56:  I Form a Company

16th century farm buildings, with a pile of hay.Today we met most private near my sister’s barn.

Me, my sister, Nero, and Linkin.  The Mad Cat came, unarrkst. (He followed Linkin.)

I told of my plan.  A performance in the Cats’ Field.

I sayt we would name ourselves Lord Southampton’s Cats.  This pains me, I confess.  I am my lord’s cat.  There can be none other.

But all players must be the servants of some great personage, else they are vagabonds.

And the others would not wish to be known as Lord Southampton’s Cat’s Cats.

Indeed, they were disputatious.

Item:  I gave an explication of a performance.  I thought my sister and Linkin might not know, she being a barn queen and he from a puritan household.

But Linkin knew all, as ever.  His master goes to plays in the city, and on his visits to his mother tells of what he’s seen.

Item:  I sayt we would enact A Most Lamentable Tragedie of Everybodie.

A close-up of a ginger and white cat meowing.

Linkin sayt that only one in a play can be tragick.  All others are there to be killed, to show how tragick that one is.

My sister sayt, “If it be a tale of blood and scruffing, best call it a comedy.”

Item:  I sayt I had in mind four excellent characters, there being but four of us.  But I also fancie a ghost that wails of revenge.

All looked to the Mad Cat, but he was sleeping.

“Some may play two parts,” sayt Linkin.

Nero sayt, “I’ll agree to nowt till I know more.”

Item:  I told of the first act.  “Lion Rampant enters and tells all he is hungry.  He praises cooks most high, for they have all the scents and savours of the kitchen in their veins.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604). Attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
The Earl of Ox-Foot, better known as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604). Attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

“He recalls how once he lapped the blood of a cook killed by the Earl of Ox-Foot.  Lord Purrlie [Burghley] excused the crime, and Ox-Foot married his daughter.

“Then, while bending low before the Queen, Ox-Foot let a fart. He was so shamed he fled to Italy.

“Now Lion waits for him to come home and kill again, so he may have another lick of choice blood.”

Nero arrkst, “Who will play Lion?”

I sayt my sister might.

Nero gave her unkind looks.

My sister sayt she couldn’t, because she’s great-bellied.

“I fear,” sayt I, “you’ll have birthed and reared those kits before any sees this play.”

They took my meaning.  I continued, “Ox-Foot enters, most italianate.  He complains of the pirates who hindered his return.”

A Lion Rampant, from the Earl of Southampton's coat of arms.
Lion Rampant.

Nero narrowed his eyes.  He told my sister she would do well as Lion.

She sayt she was too fat to act rampant.

I sayt, “Ox-Foot boasts of his Italian lecheries, and tells Lion he hates his own wife.  He hates his daughter too.  He hopes Lord Purrlie will find her a husband.

“The Queen enters, very hot for Ox-Foot.  She says:

Ah, fate most cruel that kept us far apart.
Why so long away? We have forgot the fart.

“She and Ox-Foot run off.  Lion is left hungrie.  Word of pirates makes him long for blood that savours of the sea and the fish that swim in it.  He swears he’ll be avenged on Ox-Foot.”

My sister arrkst, “Is that it?”

“There’s more Acts to follow.”

“How shall we learn all we must say?” she arrkst.

“I’ll instruct you in your speeches.”

A play book - the cover page of Thomas Kyd's immensely popular tragedy.
A play book c.1592 – Thomas Kyd’s popular tragedy.

Linkin found it needful to tell us he could read play books. (Newes to me.)

Sayt he, “They’re printed fair.  But I can’t read what’s writ by pen, so I’ll require instruction.”

“I’ll devise mine own speeches,” sayt Nero.

I let that pass.

Then he sayt “’Twere best our play be named The Most Lamentable Comedy of the Earl of Ox-Foot.”

“Call it what you will,” sayt I.  “What’s in a name?”

Item:  Our agreement.  I will play Lion Rampant, Nero the Earl of Ox-Foot, Linkin Lord Purrlie, and my sister, great-bellied or no, the Queen.  Also the Ghost, if we have one.

Black Cat (Nero) peeking over a plank.Then the Mad Cat spake against us.  (We thought he slept.)

He sayt, “Never have I heared of such lewd and bloodie doings.”

“Spread that abroad,” sayt Nero.  “So all good cats know to keep away.”

Nero is suttle.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Gib’s play provides an example of how writers of what Gib would call “poetick fictions” can draw on their own experience to produce something that bears no resemblance to it.

The Lion Rampant character is a bogey from Gib’s kittenhood, when Gib saw him in the Wriothesley coat of arms.  As for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604): Gib’s heard all the gossip, of which there was plenty.

Oxford did kill an undercook, while he (Oxford) and a companion were fencing.  The coroner’s decision was that the man had committed suicide by running onto Oxford’s sword.  His hostility to his first wife (Anne Cecil, daughter of Lord Burghley) was a scandal, along with his initial claim that their first child Elizabeth wasn’t his.

Gib’s fart story may be an invention, though it’s mentioned by John Aubrey (1626-1697) in his Brief Lives. 

Oxford was also a poet and playwright, but none of his plays have survived.  Unless, of course, you believe that they’re the ones that were printed under the name of William Shakespeare.  I can’t do justice to his erratic life here; check him out on Wikipedia