je te l’achète” (He has a name as long as the Grand Canal, seven Christian names and nine surnames. I’ll buy him for you).

45. On October 17, 1940, the German Propagandaabteilung had required that all films produced after January 1, 1939 be submitted for approval.

46. See Raymond Chirart, Le cinéma français des années de guerre, Bibliotheque du Cinéma (Renens: 5 Continents, 1983), 30.

47. See Colin Crisp on the importance awarded by Germans to the portrayal of those institutions regarded essential for the State’s moral regeneration. Colin Crisp, The Classic French Cinema 1930–1960 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 60.

48. Xenophobia was so deeply ingrained in occupied France that open attacks on immigrants— especially Jews—were not only tolerated, but officially encouraged. It may be interesting to note that the film was released in Paris on May 10, 1941, exactly one day before the Institut des études Juives opened to the public, and only three weeks before the anti-semitic Statut des Juives was passed.

49. See Ian Jarvie, “The Post-war Economic Foreign Policy of the American Film Industry. Europe 1945–1950,” Film History 4 (1990): 277–88 (286).

50. David P. Hayes, ed. The Motion Picture Production Code of June 13, 1934,

51. Joseph I Breen had ensured the strict enforcement of the MPPC since his appointment as chief censor of the Motion Picture Production Code Administration in 1934. Although by 1948 he had not modified his views about the need for a strict application of the Code, he knew commercial and social circumstances had led to a greater tolerance in film exhibition. See Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994), 374.

52. As Pope Pius XI acknowledged in his Encyclical Letter Vigilanti Cura, the principles that inspired the Catholic League of Decency were not restricted to Catholics, but were shared by millions of “high-minded Protestants [and] Jews” as well. Pius XI, Vigilanti Cura.

53. See Susan Ohmer, “The Science of Pleasure: George Gallup and Audience Research in Hollywood,” in Identifying Hollywood’s Audiences. Cultural Identity and the Movies, ed. Melvyn Stokes and Richard Maltby (London: The British Film Industry, 1999), 71.

54. On the symbolic meaning of subtitles for elite audiences, see Delia Chiaro, “Issues in Audiovisual Translation,” in The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies, ed. Jeremy Munday (London: Routledge, 2009), 150–155.

55. On the development of art cinema exhibition and reception in the post-war period see Janet Staiger, Interpreting Films. Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 178–195.

56. According to the program of Volpone, The Ambassador was “the Broadway showcase for great international films.” Ambassador Theatre program for Volpone, “Ambassador” clippings file, Billy Rose Theater Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, New York.

57. The other American theatres where Volpone was shown between 1947 and 1949 belong to the same category of art theatres. The film was exhibited at the Ambassador in New York, the Hippodrome in Washington, the Squire in Los Angeles, and the Old South Theatre in Boston.

58. The relatively low costs of promotional campaigns during the late forties and early fifties account for the substantial number of reviews and advertisements available for the analysis of the American reception of Tourneur’s Volpone. See Christine Ogan, “The Audience for Foreign Film in the United States,” Journal of Communication 40, no. 4 (Autumn 1990): 58–77 (66).

59. As Richard Brandt explains, “although the Daily News may have had the largest circulation of all the newspapers in New York City, art houses tended to advertise in the New York Times, because it had the upscale readership that they were looking for.” Richard Brandt, Telephone Interview, September 5, 1996, audiocassette, as quoted by Barbara Wilinsky, Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2001), 118.

60. These moral values, however, did not exactly correspond to what the Catholic League of Decency deemed essential for the well-being of American viewers, as they would find fault with minor issues they magnified when referring to the film’s presumed indecency and profaneness, while ignoring the film’s denunciation of xenophobia.

61. See Crisp, The Classic French Cinema 1930–1960, 50.

62. Tahir-Gürçaglar describes similar instances of paratextual mediation on the part of the Turkish Translation Bureau during the Single Party period (1940–1946). As she points out, translations included up to four prefaces whose aim was to guide the reader’s reception of the text. Sehnaz Tahir-Gürçaglar, “What Texts Don’t Tell. The Uses of Paratext in Translation Research,” in Crosscultural Transgressions. Research Models in Translation Studies II. Historical and Ideological Issues, ed. Theo Hermans (Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing, 2002), 59.

63. “The National Legion of Decency has put ‘Volpone,’ the French-made feature film now at the Ambassador, into class ‘C or Condemned.’” “Legion Condemns Film: ‘Volpone,’ French-Made Picture, Receives Class ‘C’ Rating,” New York Times, January 21, 1948, 31.

64. According to the Roman Catholic reviewing group, the satire was condemned because “despite pretence of moral purposes, this film portrays vice attractively and ridicules virtue. It contains blasphemous references to religious practices and indecent and suggestive scenes.” “Legion Condemns Film,” New York Times, 31.

65. A spokesman for Siritzky International, distributors of the film, said yesterday that the company would not make any changes in the picture, and that it would “remain as it is currently being shown on the screen of the Ambassador. It was written by Jules Romains, based on Stefan Zweig’s version of the Ben Jonson classic. It has been shown and studied in American schools and it is an adult picture aimed at adult audiences.” “Legion Condemns Film,” New York Times, 31.

66. A.H. Weyler, “By Way of Report: ‘Romains Protests,’” New York Times, February 15, 1948, 5.

67. T.M.P. “At the Ambassador [Volpone],” New York Times, December 27, 1947, 9.

68. “Lusty, Natural, Uninhibited, Bawdy, Ribald, and Cynical,” Washington Post, March 26, 1948, 24 (advertisement).

69. “Volpone,” New York Times, 1948, partly reproduced in the advertisement in Washington Post, March 26, 1948, 24.

70. John McCarten, “Great Fun from France,” The New Yorker, reproduced in the advertisement in Washington Post, March 27, 1948, 9 (preceded by “Merci! Mr. McCarten, for your magnificent review in the New Yorker” and followed by “Now!”).

71. Walter Winchell, “Every Laugh a Blush!,” Washington Post, March 27, 1948, 9 (advertisement).

72. Washington Post, March 26, 1948, 24; Washington Post, March 27, 1948, 9.

73. Richard L. Coe, “No Inhibitions about Volpone,” Washington Post, March 30, 1948, B9, reproduced in the advertisement in Washington Post, April 3, 8 (preceded by “We Reprint Richard L. Coe’s Review as it appeared in The Washington Post” and followed by “Second Week!”); Washington Post, April 6, 14 (“Second Week!”); Washington Post, April 10, 8 (“Third Week!”); and Washington Post, April 13, 13 (“Third Week!”).

74. Coe, “No Inhibitions about Volpone,” 9.

75. Coe, “No Inhibitions about Volpone,” 9.

76. I Remember Mama,” Washington Post, March 26, 1948, 24 (advertisement).

77. Coe, “No Inhibitions about Volpone,” 9.

78. “Shoe Shine,” New York Times, December 27, 1947, 9 (advertisement).

79. “Panic,” New York Times, December 27, 1947, 9 (advertisement).

80. They probably hoped that Volpone would provide them with that “cultural capital” Bourdieu deemed necessary to belong to the right circles. Pierre Bourdieu, In Other Worlds: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994.

81. Odette Aslan comments on the large number of theatre actors that played roles in French films during the 1930s and 1940s, and highlights Jouvet’s ability to transcend the passage of time through his outstanding acting style. Odette Aslan, “Jouvet et le cinèma,” Avant-Scène Cinèma 448 (January 1996): 69–75 (71).

82. Lillian N. Gerard, “Perfectionist: Louis Jouvet as Seen Through the Eyes of His Co-Workers and Admirers,” New York Times, February 1, 1948, 4.

83. Gerard, “Perfectionist,” 4.

84. Gerard, “Perfectionist,” 4.

85. Gerard, “Perfectionist,” 4.

86. Gerard, “Perfectionist,” 4.

87. Weyler, “Romains Protests,” 5.

88. As Timothy Corrigan points out, in the 1940s, Gilbert Cohen Seat had shaped the “filmology movement” in France as an intellectual field devoted to the study of film in society. Corrigan, “Literature on Screen, a History,” 39

89. Wilinsky, The Emergence of Art House Cinema, 121.

90. “Volpone,” New York Herald-Tribune, reproduced as in the advertisement in Washington Post, March 26, 1948, 14.

91. “Volpone,” New York Herald-Tribune.

92. “Volpone,” New York Herald-Tribune.

93. John McCarten, “Great Fun from France,” The New Yorker, reproduced in the advertisement in Washington Post, April 6, 1948, 14 (preceded by “Merci! Mr. McCarten, for your magnificent review in the New Yorker” and followed by “Second week!”).

94. John McCarten, “Great Fun from France.”

95. Grace Kingsley, “Family Series Plots Adhere to Rigid Laws,” Los Angeles Times, December 4, 1938, 2.

96. G.K. “French Volpone Now at Esquire Theatre,” Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1949, B7 (emphasis mine).

97. This situation accords with Séguinot’s observations on the culture-specific nature of marketing, that changes with time and space. Candace Séguinot, “Translation and Advertising: Going Global,” Current Issues in Language and Society 1, no. 3 (1994): 249–265.

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