BtC 18/22. A Glimpse into Cat Society

Previously on Beware the Cat: Mouseslayer is recounting her life story to an assembly of cats.

Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin

Layer 2: main narrative spoken by Streamer

Layer 3: The council of cats

This is a more grim section of the story and centres around sexual assault. All the characters are cats but that doesn’t really change the nature of it. Suffice to say that Catchrat is a greedy, nasty, shit bag of a cat. Mouseslayer does him damage for his attempted to rape and this is why she now finds herself at this assembly of cats.

The cats in general, like other elements in the book, are not a straight allegory for anything. I had expected that perhaps the book wold be simply cats = catholic and hence the title being a warning against catholics. Luckily Beware the Cat isn’t that crude of simplistic.

The cats are cats. They carry with them the semiotics of cats that we might expect from Tudor England (feminine, cunning, easily frightened, hard to control, companionable, disloyal, greedy, sexually-promiscuous). However, rather than have cats stand for some aspect of Tudor society, Baldwin uses them to contrast them by highlighting how they differ.

  1. The cats obey their laws. The point being even cats know that it is important to obey the law (unlike, presumably, English people).
  2. Cats speak a common language across Britain and Ireland. While Grimalkin speaks in Gaelic to Apore the implication elsewhere is that all cats share a common mode of speech. England at this time still had regional languages and/or dialects. For some areas of England, this meant the change from a Latin mass to an English mass was a retrograde step. Latin was a common denominator but a standardised English favoured south-east England.
  3. As we see below, Mouseslayer is depicted as being more sexually virtuous (by Tudor standards) than the young woman in the earlier story. Again the proverbial behaviour of cats is being used to show that even cats behave better (by Baldwin’s standards) than people.
  4. The cats are less influenced by stories. While the human characters are easily swayed by tall tales, Mouseslayer remains sceptical about the power of a human priest despite having witnessed an apparent miracle.
  5. The cats are organised. They communicate across countries and over seas. They herd themselves. As we see in the next story, people are chaotic and group efforts end in people in a pile on the floor with their bare bottoms in the air.

Repeatedly the cats rise above expectations (based on cat stereotypes) and people fall below them (by the standards of Baldwin’s Tudor protestant morality). The point being Baldwin saying indirectly to everybody “you are worse than cats”.

Mouseslayer’s defence against Catchrat

“Shortly after this the young woman begged my dame to give me to her, and with the young woman I went and dwelled all that year. In that year, as all the cats in the parish can attest, I never disobeyed or transgressed our holy law in refusing the concupiscenial company of any cat, nor the act of generation, although some time it were more painful to me than pleasant, so long as it were offered in due and convenient time.

“Indeed, I confess that I refused Catchrat and bit him, and scratched him, which our law forbids; for on a time this year when I was great with kitlings, which he of a proud stomach refused to help to get, although I earnestly wooed him to, at that time he loved so much his own daughter, Slickskin, that all others seemed vile in his sight, which also esteemed him as much as he did the rest, that is, never a whit in this time.

“I say when I was great with kitling I found him in a gutter eating a bat which he had caught that evening ; and as you know, not only we, but also women in our case do oft long for many things, so I then longed for a piece of the bat, and asked him, for the saving of my kitten, to give me a morsel, even though it were but of the leather-like wing but he, like an unnatural ravenous churl, ate it all up, and would give me none, and, as men do now-a-days to their wives, he gave me bitter words, saying, we longed for wantons and not for any need.

“This grieved me so sorely, chiefly for the lack of that I longed for (I was sick for two days after). Had it not been for good dame Isegrim, who brought me a piece of a mouse, and made me believe it was of a back, I would have lost my burden by kittening two days before my time.

“When I was recovered and went abroad again, about three days, this cruel churl met me, and needs would have been doing with me, to whom when I had made answer according to his desserts, and told him withal, which he might see to by my belly, what case I was in, tush, there was no remedy (I think he had eaten savoury), but for all that I could say he would have his will. I seeing it, and that he would ravish me perforce, I cried out for help as loud as ever I could and to defend myself until help came, I scratch and bit as hard as ever I could. Had not Isegrim and her son Lightfoot come the sooner, who both are here and can witness, he would have marred me quite.

Now whether I might in this case refuse him, and do as I did, without breach of our holy law, which forbade us females to refuse any males not exceeding the number of ten in a night, judge you, my lords, to whom the interpretation of the laws belonged.” 

“Yes, surely,” said Grisard ; “according to the records, in the second year of the reign of Glascalon, at a court, held in Catswood, they decreed upon that exception, forbidding any male in this case to force any female, and that upon great penalties. To let this pass we were satisfied in your speech on the first night, tell us how you behaved you with your new mistress, and that as briefly as you can for lo where corleons is almost plain west, whereby we know the goblins hour approaches.”