Reputedly, Bill Finger asked repeatedly why a giant purple cat was flying through the window until Kane agreed that a bat made more sense. Only after a further series of attempts with first a baseball bat, then a cricket bat, that a compromise was reached with a flying mammal bat, which had already been drawn into the third panel.
[Camestros Felapton] Welcome everybody to another edition of our very occasional audio-free podcast. Felapton Towers, pioneers of podcasts that skip the whole audio phase entirely and jumps straight to transcript!
Tonight we are going to do a deep, deep dive into the 2019 movie version of long-running stage musical extravaganza CATS!
Now, musical theatre really isn’t my thing so I’ve brought along two special guests to provide some expert insights. Firstly Susan the Triceratops. Susan is a leading expert in non-human narrative structures and having once lived upstairs from Carole King is also the nearest thing we have to an expert in music. Hi Susan!
[Susan] Hello, twenty-first century! Do you need another bandage on your head Cam?
[Camestros] I think I have most of the lacerations covered now thanks. My second guest brings a unique and vital perspective with them. It is the one, the only, Timothy the Talking Cat himself! Who better to discuss a film dedicated to anthropomorphised dancing cats!
[Timothy] Hi and once again, apologies for the claws marks.
[Camestros] So let’s start. [in recitative] Did you find this film weird?
[Timothy] Did it give us the frights?
[Susan] Did it run far too long?
[Camestros] Did the cast all wear tights?
[Timothy] Was it bad C-G-I?
[Susan] Was it moving and sad?
[Camestros] Was it ineffably awful and indescribably bad?
[Susan] (take it away Timothy!)
[Timothy -sings] Because the movie of Cats is and the movie is not,
It’s like the movie of Cats can and the movie can not,
It’s not the movie of Cats is but also its not,
While this movie of Cats should and really should not,
And its because the movie of Cats is bad and bad it is not.
[Camestros] Can we agree that is our last musical number of the night?
[Timothy] I sang!
[Camestros] I don’t know where to start. I should say that I have never had the slightest urge to see Cats as a theatre production. Film media aside, is this very different from the stage show because if not, that is one very strange show. Susan, you’ve seen the original?
[Susan] I’ve seen the original show and helped produce a revival by the Fungus Town amateur dramatic society in the far future. Cats is one of the few surviving cultural artefacts of human civilisation.
[Camestros] That itself is distrubing. So are there many differences?
[Susan] Not really, once you put aside the shift in media. The biggest change is making Victoria the central character, giving a clearer storyline and narrative arc. To further establish a story, Macavity is also given a bigger role as a primary antagonist and also magical powers.
[Camestros] It was a lot more SFF than I expected a talking cat movie to be, I have to say but I’ll get back to genre in a moment. Overall, better or worse than the stage show?
[Susan] The narrative improvements are probably good for human audiences. The big advantage of the stage show is that is a piece of DANCE theatre. There is a lot of dancing in the film but it does not come across as well.
[Camestros] I was going to say that I thought it fails as a dance movie.
[Timothy] No you weren’t. Have you ever even watched a dance movie?
[Camestros] I watched West Side Story once.
[Timothy] While drunk…
[Camestros] I’ll concede that I approached this film as if from the bottom of a vast well of ignorance on the subject of dance related cinema. But how about you Timothy? Overall impressions.
[Timothy] Well, my main emotional reaction was deep existential dread.
[Camestros] Hence clinging to my head with all paws while howling “I don’t want to die!” over and over.
[Timothy] Unlike some people, I am comfortable expressing my emotions in public.
[Susan] Not so public, given that we were the only people in the movie theatre.
[Camestros] I think your expression of emotions was psychologically healthy but digging your claws into my scalp was less good.
[Timothy] And for that I have apologised and the bleeding has largely stopped.
[Camestros] Well putting CGI aside, what I was not expecting was a film that dwelt so much on sex and death. The words ‘sex’ and ‘death’ never appear but the whole thing is riddled with an odd eroticism and the plot strongly suggests that we are watching a post-apocalyptic death cult of cat-people picking a ritual sacrifice.
[Timothy] Hey, what can I say? Cats are just naturally sexy. Also we are walking avatars of death. What could a show about cats be other than sexy death murder?
[Susan] I missed that aspect but mammal sex rituals all seem odd to me.
[Camestros] Let me double back to the plot. Victoria, a white cat, is abandoned by her owner in a London back street. There she is recruited by a gang of cats called the Jellicle Cats. Coincidentally, this is the night of the Jellicle Ball where the cult leader, Old Deuteronomy (named after the book of the Bible which is a set of speeches by Moses), makes the Jellicle Choice i.e. she picks one of several candidates to die and be reborn. Most of the film is cats introducing themselves either to Victoria or to ensemble. Meanwhile, the Moriarty-like Macavity kidnaps…
[Camestros] …kidnaps, assorted contenders for the Jellicle Choice and traps them on a barge with Ray Winstone, so that he (Macacvity) will be the only contender for the Jellicle Choice. The plan goes awry and so Macavity kidnaps…
[Camestros] (sigh) kidnaps Old Deuteronomy to force her to ritually-murder him but she is rescued by the magical powers of Mister Mephistopheles the Magical Cat. Eventually the outcast cat Grizabella is chosen thanks to the intervention of Victoria and also because she gets to sing the only song everybody knows from the show. Grizabella ascends to a new life in a balloon.
[Susan] When you put it that way…it is kind of odd.
[Camestros] I mean Mephistopheles is literally named after a demon and he’s the nicest one of the Jellicle Cats. The whole thing works if none of the characters are actually cats but actually demonic cat beings.
[Susan] I don’t think demons aspire to go to heaven?
[Camestros] Oh don’t get me started on that…
[Timothy] Agreed, we probably should not get him started on that.
[Camestros] They don’t go to heaven, they go to the Heaviside Layer i.e. a section of the ionosphere named after Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925). This is the layer that allows radio waves to essentially ‘bounce’ off the atmosphere and hence be transmitted over the horizon. The basic function of which depends on the difference between the phase velocity of light and the group velocity of light. Are we supposed to consider that cats are actually composed of short wave radio signals or is it merely cat souls? Timothy, are you in fact the manifestation on Earth of radio signals?
[Timothy] Like all cats, I am an avatar of wave-particle duality.
[Susan] That would explain the repeated use of teleportation in the film.
[Camestros] Indeed! Although ostensibly both Macavity and Mister Mephistopheles are magic, the only feat of magic we see is teleportation.
[Timothy] Oh, you are going to get all genre-boundary now are you?
[Camestros] I think the whole thing is unambiguously Urban Fantasy with a quasi weird-physics background to the magic system. I would also point to a massive hint at the end, where a huge sign for Bovril (the popular beef essence spread) is displayed. Bovril of course, was named after Vril: the mysterious energy sourced featured in the 1871 Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel The Coming Race.
[Susan] OK, calm down primate. I’ll concede this whole film is freaky as but that’s it. It’s just weird and mainly by accident not design. I don’t think there’s any hidden message in a Bovril sign.
[Timothy] Was there a hidden message in the fact that the Rebel Wilson cat is a cat who is wearing a cat costume over the top of a dance costume underneath which is her regular cat body and also she has enslaved a group of mice that have the faces of human children and she forces them to play music and also she has a dancing troupe of cockroaches that also have human faces and she makes them dance and eats them?
[Camestros] I missed that bit because you were still clinging to my head. I mean, you are making all that bit up right?
[Susan] No…that did happen.
[Camestros] Sometimes I wonder if I dreamt the whole thing…
[Susan] I liked the railway cat.
[Camestros] Well you are famous for your tap-dancing.
[Susan] Shall I demonstrate for our viewers?
[Camestros, Timothy in unison] No!
[Camestros] No offence but tap dancing dinosaurs need a bit more space than we have in our podcasting booth.
[Camestros] Can we sum up our experience?
[Timothy] Cats is a disturbing examination of the nature of cat mortality. It contrasts youth with age and implies life itself may be a burden for which death is the only escape. Even Macavity, with all his power and influence and sexy dancing with catnip dispensing Taylor Swift-cat, craves an end to his existence and a new beginning. It scared the hell out of me.
[Susan] The film fundamentally misunderstands the nature of theatre. Cats as a musical works because within the bounds of a theatre performance, the audience expect to use their imagination to bridge the gap between what they see and what they are told they are seeing. The film attempts a realism that breaches this compact, presenting the audience with an unresolvable dilemma. What we are shown can be taken neither figuratively nor literally and so it falls into a void of the imagination.
[Camestros] I was at no point bored by this film. True, that was in part because of the hysterical reaction of my own cat. However, injuries aside this film passes a basic requirement for a good movie: it is diverting for the whole length of the film. Yes, it is really not obvious how to engage with it. Personally, I decided that either the cats were demons, post-apocalyptic cat-people living in an abandoned 1920s London or we were being shown how domesticated cats imagined themselves to be i.e. the film was attempting to show the interior lives of cat personalities.
[Susan] The set design was nice.
[Timothy] Yes, I liked the giant food.
[Camestros] Agreed. OK, take it away Timothy.
[Timothy – sings]
Cats-film, not a sound from the pavement,
All alone in the theatre,
No body else came,
The movie has had such appalling reviews,
That the Cats-film was a bomb
Cats-film! Please forgive us oh Cats-film!
You were really not awful,
And in many ways good,
It’s just that Cats-film, the CGI fur was terribly bad,
So poor Cats-film your fate was sad.
[Camestros] Thank you and goodnight.
I’m seeing what e-book formats I can make and host somewhere. Unfortunately WordPress will only allow PDF. However, my Neocities site (aka the Attic Workshop) will allow epub* (but not mobi). They don’t like hotlinking so here is a publisher page where you can get the epub version (possibly mangled) version of Beware the Annotated Cat – my translation of a classic work from Early Modern English to Late Stage Capitalism Pre-Collapsarian English.
Check it out and tell me if it works.
*[epub doesn’t appear on their file-type whitelist but it seems to work]
A follow up from the earlier post on John C Wright’s belief that the left (in general) is essentially a religion of witchcraft. I failed to include a link so here http://www.scifiwright.com/2017/03/the-last-crusade-in-the-kingdom-of-witches/
And again, recently, many throngs of lunatics in a ghastly display of vulgarity, completely with nudity, swearing, and other degradations, wearing images of women’s genitalia on their heads. The gathering was called a protest, but no protester could articulate for what cause they gathered. It was yet again called a political movement, albeit, again, no law nor policy nor any specific political act was demanded to be done or undone. What was it for?
They are rituals, ceremonial, magical. They are sacraments, symbols intended to create the result they symbolize.
In the comments to my post, Doris V Sutherland pointed to some statements made by Wright’s fellow Dragon Award winner, Brian Neimmeier. I’ll link to one of his posts that goes into some detail: http://www.brianniemeier.com/2015/12/the-demonic-obsession-of-cultural.html
Extraordinary demonic activity may occur in various ways. Some refer to these phenomena as “stages”, but they’re more properly called “areas”, since they don’t necessarily follow an orderly progression.
The areas of extraordinary demonic activity are:
External physical attacks: pain and/or harm inflicted by a demon.
Oppression: various external torments that often masquerade as extreme bad luck.
Obsession: uncontrollable, irrational thoughts induced by demonic activity.
Infestation: refers to demonic attachment to a place, an object, or even an animal.
Possession: one or more demons takes control of a person’s body (not the soul).
Subjugation: voluntary submission to demonic influence.
Brian then goes on to ask whether SJW’s show signs of demonic possession and concludes that most don’t show the signs but do show the signs of ‘demonic obsession’. He later concludes:
Since the current social crisis more likely involves external demonic obsession than internal possession, mass exorcisms aren’t required to address the problem. Just as physicians can mediate divine healing through their skill, ordinary people can mediate deliverance from evil through prayer and fasting on behalf of our afflicted brethren.
Phew! I for one, strongly encourage those concerned about SJWs to wholeheartedly put their efforts into prayer and (reasonable) fasting. Also, check under your bed for talking cats. Oh and maybe check your calendar to see if it is the sixteenth century still.
Oh, and one last sppoooookkkky thought – remember how the right keep projecting their own faults onto others? And now they think people are controlled by demonic forces? Sleep tight.
If you’ve read the previous posts then you should now have a good sense of what Beware the Cat is like. However, if you are like me, you are probably still trying to make sense of it.
The English Reformation was social, political and theological. It happened in the wake of an information technology revolution (the printed book), an increased centralisation of the state and a Marxian shift from feudalism to capitalism. It exists at a time of conflict and to readers now it is a conflict that is difficult to identify with.
At one level it is about the modern (Baldwin) versus the pre-modern (Thomas) and scholasticism (Streamer). There is a secular, sceptical and rationalist element to it that presages later thinkers (or near contemporaries such as Frances Bacon).
At the same time, it is an argument for the oppression of ideas, dismissive of folk tales, Catholic traditions and regional distinctions. The Elizabethan era that the book anticipates was a time when Englishness was standardised and enforced and essentially when English nationalism (and imperialism) was invented and codified. Religion, language and monarchy were all part of that mix.
State-sponsored violence in the name of religion would dominate England for centuries after. Europe would become engulfed in wars of religion. In this context, Baldwin’s funny cat-story mockery loses its humour.
Yet looking at it another way, there is a humanism to the book that is charming and positive. The mocking is mostly gentle, even when targeted at the occasional priest. Mr Streamer is richly drawn and more than just a figure of mockery – you could imagine him to be entertaining company in small doses. Mouseslayer is also given depth and character and there is something powerful in the way the most complex character is somebody who would be otherwise marginalised – a common household pet.
I see this as a book full of optimism – much of it misplaced given events but still optimism. Baldwin is siding with rationality over superstition and humanity over tradition and he sees that in his protestant cause. Reality isn’t so simple. Within months of writing the book, his expectations of a more rational protestant future were thrown on their head by the death of Edward and crowning of Mary.
Above all this is a subversive book. It lets ideas run where they will and out of control of each of the narrators. In an almost post-modern twist, the final moral arrives in the form of a post-hoc rationalisation using the same kind of reasoning as the servants discussing Thomas’s tales of swindling Irish witches and their red swine.
The cliche is that herding cats is nigh on impossible and the narrative of Beware the Cat has that same cat-like quality. It goes where it wants to and defies the expectations of the reader and (probably) the author. By avoiding direct allegory, the story can slip out of any simple propagandised reading. By making all the narrators unreliable or marginalised, Baldwin makes the whole text resistant to any single reading.
For example, I doubt Baldwin had any feminist thoughts while writing the book and the book covers some of the most misogynist tropes in literature – specifically that women may be witches responsible for all manner of ills (a trope with parallels in the myths exploited in anti-Semitism or anti-Romany campaigns of violence). Yet while drawing on these tropes, which are still familiar today, the nature of the story is to pull them apart and subvert them. The belief in witches is shown to be absurd. Demonic apparitions are church bells, or cats and the mass panic of crowds is shown to be true danger.
Even as message fiction it is subversive. So what can we make of anti-Catholic tract whose anti-Catholicism is tied so tightly to a crowd of cats running across the roofs of Tudor London? I doubt many present-day Catholics would find it threatening. Its power lay in being overtly disrespectful to ideas and people that pre-reformation held great political and social power.
Look, really the only thing we can say is that we should all just behave ourselves just in case our cats are talking about us behind our backs. Beware, as Baldwin reminds us, the cat.
Previously on Beware the Cat: Mr Streamer has entertained his friends with a story about he gained superhuman hearing, discovered an assembly of cats and listened to a series of stories from Mouseslayer the cat.
Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin
We finish with a moral. Baldwin has apparently forgotten about the original argument and instead focuses on a key lesson from Mouseslayer: cats see what we do, can understand what we say and tell all the other cats about it. As a consequence he says:
I would council all men to take heed of wickedness, and eschew secret sins and privy mischievous counsels, left, to their shame, all the world at length do hear of it. But if any man does put away his cat, then shall his so doing testify his secret naughty living, which he is more ashamed his cat should see than God and his angels, which see, mark, and behold all men’s closet doings.
Well it is his story but he does seem to have wandered off topic.
The main thing, it seems, is to live a life that your own cat won’t be ashamed of. Which is a good moral so long as you have a good cat.
This is the final part of the book. There will be one more post to conclude the series.
I KNOW these things will seem marvellous to many men that cats should understand and speak, have a government among themselves and be obedient to their laws; and were it not for the approved authority of the ecstatically author of whom I heard it, I should myself be as doubtful as they. Yet seeing that I know the place and the persons with whom he talked of these matters before he experienced his wonderful and strange confessions, I am the less doubtful of the truth.
Seeing that Mr Streamer has in his oration proved that cats do understand us and mark our secret doings, and so declare them among themselves that through help of the medicine by him described any man may, as he did, understand them. I would council all men to take heed of wickedness, and eschew secret sins and privy mischievous counsels, left, to their shame, all the world at length do hear of it. But if any man does put away his cat, then shall his so doing testify his secret naughty living, which he is more ashamed his cat should see than God and his angels, which see, mark, and behold all men’s closet doings.
That we may take profit by this declaration of Master Streamers, let us so live, both openly and private, that neither our own cat, admitted to all our secrets, be able to declare aught of us to the world save what is laudable and honest ; nor the devils cat, which, will we or nil we, sees and writes all our ill doings here, ought to lay against us afore the face of God, who, not only with shame, but with everlasting torments, will punish all sin and wickedness. And ever when you go about anything call to mind this proverb, “Beware the Cat,” not to tie up thy cat till those have done, but to see that neither your own nor the devils cat, which cannot be tied up, find anything there in to accuse you of shame.
Thus doing, you cannot do amiss, but shall have such good report through the cats declamation, that you shall in memory of Mr Streamer’s oration labour, who gives you this warning, sing unto God this hymn of his making.
WHO gives wit to whales, to apes, to owls,
And kindly speech, to fish, to flesh, to fowls;
And spirits to men in soul and body clean,
To mark and know what other creatures mean.
Which hast given grace to Gregory, no pope,
No king, no lord, whose treasures are this hope,
But silly priest, which like a Streamer waves,
In ghostly good despised of foolish knaves.
Which have, I say, given grace to him to know
The course of things above and here below;
With skill so great in languages and tongues,
As never breathed from Mithridates lungs.
To whom the hunter of birds, of mice, and rats,
Did squeak as plain as Kate that thomneth hats,
By mean of whom is openly bewraid
Such things as closely were both done and said.
To him grant, Lord, with healthy wealth and rest,
Long life to us to unload his learned breast ;
With fame so great to ever live his grave,
As none had erst nor any after have.
Previously on Beware the Cat: Mr Streamer has gained superhuman hearing. He found a place where he can spy on the cats that meet on the roof of Aldersgate and listened to a series of stories from Mouseslayer the cat.
Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin
Layer 2: main narrative spoken by Streamer
Layer 3: The council of cats
The story is nearly over. Mr Streamer wraps up some loose ends and eventually recovers his normal hearing. There is one more (and concluding) part after this.
Mouseslayer’s testimony from earlier nights is recounted as an overheard conversation by two cats in a garden. Here we hear briefly of a knight who spends too much time reading books that he neglects to sleep with his wife. Mouseslayer steals his breath, almost killing him – which is an interesting brief tale for a publisher to include in his book. A sly dig at himself?
This short section also significantly increases the range of people included in the book. Aside from the cats, the main characters have been priests (including Mr Streamer), servants, middle class men of unknown occupation and women running a household, and an Irish brigand.
The cast is centred around the Tudor urban middle-class and they people that they associate with. Aside from Patrick Apore, lower class characters are household servants. Upper-class people only appear in passing (such as the anecdote about Henry Tudor) or as objects of criticism (specifically the Pope). Priests, printers and merchants and their wives – the one woman who manages her own affairs runs a brothel of some sort but apparently moves in respectable circles.
Mr Streamer Concludes his Adventure
“When Grisard, Isegrim, and Poilnoes, the commissioners, had heard this declamation and requests of Mouseslayer, they prayed her much, and after they had commanded her with all the cats there to be on St. Catherine’s day next ensuing at Caithness, were (as she said) Cammoloch would hold his court, they departed.
And I glad to have heard what I heard, and sorry that I had not understood what was said the other two nights before, got me to my bed and slept.
The next morning when I went out into the garden, I heard a strange cat ask of our cat what Mouseslayer had done before the commissioners those three nights, to whom my cat answered that she had purged herself of a crime that was laid to her by Catchrat, and declared her whole life for six years space, whereof in the first two years she had five masters,—a priest, a baker, a lawyer, a broker, and a butcher, all whose privy deceits which she had seen she declared the first night ; in the two years after she had seven masters,—a bishop, a knight, an apothecary, a goldsmith, a usurer, an alchemist, and a lord, whose cruelty, study, craft, cunning, niggardness, folly, want, and oppression, she declared The second night wherein, their doing was notable ; because the knight, having a fair lady to his wife, gave his mind so much to his book that he seldom lay with her, this cat, pitying her mistress, and minding to scare him from lying alone, on a night when her master lay from her got to his mouth and drew to his breath, that she almost stifled him. A like part she played with the usurer, who being rich and yet living miserably, and faining him poor, she got one day while his treasure chest stood open and hid her there in, where of he, not knowing, locked her in it, and when at night he came thither again and heard one stirring there, and thinking it had been the devil, he called the priest and many other persons to come and help him to conjure, and when in their sight he opened his chest out leapt she, and they saw what riches he had, and shunned him thereafter. As for what was done and said yesternight, both of my lord Grisard’s hard adventure and Mouseslayer bestowing of her other two last years, which is nothing in comparison of any of the other twos years before, I need not tell you for you were present and heard it yourself.”
This told, lo I heard between these two cats, and though I went inside and broke my fast with bread and butter, and dined at noon with common meat, which so repaired my head again, and my other powers from the first digestion that by night time they were as normal as ever they were before; for I harked at night to other two cats, which, as I perceived by their gesture spoke of the same matter, I understood not a word.
So here have I told you all, chiefly you, my lord, a wonderful matter, and yet as incredible as it is wonderful; notwithstanding, when I may have convenient time I will tell you other things which these eyes of mine have seen, and these ears of mine have heard, and that of mysteries so far passing this that all which I have said now shall in comparison thereof be nothing at all to be believed. In the meantime while I will pray you to help to get me some money to convey me on my journey to Caithness, for I have been going thither these five years and never was able to perform my journey.”
When Master Ferries perceived that he would every man shut up his shop windows, which the aforesaid talk kept open two hours longer than they would have been.
Previously on Beware the Cat: Mouseslayer is recounting her life story to an assembly of cats. She has also defended herself against claims by the obnoxious Catchrat.
Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin
Layer 2: main narrative spoken by Streamer
Layer 3: The council of cats
Layer 4: Mouseslayer’s stories
The last two stories from Mouseslayer concern her time with the young woman we met in the previous story.
The third story initially makes Mouseslayer the object of humour. A man sticks walnut shells to her feet so she can’t walk properly. However, events spiral out of control when Mouseslayer is mistaken for a demon. There are bottom jokes and people shitting themselves but not much theology other than a priest has to improvise because he isn’t allowed to make holy water anymore.
The fourth story returns to the plot of the second story. The young woman who was convinced, by trickery, to have an affair is still seeing the man involved. Worse yet she and her lover have secretly spent all the husband’s money. Yes, a tale of cuckoldry which should make any alt-right readers happy if I had any, which I hope I don’t. This one has testicle jokes.
If you like cat themed farces you may enjoy them.
Mouseslayer’s Third Story
“After I was come to my young mistress,” quote Mouseslayer “she made much of me, thinking that I had been my old dame’s daughter, and many tales she told me. My master, also, made much of me, because I would take meat in my foot and put it in my mouth and feed.
Now in this house there dwelt an ungracious fellow who, delighting much in unhappy turns, on a time took four walnut shells and filled them full of soft pitch and put them upon my feet into cold water till the pitch was hardened, and then he let me go. But, Lord! how strange it was for me to go in shoes, and how they vexed me! When I was upon any steep thing they made me slide and fall down. So all that afternoon, angry that I could not get off my shoes, I hid in a corner of the garret which was boarded, under which my master and mistress lay.
That night when they were all in bed, I spied a mouse playing in the flour, and when I ran at her to catch her, my shoes made such a noise upon the boards that it waked my master, who was a man very fearful of spirits ; and when he with his servants harkened well to the noise, which went pit pat, pit pat, as it had been the trampling of a horse, they became all afraid, and said surely it had been the devil. And as one of them, a hardy fellow, even he that had put the walnut shoes on me, came upstairs to see what it was, I went down to meet him, and made such a rattling that when he saw my glistering eyes, he fell down backward and broke his head, crying out: “The devil! The devil! The devil!” His master and all the rest hearing this, ran, naked as they were, into the street, and cried the same cry.
Whereupon the neighbours arose and called up among other and old priest, who lamented much the lack of holy water, which they were forbidden to make. So he went to the church, and took out of the font some of the christening water, and took his chalice and there in a wafer unconsecrated, and put on a surplice and his stole about his neck, and fetched out of his chamber a piece of holy candle which he had kept two year, and came back to the house, and with his candle lit in one hand, and a holy water sprinkle in the other hand, and his chalice and wafer in sight of his bosom, and a pot of font water at his girdle, up he came, praying, towards the garret, and all the people after him.
When I saw this, and thinking I should see some mass that night as many nights before in other places I had, I ran towards them, thinking to meet them. But when the priest heard me come, and by a glimpsing had seen me, down he fell upon them that were behind him, and with his chalice hurt one, with his water-pot another, and his holy candle fell into another priest below, who, while the rest were looking for me, was conjuring our maid at the stairs foot, and all to besinged him, for he was so afraid with the noise of the rest which fell that he had not the power to put it out.
When I saw all this business done I ran among them where they lay on heaps; but such a fear as they were all in then, I think was never seen before; for the old priest, which was so tumbled among them that his face lay upon a boy’s bare arse, which belike had fallen headlong under him, and was so astonished that when the boy shat himself out of fear, had all mired his face. The priest neither felt nor smelt the shit, nor removed it from him.
Then went I to my young mistress which lay among the rest, God knows very madly, and so mewed and curled about her, that at last, she said, “I think it be my cat” Hearing the knave that had put shoes on me, and calling to mind that erst he had forgotten, said it was so indeed and nothing else. Hearing that the priest in whose holy breech the holy candle all this while lay burning, he took haste a grace, and before he was spied, rose up and took the candle in his hand, and looked upon me and all the company, and fell a laughing at the handsome lying of his fellows face. The rest, hearing him, came every man to himself, and arose and looked upon me, and cursed the knave which had shoed me. This done they got hot water and dissolved the pitch, and plucked off my shoes; and then every man, after they desired each other not to talk again of this night’s work, for shame, departed to their lodgings, and all our household went to bed again.
Mouseslayer’s Fourth Story
(When all the cats, and I as well, had laughed at this apace, Mouseslayer proceeded, again)
After this, about three quarters of a year later at Whitsun last, I played another prank. The gentleman who by mine old dames lying, and by my weeping, was accepted and retained of my mistress, came often home to our house (always in my master’s absence) and was doing with my young mistress. They had spent my master’s goods so lavishly between them that notwithstanding his great trade of merchandise, they had, unknown to him, almost undone him already. So I sought how I might betray them
At the time I just mentioned, it came to pass that while this gentleman was doing with my young mistress, my master came in so suddenly that he had no time to pluck up his hose, but with them still about his ankle ran into a corner and hid behind the painted cloth, and there stood, I warrant you, as still as a mouse.
As soon as my master came in his wife, according to her old wont, caught him about his neck and kissed him, and devised many means to get him forth again, but he, being weary, sat down and called for his dinner; and when she saw there was no other remedy she brought it him, which was a mess of pottage and piece of beef (whereas she and her lover had broken their fast with capons, hot venison, marrowbones, and all other kinds of dainties). I seeing this, and minding to show my master how he was being treated, got behind the cloth, and, to make the man speak, I pawed him upon his bare legs and buttocks with my claws, and for all this, he stood still and never moved. However, my master heard me, and thinking I was catching a mouse, bad my mistress go help me, who knew what best was there, came to the cloth and called me away, saying, ‘Come, puss! come puss!’ and cast meat into the floor.
I minding no other thing, and seeing that scratching could not move him, suddenly I leapt up and caught him by the genitals with my teeth, and bit so hard, that when he had restrained more than I thought any man could, at last, he cried out, and caught me by the neck, thinking to strangle me. My master not smelling so much as hearing a rat, came to the cloth and lifted it up, and there found this naked gentleman strangling me who had his balls in my mouth. When I saw my master I let go of my hold, and the gentleman his, and away I ran immediately to the place where I now dwell, and never came there since, so that how long they agreed among them I cannot tell, nor never dare I go for fear of my life.
Thus have I told you, my good lords, all things that have been done and happened to me, wherein you perceive my loyalty and obedience to all good laws, and how shamefully and falsely I am accused as a transgressor; and pray you as you have perceived so certify, my liege, great Cammoloch (whose life both Hagat and Hag preserve), of my behaviour.
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
Layer 4: Mouseslayer’s stories
For those who look out for this kind of thing, there is a triple-goddess theme with Mouseslayer’s three owners. In the first story, she is with an old woman whose blindness is cured by a Catholic mass. In this next story, Mouseslayer is now living with a presumably middle-aged woman who runs a brothel (and who also trades in stolen goods). Her third owner is also in this story – a recently married younger woman.
This second story from Mouseslayer is a sex-comedy of dubious morality. Her owner is secretly a devout Catholic who nightly venerates a picture of the Virgin Mary. She also procures women for men for a fee and entices them into a life of crime.
The plot involves Mouseslayer’s owner attempting to convince a young married woman that it is her moral duty to have sex with another man. To do this she pretends Mouseslayer his her daughter who was turned into a cat for spurning the advances of an admirer. This all leads to a cunningly convoluted argument:
I gather that though God would have us keep our faith to our husbands, yet rather than any other should die for ourselves, we should not make any conscience to save their lives; for it fared in this point as it does in all other; for as all extremities are vices, so is it a vice, as appeared plainly by the punishment of my daughter, to be extreme in honesty, chastity, or any other kind of virtue.”
Mouseslayer herself takes a dim view of these proceedings and also exacts some revenge on her owner.
Notably, going back to the themes of transubstantiation, the person-turned-into-a-cat theme here is overtly a deception. Mouseslayer is simply a cat – a clever and brave cat but has no special abilities and certainly isn’t a human.
Mouseslayer’s Second Story
When I heard that the lord with whom I went into the country would go to London to dwell again, I kept the house for a month beforehand so well, that my lady when she went to London carried me with her. When I came to London again, I went to visit my old acquaintance, and when I was great with kitling because I would not be unfurnished of a place to kitten in, I got in favour and household with an old gentlewoman, a widow, with whom I stayed this whole year.
This woman got her living by boarding young gentlemen, for whom she kept fair wenches in store, for whose sake she had more rent. To tell you the truth of her trade it was fine and crafty, and not so dangerous as deceitful. When she had soaked from the young gentlemen all they had then would she would cast them off, and so they fell to cheating. Many of them in the night time would go abroad and bring the next morning home with them sometimes money, sometimes jewels—as rings and chains, sometimes apparel, and sometimes they would come again, cursing their ill fortune, with nothing, save dry blows or wet wounds. Yet whatever they brought my dame would take it, and find the means either so to gauge it so that she would never fetch it again, or else melt it and sell it to the goldsmiths.
Notwithstanding that she used these wicked practices yet was she very holy and religious, and so, even though all images were forbidden, yet kept she one of Our Lady in her coffer. Every night, when everybody had gone to bed, and there were none in her chamber but she and I, she would fetch her out and set her upon her cupboard, and light up two or three wax candles afore her, and then kneel down to her sometimes for a whole hour, crying over her beads, and praying her to be good to her, and to save her and all her guests both from danger and shame, and promising that then she would honour and serve her during her life.
While I was with this woman I was always much cherished and made of, for one night, while she was a praying, I would be playing with her beads, and always catch them as she let them fall, and would sometimes put my head in compass of them and run away with them about my neck, and many times she took great pleasure in this. And so did Our Lady too! My dame would say sometimes to her, ‘Yes, blessed Lady, I know thou hears me, by thy smiling at my cat.’
Never did my dame do me any hurt save once, and that I was even with her for. There was a gentleman, one of her boarders, much enamoured in the beauty of a merchant man’s wife in the city, whom he could by no means prevail to satisfy his lust. He made her great banquets, offered her rich apparel, and all kinds of precious jewels (which usually women delight in), and large sums of money (which can corrupt even the gods themselves) but he could by no means alter her mind because she esteemed her good name and honesty. Forced through desire of that which he could not but long for, and so much the more cause it was most earnestly denied him, he spoke his mind to my dame, and entreated her to aid him to win this young woman’s favour, and promised her for her labour whatever she would require. Whereupon my dame, which was taken for as honest as any in the city, found the means to bring the young woman to a dinner. Before the young woman should come, my dame gave me a piece of a pudding, which she had filled full of mustard. As soon as I had eaten the piece, it wrought so in my head that it made my eyes run all the day after. To mend this, my dame blew pepper in my nose to make me sneeze.
When the young wife arrived, my dame showed her all the commodes of her house (for women delight much to show forth what they have), they set them down together at the table, just the two of them. While they were in gossiping about the behaviours of this woman and that, I came as I was accustomed and sat by my dame, and when the young woman, hearing me cough and seeing me weep continually, asked what ailed me, my dame, who had tears at her commandment, sighed (and fallen as it were into a sudden dumps), burst forth a weeping, and said, “In faith, mistress, I think I am the most unfortunate woman alive, upon whom God has at once poured forth all his plagues, for my husband, the most honest man that lived, he has been taken from me, and with him my heir and only son, the most towardly young man that was alive ; and yet not satisfied therewith, look here my only daughter, which, though I say it, was as fair a woman and as fortunately married as any in this city, He has (for her honesty or cruelty I cannot tell whether) turned her into this cat, where she has been this two months continually weeping as you see, and lamenting her miserable wretchedness.’
The young woman, astonished at this tale, and crediting it by means of my dame’s lachrimable protestations and deep dissimulation, asked her the more earnestly how and by what chance and for what cause, as she thought, she was so altered?
“Ah,” said my dame, “as I said before, I cannot tell what I should think, whether excuse my daughter and accuse God, or else blame her and acquit Him, for this my daughter, being, as I said, fortunately, married and so beloved of her husband and loving again to him, as now we both too late do and forever I think shall rue, was loved exceedingly of another young man, who made great suite and labour unto her. But she (as I think all women should), esteeming her honesty and promise made to her husband the day of her marriage, refused still his desire; but because he was importunate she came at last and told me it. And I, thinking that I did well, charged her in any case (which full oft since I have repented) that she shall not consent unto him, but to shake him off with shrewd words and threatening answers. She did so ; alas, alas, the while, and the young man, seeing no other boot, went home and fell sick, and loving so honestly and secretly that he could make none other of his council, pined and languished upon his bed the space of three days, receiving neither meat nor drink ; and then, perceiving his death to approach, he wrote a letter, which I have in my purse, and sent it by his boy to my daughter, if you can read you shall see it, I cannot, but my daughter best could very well and write too.’ Herewith my dame wept apace, and took the letter out of her purse and gave it this young woman, who read it in form following:—
“The nameless lover to the nameless beloved
in whose love he may not live, he only desires license to die. Cursed be the woeful time wherein mutual love first mixed the mass of my miserable carcass! Cursed be the hour that ever the fatal destinies have ought for me prevailed; yea, cursed be the unhappy house, may I say, in which I first saw those passing eyes, which by insensible and unquenchable power inflaming my heart to desire are so blend of mercy as will rather with rigour consume my life than view my grief with one drop of pity!
I sue not to you, my dear unloving love, for any kind of grace the doubtful hope where of despair has long since with the pouring showers of evil words utterly quenched ; but this much I desire, which also by right me thinks my faithful love has well deserved, yet your fidelity in wedlock, which I can and must needs praise as would to God I could not, will suffer my pined course no longer to retain the breath, through cold cares wholly consumed, yet as the least, which is also an office of friendship before the gods meritorious, come, visit him who, if aught might quench love, should not love; whose mouth these three days has taken no food; whose eyes the like time have taken no rest; whose heart this three weeks was never merry; whose mind these three months was never quiet; whose bed this seven nights was never made; and who, to be brief, in all parts so enfeebled that living he dies, and dead while he lives!
And when this silly ghost shall leave this cruel and miserable prison, in recompense of his love, life, and death, let those white and tender hands of yours close up those open windows through which the uncomfortable light of your beauty shone first into this heart.
If you this refuse to do, I beseech the gods immortal, to whom immediately I go, that as without any kind of either love or kindness you had caused me to die, so that none other caught with your beauty do likewise perish!
I beseech, I say, the just gods that either they change that honest stony heart, or else disfigure that fair miracles favour.
Thus, for want of force either to endite or write anymore, I take my leave, desiring you either to come or see me die or if I am dead before, to see me honestly buried.
Yours unregarded alive,
When the young woman had read this letter she spoke again to my dame, and with much to do to withhold her swelling tears she said, ‘I am sorry for your heaviness, much more for this poor man’s; but what did she after she saw this letter ?’
“Ah,” said my dame, “she esteemed it as she did his suits before—she sent him a rough answer in writing, but never the boy came home with it for his master was dead. Within two days after, my son-in-law, her husband, also died suddenly; and within two days after, as she sat here with me lamenting his death, a voice cried out aloud, ‘Ah, flinty heart, repent thy cruelty!’ And immediately, oh extreme rigour, she was changed as you now see her! Whereupon I gather that though God would have us keep our faith to our husbands, yet rather than any other should die for ourselves, we should not make any conscience to save their lives; for it fared in this point as it does in all other; for as all extremities are vices, so is it a vice, as appeared plainly by the punishment of my daughter, to be extreme in honesty, chastity, or any other kind of virtue.”
This, with other talk of my dame, in the dinner-time, so sunk into the young woman’s mind that the same afternoon she sent for the gentleman whom she had so constantly refused, and promised him that if he would appoint her an unsuspected place, she would be glad to meet him to fulfil all his lust, which he appointed to be the next day, at my dame’s house.
The next day, when they were all assembled, I, minding to teach my dame a lesson for giving me mustard, caught a quick mouse, of which my dame was always exceedingly afraid, and came with it under her clothes, and then let it go, which immediately crept up on her leg. But, Lord! how she bestirred then; how she cried out, and how pale she looked. I, to amend the matter, making as though I leapt to the mouse, all to be scratch her thighs and her belly so that I dare say she was not whole again in two months after. When the young woman to whom she showed her scratched thighs, said I was an unnatural daughter to deal so with my mother.
“Nay, nay,” said she, “I cannot blame her, for it was through my counsel she suffered all this sorrow ; and yet, I dare say, she did it against her will, thinking to have caught the mouse, which else, I dare say would have crept into my belly.’
By this means this innocent woman, otherwise invincible was brought to consent to commit whoredom.
Previously on Beware the Cat: Mouseslayer the Cat has been called before the Great Grey Cat and is telling the assembled cats her lifestory.
Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin
Layer 2: main narrative spoken by Streamer
Layer 3: The council of cats
Layer 4: Mouseslayer’s stories
The split of Protestantism from Catholicism was fuelled by many things from socio-political change to expedient convenience for monarchs. However, theological disputes helped frame those issues in terms of differences in faith. For Catholics the sacrament of the Eucharist (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist ) involved a literal change of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. This idea had been rejected by protestant theologians including Martin Luther.
At the time that Beware the Cat was written the Catholic Church had confirmed its doctrine on transubstantiation at the Council of Trent (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Trent ). Meanwhile the doctrine had been rejected as part of the protestant reforms in England. Later during Elizabeth’s reign the Church of England would officially assert that: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Instead many Anglicans would claim that while there was no literal transformation, Jesus was present (in some spiritual sense). This theological debate contnues to this day – although its much less heated and nobody is either burnt at the stake or has their head chopped off as a consequence.
While not a perfect match, there is some similarity with the discussion in the first part of Beware the Cat as to whether witches literally turn into cats or just put their souls inside an existing cat. I assume that is intentional on Baldwin’s part and it seems a bit sacrilegious even from the protestant perspectives of the time.
Mouseslayer’s first story discusses this sacrament more directly. An old lady is cured of her blindness by a priest saying mass. As told, the story presents the sacrament as having real power. The assembled cats even discuss whether they could make use of priests to ensure that kittens aren’t born blind. The pragmatic Mouseslayer epxlains that she’s tried that experiment and it doesn’t work.
Mouseslayer’s First Story
“You should understand that my lord and lady, whose lives I told you about you last night, had left the city and gone to dwell in the country. They carried me with them, but being thus strange I lost their house, and with Birdhunt, my make, the gentlest in honest venery that ever I met with, went to a town where he dwelt, called Stratford (either Stony upon Tine, or upon Avon, I do not well remember which) where I dwelt for half a year. This was in the time when preachers had leave to speak against the Catholic mass, but it was not forbidden until half a year later. In this time I saw nothing worthy to certify my lord save this, my lady, with whom I dwelt, and her husband were both old, and therefore had to be turned from their rooted beliefs in the mass, which caused young folk, chiefly their sons and a learned kinsman of theirs, to be the more earnest to teach and persuade them. ; When they had almost brought the matter to a good point, I cannot tell how it chanced, but my lady’s sight failed her, and she was so sick that she kept to her bed for two days. So she sent for the parish priest, her old godly father. When all had left her chamber, except she, the priest and me, she told him how sick she was and how blind. Because that she could see nothing, she desired him to pray for her and give her good counsel.
The priest replied thus, “It is no marvel though you be sick and blind in body which suffer your soul willingly to be blinded, you send for me now, but why send you not for me when these new heretics taught you to leave the Catholic belief of Christ’s flesh in the sacrament ?’
‘Why, Sir,’ said she, ‘I did send for you once, and when you came they posed you so with holy writ and saints writings, that you could say nothing but call them heretics, and that they had made the New Testament themselves.”
“Ye,” said he, ‘but did I not bid you take heed then, and told you how God would plague you?”
“Yes, good Sir,” said she, “you did ; and now, to my pain, find you too true a prophet! But I beseech you forgive me and pray to God for me, and whatsoever you will teach me that will I believe unto the death.”
“Well,’ said he, “God refused us sinners that will repent, and, therefore, in any case believe Christ’s flesh, body, soul, and bone, is as it was born of our blessed Lady in the consecrated host; and see that you worship it, pray, and offer to it, for by it many of your friends souls may be brought out of purgatory, which these new heretics say is no place at all, but when their soul’s fire is in it they shall tell me another tale! That you may know that all I say is true, and that the mass can deliver those souls that trust in it from all manner sins, I will by and by say you a mass that shall restore your sight and health.”
Then took he out of his bosom a wafer and called for wine, and then, shutting the door, dressed himself in a surplice, and set upon a table before the bed he laid his posture, and there he said mass. When he came to the Kyrie Eleison, he lifted up the wafer and said to my lady, , “Wipe thine eyes, thou sinful woman, and look upon thy Maker.”
With that she lifted up herself and saw the wafer, and her sight returned and her health was as well as ever she had before.
When mass was done she thanked God and the priest exceedingly, and he gave charge that she should tell to none of the young folks how she had been helped, for his bishop had throughout the diocese forbidden them to say or sing any mass, but he also commanded her that secretly to tell of it to old honest men and women. By reason of this miracle many are so confirmed in their belief that, although by common law all masses upon penalty have been forbidden, many have them privately and nightly said in their chambers until this day.”
The Cats discuss Mouseslayer’s First Story
“Marry, Sir,” said another cat called Polinos, “this was either a mighty miracle or else a mischievous subtlety of a majestical minister. If we assume the priest, by magical arts, blinded her not beforehand, and then by like magical sorcery cured her again, it would be good for us to hire him, or other priests, to sing a mass before our kitlings, that they might in their birth be delivered of their blindness. If I hear the priest it should escape me hard but I would have one litter of kittens in some chamber where he used now to say his privy night masses.”
“What need of that,” said Mouseslayer, “it would do them no good, for I myself, upon like consideration, kittened since in another mistress chamber of mine where a priest every day said mass, but my kitlings saw no the better, but rather the worse.”