138:  The Player Cat Comes Among Us

A black, white, and orange cat against a background of flamesI thought he was sent to spy on the Earl of Essex, because I’d never before seen a cat rowed across the river by a waterman. 

Scabface seized him by the throat and held him down.  I commenced the interrogation.

What was he?  Whom did he serve?  What business had he on our side of the river?

Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain (1547-1601) by Nicholas Hilliard. Patron of the company in which Shakespeare was a shareholder, but he signed the petition that prevented them from using the Blackfriars theatre as a public playhouse.

Between his yowls and pleas for mercie, he swore he was an honest cat.  In the service of the Lord Chamberlain.  Visiting friends in Black-Fryes.

So why had he come to Essex House and leap onto our river wall?

He confessed he didn’t know where Black-Fryes was.

Now that were wondrous strange.  The Lord Chamberlain had a house in Black-Fryes.

Yet all this cat could tell me of Black-Fryes was that he’d heard of a playhouse there that gave plays for the better sort.

I arrkst him why he’d concealed hisself in the boat that carried Essex’s friends.

He gasped, “To cross the water.”


Scabface gave him kicks for that impudencie.

So then he sayt that once across the river he’d hoped to find his way to Paws [St Paul’s].  And enkwire there for Black-Fryes, and his friends.

I demanded to know who these friends were.

Two sisters, sayt he.  Who’d come to him last spring.  Seeking Snakes-Purr the player.

I bade Scabface release him then.

He spake more free without Scabface’s teeth at his throat.

He sayt he’d told those sisters where Snakes-Purr might be found, but they – being citie queens – had no wish to cross the river.

Nor had he, then.  The south bank was a wicked place, festered with bears and bulls and bloodie dogs.  But one day he – being curious – followed a player from the playhouse in the fields along the street that led to the bridge. 

When he wished to turn back, a gang of ruffians [dogs] chased him.  He ran through the citie’s gate, and sought shelter at an inn.

And having come so far, he journeyed on.  Inn to inn.  Then he crossed the bridge, praying no wicked person would cast him in the river for sport.

The Player Cat’s journey, adapted from a map in Joseph Quincy Adams’ ‘Shakespearean Theatres’.
He set out from the vicinity of the Curtain (upper right) and made his way south to the bridge.
The blue stars mark the inns where he may have sheltered – these had yards where plays were performed.
The brown circles on the south bank mark the approximate sites of bear and bull baiting; the playhouses are red. Note: This map shows only the playhouses existing before the end of the 16th century.

He crept through the fearsome southern stinks until he nosed his Theater, built anew and named the Glob.  His old company, the Lord Chamberlain’s men, was there.  Snakes-Purr among them.

The Globe Theatre with the river shown behind it.
The Glob, better known as the Globe.

It was at the Glob he saw the gentlemen.  They’d come to bespeak a play of their own choosing.

“What play was that?” I arrkst, thinking of my uncle’s play in which I acted the Maggot.

“An old thing,” sayt he. “About a fool king.  There’s no kew [cue] for a cat in it.  So when the gentlemen went to the river to call for oars I followed them.  The wind was chill, and all sat hunched.  None saw me creep aboard.”

Scabface, wearie of this talk, gave me winks and slipped away.  I guessed he meant to go to White-Hall and make readie for the actions to come.

I told the Player Cat I was bound for Black-Fryes.  He, having nowhere else to go, came limping after me.

How ill we’d used him on first akwayntance!  Rightly so, as it fell out, but I did not know that then.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTricks is as indifferent to days and dates as her uncle Gib was, but the Player Cat’s interrogation must have taken place on Thursday 5 or Friday 6 February 1601.

On one of those days Essex supporter Sir Charles Percy, with a few others, commissioned a performance of a play “variously described as being ‘of Harry the iiiith,’ ‘of Kyng Harry the iiiith and of the kyllyng of Kyng Richard the Second,’ and ‘of the deposyng and kyllyng of Kyng Richard the Second’.”[1]

Richard II Title PageThis was to be played at the Globe on Saturday.

Was it Shakespeare’s Richard II?  Or a play by someone else?

It’s a matter of scholarly debate, but historian Paul Hammer favours  Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Well, we do know the play wasn’t written by Gib because it’s of no interest to Tricks.

[1] Paul E. J. Hammer:  Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol 59, No.1, Spring 2008 pp. 1-35


20 thoughts on “138:  The Player Cat Comes Among Us

    • toutparmoi July 5, 2018 / 2:07 am

      He was certainly eager to. But as yet, nobody has done anything much. Sir Robert’s rather cat-like himself. He certainly knew how to watch and wait, and pounce when the time was right.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday July 5, 2018 / 2:36 am

      Did no one think that putting on Henry IV or Richard II (whether Shakespeare’s or someone else’s) might be an indication of what some people were thinking about?

      You’re right about Sir Robert knowing when to wait. If I had any interest in writing a novel about the sixteenth century, he would feature in it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi July 5, 2018 / 4:24 am

      Well, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) was very popular because of comedic characters like Falstaff and the Justices Silence and Shallow.
      Richard II was also a popular play, first printed in 1597 and going through a couple of reprints soon after. Elizabethans seem to have bought copies of plays for light reading. How seriously they took them is anybody’s guess.
      The people most at risk for putting on the play (let’s say it was Richard II) were the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Their main concern was that it was too old. The Player Cat was of the same opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday July 5, 2018 / 4:38 am

      I’m surprised, but I suppose you can’t see everything as part of a plot to rebel.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi July 5, 2018 / 4:50 am

      Certainly not before the event. I’m so glad I have Tricks’ memoirs, even though she’s pro-Essex and her Earl and only scraping the surface.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday July 5, 2018 / 6:22 pm

      Yes, she’s a very good guide through the twists and turns of the period.


    • toutparmoi July 5, 2018 / 10:04 pm

      One thing Tricks missed was John Hayward’s 1599 book ‘The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IIII’, which is mainly about Richard II. She mentioned it in the Bad Imprintings post, but wasn’t very interested in it. In 1600, when Essex was in serious trouble, Hayward was questioned about his motives for writing it and sent to the Tower. The book was considered to be ‘evidence’ against Essex in 1600 and again at his trial in 1601.

      Which makes the matter of the Globe play seem even stranger.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday July 5, 2018 / 11:25 pm

      It’s all context, I suppose. Shakespeare wrote plays about kings of England, whereas John Hayward dedicated a treatise about a usurper to Essex. Mind you, 1599 was the two-hundredth anniversary of Richard’s deposition, although I don’t think the old Elizabethans celebrated such things in the same way that the new ones do.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi July 6, 2018 / 12:00 pm

      True. Books can be reread, loaned, and discussed in a way that a play’s performance can’t.
      There were parallels to be drawn between Ricardian and Elizabethan England by those who cared to: a childless ruler, an expensive war in Ireland, the ruler taking advice from the wrong people, etc.
      Along with the uncomfortable question of whether an unfit king should be deposed. (It was OK for Henry VII to take the throne from the villainous Richard III, of course.)

      There’s also the issue of the Richard II play’s deposition scene, which didn’t appear in print until 1608.
      Was it played on the stage, but kept out of the earlier printed versions of the play? Or was it an addition? Another matter of scholarly debate.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday July 6, 2018 / 6:34 pm

      I didn’t know that about the deposition scene. Once you start thinking about it, it’s quite interesting to see how many kings were deposed or murdered, or both. It’s far from the seamless handover from father to oldest son/daughter that I always thought it was as a child.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi July 6, 2018 / 7:55 pm

      Yes! I’d never thought much about how often the crown changed hands as a result of violence, or what a risk not having a strong heir could be. It makes Henry VIII’s determination to have a son easier to understand, as well as explaining the anxiety about Elizabeth’s successor.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Travel Past & Present July 6, 2018 / 11:02 am

    Being an urban geographer by original trade, I loved the map and how you researched the theatres and inns. I began to remember the “theatre cat” and how he responded “when anyone mentioned the need for a cat.” His name escapes me just as the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi July 6, 2018 / 12:17 pm

      Tricks just refers to him as the ‘player cat’ but if he hangs around he’s sure to be given a more distinctive name.
      I have a lot of fun with all the various maps that exist for Old, New, and modern London. Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint places; others it’s just best guess.


  2. kidsofthe50sand60s July 7, 2018 / 6:53 am

    I love the map and the picture of ‘The Glob’ – especially as it’s an area I know quite well in the present.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi July 10, 2018 / 4:08 pm

      We may never know the full list, but Gib didn’t display much interest in kings in his surviving writings. I think we can safely discount the history plays.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. colonialist July 12, 2018 / 7:22 am

    The welcome Player Cat received was certainly not effusive. Tricks had no reason to be otherwise, though and it is strange that she seems contrite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi July 12, 2018 / 2:52 pm

      Not exactly contrite, I feel – just mindful that this cat might help her track down the villain that stole her uncle’s work.


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