157:  A Cat Behind the Arras?


On my way to my house in Black-Fryes I saw Scabface.

“What newes?” I arrkst.

He boasted that Queen Puss had been so affrighted by his assalt on White-Hall she was now clean mad.

“Much given,” sayt he, “to thrusting her sword into the wall-cloth.  No cat will hide behind it for fear of being mistook for me and slain.”

“How know you this?” I arrkst.

“I have friends at court,” sayt Scabface, hawtie.

I guessed he meant some queen cats who wished to flatter him.

But when I told Linkin this, he sayt,  “All goes hard with Queen Puss.  The Spanish have sent aid to the Irishes.  And when she oped a parlement so she could get more money to fight them, she near fell down ’neath the weight of her robes.”

Queen Elizabeth. This portrait was painted some years after her death.  The background is obscure, but Time is looking over her right shoulder, and Death the left.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

Linkin sayt, “The members of her parlement complain of abuses.  The Queen gives money-pollies [monopolies] to men she favours, and that makes goods too costly for common folk.  The rich lie about how much money they have, and do not pay their tax.  There was talk of caterpillars in our commonwealth.”

When I first heard of caterpillars at Essex House, I thought they were pillars for cats to sit on.

Then Linkin, who watches the mistress tend her garden, told me they were worms that consume all.  So I guessed my rebellous friends were speaking meta-forricle (as my uncle Gib would have sayt), and caterpillars were wicked folk who grew fat while others starved.

“Hah!” sayt I to Linkin.  “The Earl of Essex is dead, and his friends in jail or banished to the country, yet the talk is still the same.  I heard Queen Puss can’t get her claws on my Earl’s estates.  Perhaps she wishes he were behind the arras [tapestry] that she stabs so fierce.”

At this Luvvie the Player Cat (who’d crept close to hear our talk) cried, “How now, a rat?  Dead for a ducat, dead.”

I was puzzled.  I’d heard those words before, but knew not where.

Then I sayt, “It should be cat.  The speech is of a cat.  Was there not a cat behind an arras?”

Luvvie sayt, “I do not doubt it should be cat, but the knave chose to spite me by giving me no kew [cue].  There’s nowt but insults to me in that play.  The cat will mew, the dog will have his day.  What make you of such words?”

“Nothing” sayt I, wearie of his nonsense.  “And were you the cat, you might have been slain in earnest.”

A grey tabby cat, peering eagerly over the back of a chair.
Luvvie the Player Cat.

“Not I,” sayt Luvvie.  “The player strikes high.  An old man is killed.  I could have come forth to great applauds.”

“I was killed once,” sayt Linkin, sudden.  “In a play.  I enacted old Lord Purrlie.”

“Was you killed behind an arras?” arrkst Luvvie.

Sayt Linkin, “The play was in our Field, and I was hid among grasses.  Mayhap the grasses enacted an arras.”

“Who killed you?” arrkst Luvvie.

“The wicked Earl of Ox-Foot.  Then he swore ’twas done by Young Hamton.”

“You mean Young Hamlet,” sayt Luvvie.  “And there’s no Ox-Foot in the play.” 

“There was,” sayt I. “I know, for I was in it.  My mother enacted the Ghost of Old Hamton, and I the Maggot that was dropped in his ear to kill him.”

“You mean Old Hamlet,” sayt Luvvie.  “And it was poyson in his ear that killed him.  Who made this play whereof you speak?”

“My late uncle Gib,” sayt I.  “Who made the one you know?”

But I’d alreadie guessed what Luvvie’s answer would be.

If any man deserved a maggot in his ear, it were that knave Snakes-Purr.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorBy late 1601 Queen Elizabeth was 68, increasingly frail, often depressed, and in pain from arthritis and bad teeth.  Essex’s execution had made her unpopular.

Her lively godson, Sir John Harington, visited her Court, and later wrote to a friend in a letter dated 9 October.  He reported that the Queen was ill-attired, eating little, and frowning on her ladies.  Despite the fact that any danger from “the city business” (i.e. the Essex rising) was past, she kept a sword by her table.  She had bursts of temper at ill news, stamping her feet, and thrusting “her rusty sword at times into the arras in great rage.”

Sir John tactfully attributed this behaviour to the effects of “many evil plots and designs”, but it probably had several causes.

Elizabeth opened her last parliament on 27 October 1601.  While it was in session there were riots and a demonstration.  She eventually got the money she wanted after making her famous Golden Speech on 30 November, but she must have known she was losing control of her kingdom.