189:  The Player Cat Confounds Me

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

There came a day of pale sun.  I thought it were a fit day for me to seek the player cat.

I set forth to the garden by the river, hoping to encounter Onix.  I knew he liked to go there when he could slip away from his shop.  How joyed was I to nose him!

I did not tell him I’d writ a letter against Snakes-Purr.

I sayt I sought newes of a play-maker who may be implicate in the powder plot.  Or emprisoned for having writ against Scots.

I arrkst if he would lead me to the player cat.

He sayt ’twere better we arks at Paws Yard. 

I sayt, “No.  When last I went there I was accused of having writ the letter that betrayed the plot.”

“But you did write,” sayt Onix.

“I did not,” sayt I. 

“I mean,” sayt Onix, “you did right to write.  Picker and Stealer count it an honour that four plotters were execute in their yard.   E’en though they hid theirselves lest they too be hanged and cut to collops.”

Luvvie, the Player Cat.

I sayt, “I wish to friend the player cat.  I told my mother I would.”

“I never knowed Luvvie to friend any but hisself,” sayt Onix.

But he led me to Luvvie’s house.  He sayt my mother had lodged there too, when she was not at Essex House or thereabouts.

As we made our way across the rooves I heared a cat wauling most sorrowful.

“Oh eyes, no eyes, but fountains fraught with tears!  Oh life, no life, but lively form of death!  O world, no world, but mass of public wrongs…”

“What ails that poor cat?” I cried.

“That’s Luvvie.  The door’s shut fast, and he seeks admittance.  No more than that.”

True.  When we showed ourselves upon his wall he high-tailed it to us.

I greeted him most courteous.  He offered his nose.  Then I sayt, “Friend, I seek newes of Snakes-Purr.”

“I know nowt of that clown,” sayt Luvvie, and commenced cleansing his paws.

“Were you not to enact Thrice, a brinded cat, in his witch play?”

“I was,” sayt Luvvie.  “I’ve learnt more since.  That cat is not named Thrice.  It mews thrice.  Would you be told how oft to mew?  And enter with a hedgepig?”

“If you know nowt of Snakes-Purr, how know you that?” I arrkst.

“I was keeping watch above his window.  He talks to hisself.  Sure, none else would heark him.”

“So you can’t tell us of any player who knew of the powder plot?  Or offended the King?” arrkst Onix.

“Did I say that?” arrkst Luvvie.

“No,” sayt I in haste.

“My old akwayntance Pen [Ben] did both.  I’ll hear no word against him.  I have employment in our playhouse.”

Our Playhouse: the indoor theatre at Blackfriars, where the cheapest seats cost sixpence. Very select. It was leased to children’s companies, because adult companies were not permitted to perform there.
There’s a modern reconstruction in Staunton VA.

Luvvie continued, “When a player spake of the famous fable of Whittington and his Puss, that were my kew.  I enacted Puss, for what’s a play without a ghost?  Revenge, I cried.  Then I ran off, to great applauds.”

“You were super-excellent,” sayt Onix.

“I was,” sayt Luvvie. “You saw me?”

Onix sayt, “’Tis what I heard. That day I was keeping my shop.”

“Keep thy shop,” sayt Luvvie, “and thy shop will keep thee.  Fine words from a fine play.  Yet Pen and his friend were emprisoned for it.  Eastward Ho.”

“Oh,” sayt I, clean confounded by his swift talk.

“Ho,” sayt Luvvie.  “Eastward Ho.  But that were last year.  Pen and his friend are loose now.  Sure, Pen supped with the plotters and a Catlick lord or two.  What do that prove?  Nowt.”

Ben Jonson, from the cover of Ian Donaldson’s ‘Ben Jonson: A Life.’

My head felt fit to burst. 

I sayt, “Then was it Pen who writ the letter that revealed all?”

“No,” sayt Luvvie.  “You did.”

I sayt, “I writ a letter informing against Snakes-Purr.  No more than that.”

Luvvie sayt, “None read it, for he’s still at liberty.  Now hear this.  ’Tis what we are that brings us down, not what we do.  Snakes-Purr is a thief; thievery will bring him down.  Work upon that now.”

I came away no wiser than I went.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorOdd, the way reputations are forged.  Onix became a local hero after the siege of Essex House, though he was in there by accident.  Now the cats are convinced that Harry wrote the letter that revealed the Gunpowder Plot.

And what of Ben Jonson?  We’ve heard about the charge of manslaughter , which wasn’t his first brush with the law.  While in jail he converted to Catholicism.

Later, despite his position as a writer of court masques for Queen Anne and King James, he was summoned to appear before the Privy Council to answer charges of popery and treason resulting from his play Sejanus (1603/1604).

In 1605 came Eastward Ho! written with George Chapman and John Marston. It’s a racy comedy of London life, where everyone is on the make by fair means or foul.  It’s laced with references to other plays and the catch phrases people probably picked up from them, as we pick up lines from movies and TV.  It also sniped at Scots and King James.  Chapman and Jonson were jailed.  

Next, Jonson attended a supper party on 9 October 1605 with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, Francis Tresham, Thomas Winter, Lord Mordaunt (one who excused himself from parliament on 5 November), and two others.  Accident or design?  

By 7 November Jonson was in touch with Robert Cecil about an unnamed priest who might give testimony about the plot.  The priest failed to materialise, but that doesn’t seem to have been held against Jonson.