The comedy of the “para-site” : Duck Soup, Volpone, and Hamlet

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Journal article

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The Comparatist

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University of North Carolina Press


This article argues that the comedy of Mosca the parasite in Volpone is related to his role as a parasite. While this role has its traditional and historical meaning, it can be understood through a breaking down of the word—“para-site.” The OED explains that “para-”, as a prefix, forms “miscellaneous terms in the sense ‘analogous or parallel to, but separate from or going beyond, what is denoted by the root word.’” Therefore, the word “para-site,” as a theoretical concept, can, perhaps, mean the existence of a space which is parallel or even beyond the original one. Moreover, the pun “site” and “sight” raises the question whether this parallel space is related to a person’s perception. In other words, because of his narcissism (the [End Page 170] parasite acts as if he is looking at his mirror image in the scene), Mosca is a creature who thinks that he is living and existing in another zone. He mistakenly believes that he is not who he appears to be. Although he is the servant, he thinks that he is the master. And, at the same time, he becomes who he claims he is not. To quote another famous line from the Marx Brothers: “He may look like an idiot, and talk like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.” While the set-up of this joke makes us believe that there is a difference between “he” and the “idiot,” the punch line says that there is none.

In order to justify this theory, this article rereads Mosca’s scene in great detail with the theory of Lacan. Through the discussion, this paper argues that the parasite’s speech is full of internal inconsistencies and contradictions. Even though the parasite claims that he is different from Volpone’s three “bastards” (Nano the dwarf, Androgyne the hermaphrodite, and Castrone the eunuch), his speech suggests that he is no different from the trio. He believes in his own words and their power because he is situated in his “para-site.” In the final two parts of this article, the discussion will refer back to the mirror scene in Duck Soup, exemplifying the logic of comedy through the mechanism of the “para-site.” Moreover, this paper addresses the different functioning of the “mirror stage” in comedy and tragedy through comparing Duck Soup, Volpone, and Hamlet...



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Hui, I. (2016). The comedy of the “para-site”: Duck Soup, Volpone, and Hamlet. The Comparatist, 40, 170-189. doi: 10.1353/com.2016.0010