199:  I Write a Fine Page

An alert-looking black and white cat
Harry, our narrator

It was not until my lord returned from the countrie that I could snap a good pen.

While he gaped at the table whereon he’d left it, I feigned sleep and thought on what I might write when I could use his ink and paper.

Snakes-Purr’s name, yes.  But what more?  I bethought me of the book Picker and Stealer had that showed his name writ large.
M (for Master) William Shakespeare's name on the title page of King Lear.
He’ll get no M. for Master from me.  He calls hisself Master because he has a coat [of arms].

Sure, he paid good coin for that.  Belike his mother gave him money for his pocket and sent him to London to find employment, he being of no use at home.

So what did Snakes-Purr do?  Haunted playhouses and other low places, but bought a coat so his mother and father would think he were a good boy. 

My mother always swore the fellow that sold him the coat was a knave.  Not content with selling false coats, he’d read the proclamation that called my lord and the most noble and heroick Earl of Essex traitors!

My mother saw him with her own eyes.

So, no M.  And no William neither.  The foot that holds my pen would write Villain instead of William, no matter what I willed.

Quill Pen

At last I was alone with inks and paper.  I wrote very fine across the top of the page SHAKE-SPEARES.  And underneath, smaller, SONNETS.

I was not sure I’d writ all proper, but ’twould serve.

Then, knowing my mother had seen two of my uncle’s sonnets in a book of verses with Snakes-Purr’s name on it, I wrote:  Never before imprinted.

That would show all what a liar he were.

While I rested my foot I thought a little picture of my uncle Gib would look well, but I did not have one to copy.

Then I remembered my uncle had a coat, given him by our Earl.  My mother drew it for us kits to see. 

I made a line under the words I’d writ, and drew my uncle’s coat as best I could.

Gib’s coat of arms.

A cat with four birds ’neath an earl’s coronet.

Then I drew another line beneath my picture.

Next would come Tom Torp’s name, and I had never seen it writ.  Were it Tom Torp or Thom Thorp?

I had no time to lose.

At the bottom of the page I writ: PRINTED AT LONDON for T.T.

I trusted that the printer would do all else needful.

Picker and Stealer praised me when they came to take the page.

They praised me even more when I offered them the portion of baked fowl I’d hooked in the kitchen.

It were for my private Christmas feast, but I love praise more than I love fowl.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTo be fair to Mr. William Shakespeare, there’s no historical evidence to support Harry’s claim that he was sent to London because he was no use at home.

To be fair to Harry, there’s no historical evidence to support any claim of how or even when Shakespeare came to London.  Sometime between 1585 and 1590-ish, probably.

 Harry is definitely unfair about the coat of arms.  Apparently William’s father John had applied for it in the late 1570s, but didn’t pursue his application.  In 1596 William pursued it for him (and himself). 

I’ve no idea how much it cost.  I’ve seen a range of £10 – £30 quoted.  Bearing in mind that a university-educated schoolmaster earned around £20 a year, and the late Linkin’s lawyer master possibly twice that, even £10 seems a lot for Shakespeare to spend before he was a shareholder in the Globe theatre and entitled to a cut of the box-office profits.

Was he as eager to impress a parent as Harry himself was?

There’s no need to be fair to William Dethick (c1543-1612), the herald who granted the arms to John Shakespeare.  He was given to exceeding his authority, and insulting his fellow heralds.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, he attacked the wife of another herald, “pushing her head into the fireplace with his boot, and pouring hot ashes, alcohol, and the contents of her chamber pot over her head”.  He was also accused of numerous other assaults, including two at important funerals (which heralds often attended in their official capacity).  However, he managed to hang onto his job.

When the Earl of Essex was asked at his trial in 1601 why he’d disregarded the herald (Dethick) who read the proclamation of treason, Essex is reported to have said that he heard the Queen’s name mentioned but saw no authority other than a herald’s coat on the back of a fellow that had been burned on the hand (i.e. branded as a felon) and was known to be a notable knave.[1]

In 1602 another herald, Ralph Brooke (who doubtless had it in for Dethick), drew up a list of coats of arms that he claimed were dodgy.  The late John Shakespeare’s (now William’s) was among them, but that grant was upheld.  

[1] H.L. Stephen, State Trials Political and Social Second Series vol III (London 1902) pp45-46



9 thoughts on “199:  I Write a Fine Page

  1. colonialist December 19, 2019 / 3:20 am

    Mind you, a coat of arms probably was a good investment for being taken seriously.
    That Dethick seems to have been utterly Dethick-spicable!

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi December 19, 2019 / 4:05 am

      Dethickspicable indeed! I don’t think anyone took actors or playwrights seriously back then. Unless, of course, they were acting in or writing seditious works, in which case they could be pounced on. The acquisition of a coat of arms would only have impressed the folks back home.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April Munday December 19, 2019 / 9:57 am

    I fear Harry might be getting out of his depth here. Coats of arms are best left to those who care about such things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 19, 2019 / 11:27 am

      Well said. I’m sure most cats regard the coats they were born with as far superior to any coat of arms.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. mitchteemley March 26, 2020 / 1:32 am

    This explains so much. On behalf of the literary world, thank you, O prince of cats!

    Liked by 1 person

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