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

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


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 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-189
Number of pages20
JournalThe Comparatist
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

Bibliographical note

This research has benefited from financial support from the Research Committee of
Lingnan University, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China.


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