51: An Upcreeping Ear-licker

Gib, looking large-eyed and self important.Yes.  An upstart that thinks hisself a poet has been so bold as to come creeping after my lord.

I have his book before me.  “Right Honourable,” (writes he to my lord) “I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship.”

Thus he crawls, tail a-wag and belly to the ground, as such curs do.

“Only, if your honour seem but pleased,” (which is to say: reward me well) “I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours” (as I now take advantage of you) “till I have honoured you with some graver labour.”

Well, I hope that labour may be a grave one indeed.  Whose grave, you may guess.

The cover of the first edition of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, 1593.His poem was of Venus and Adonis.  The knave took it from the Book of Changes [Ovid’s Metamorphoses] wherein I have found some tales.

He changed the Adonis tale to suit hisself (as a poet should) but his embellishments are most lascivious. 

Adonis, a silly boy, goes hunting.  Venus, Queen of Love, calls to him, pulls him from his horse, drags him away, and flings him to the ground.

He hates her as I hate my empty bowl.  And he’s not willing to scruff her.  So she says he’s in love with himself like Narcissus. (Yes, he again.  Can these fools write of none other?)

A bed of wild violets.
“Be bold to play, our sport is not in sight:
These blue-vein’d violets whereon we lean
never can blab, nor know not what we mean.”

Adonis tries to flee, but his horse has run off after a hot mare.  Venus praises his horse most high.  All Adonis wants is to catch him.  And run away from Venus.  He’s too young to do what she wills.  His day is spoiled.

In truth, I found this tale so tedious I did but skim the rest.  There was a hare that was of interest to me, and later some sorry dogs.  Nowt else.

At last Adonis did go to kill a boar, but the boar killed him.  All know that, because the ends of these old tales may never be changed.  Up came a flower from his blood, which Venus picked.  Then she flew away with two doves.

Word of doves inflamed my appetite, I do confess.  By good fortune, there was baked pigeon for my supper.  With gravy.

When I told of this nonsense at the Cats’ Field, the queen cats could not believe it.  My sister marvelled that any hot queen would molest an innocent kitling.

Some were offended.  One arrkst why Adonis had not called to his mother.  She would have chased that nastie goddess off.

The Mad Cat lost no time in saying that my newes proved the wickedness of poesie. “A poet, a liar, a lecher.  Who can tell one from another?” arrkst he.

A black cat looking excited

That made us merry.  Nero leapt up and sayt, “Friend, I fear you may be right.”

I sayt, “I fear there may be more such fooleries to come.”

“There will,” sayt Linkin the Law Cat.  “Two winters more, and our young Earl will be of full age and get his claws on all his money.  The starveling poets know it.”

“They’ll swoop like glutton gulls,” sayt Nero.

“And who is this upcreeping ear-licker that writ so foul?” my sister arrkst.

A scarlet macaw, from an eighteenth century painting.“Certes, no cat,” sayt Nero.  “Nor no gentleman neither.”

“I hear tell he’s a mere player,” sayt I.  “One that never utters a line of his own invention, but spews forth those of others.”

“Like to the parrot my master keeps, and fowl it be,” sayt Nero.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe narrative poem Venus and Adonis was published some time after 18 April 1593 when it was entered in the Register at Stationer’s Hall.  William Shakespeare’s name is not on the cover, but beneath the dedication.  His first appearance in print.

It was a bestseller, and said to be very popular with the younger sort.  As Shakespeare’s Adonis sounds so young (a major change from Ovid’s version where Venus and Adonis are, briefly, a couple), modern readers are more likely to share the queen cats’ opinion.  But that wouldn’t have been how a lot of Elizabethans read it. 

The plague continued in London throughout 1593, and the theatres and other areas for public entertainment (such as bowling, and bear or bull baiting) were closed.  So what was Shakespeare doing that year?  Some have speculated that he may have entered the Earl’s service, and spent some time at Place House.  If so, Gib hasn’t confirmed his presence there.


48:  I am Disquieted

I passed summer in the garden with my new friends.  I believe they’re the gardener’s kits.  They made garlands of daisies to hang about my neck, and I rode in the little cart.  Good sport for all.

At the Cats’ Field I heard newes but, true to my vow, I told no tales.

None arrkst me to. (Can you credit it?)

I will never cast another pearl before such swine.  

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

At our last assembly, Linkin the Law Cat sayt that his master has come from the city, and all the household were joyed to see him. His master is in health, but there is sickness in London.

There has long been pestered [crowded-together] houses in the city.  And many folk from strange lands, and ships too.  All are known to cause sickness, but Linkin’s master fears this may prove to be the worst in his lifetime.

A collection of items on a table which demonstrate the transience of life: a candle, a letter, a quill pen, a pocket watch, a plucked flower, and a human skull.
– by Pieter Claesz (c1597-1660). Held in the Franz Hals Museum.

Some arrkst the Mad Cat if the pestilence were sent by the Queen Cat of Heaven to punish those who abuse us poor cats and all Creation.

But the Mad Cat sayt that dreadful day is yet to come.

To cheer us, I gave newes from my household, with embellishments.

Viz. that Her Majestie – she that the common sort call Queen Puss [Bess] – having ate all there was in her own house, set forth to devour other folks’ food.  As is her custom.

I sayt, “Small wonder that so many of her friends have given up the ghost.  Our Countess’s old father never has been well since the Queen was at his house last year.”

“The ghost?  What ghost?” came a call.  And then, “May we hear a tale of ghosts?”

I could scarce believe my ears.  Now the lackwits want a tale from me.

“No!” I cried.

But even as I spake, the poetick maggot in my head whispered a ghostly word to me.  That word was: Revenge.

I saw Nero prick his ears, too.  What might his maggot have said of ghosts?

To hush my maggot, Nero, and all, I told how Her Majestie had been entertained in the learned town of Ox-Foot [Oxford].  Our Earl was in her company.

The scholars made many speeches in Greek and Latin, and Her Majestie replied in like manner.  And she called for a stool so old Lord Purrlie [Burghley] might sit, he being too lame to stand whilst she spake.

He’s like to die soon.

And I do not doubt that, with so many rich folks in Ox-foot, starveling poets came creeping ghost-like after them, singing their praises in hopes of a reward.

Not long after our assembly, I had a horrid thought.  Her Majestie might come here again. Would my lord be fool enough to invite her?  There has been much bustle about the house and yard, as happened before.

And then I saw a wash-wench [laundry maid] wearing a riband.  One that was stole from my basket when first I came hither.

I kept my countenance, though I was disquieted.  I stepped into the garden to find a place of safety whence I might watch all while none saw me.

Instead, I heared a whisper, “There he is!”

And what do I see but my three little playfellows, all as wary as I.  Two had the gardener’s cart, and one a wreath of ivy.

What happened after, I shall set down in my next little book.

Elizabeth, gorgeously dressed, seated with her hand on a globe, and two panels behind her - one of ships on a calm sea, the other of shipwrecks.
The image of power.  Elizabeth at her most regal, in the portrait to commemorate the defeat of the Armada in 1588. The dark panel behind her left shoulder shows the wrecking of the Spanish ships in heavy seas. Or, as the Mad Cat had it, by the Queen Cat of Heaven lashing her tail.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorQueen Elizabeth and her court were in Oxford in late September 1592.  Gib’s dark remarks about her dead friends have a grain of truth in them.

Elizabeth had reached that melancholy time of life when many of her oldest and most trusted companions and advisers were dying.  However, Lord Burghley, 72 at the time of the Oxford visit, lived until 1598.

The young courtiers who surrounded the Queen were probably wondering when she too would die.  Bewigged, bejewelled, black-toothed, and caked with make-up, she must have seemed (at 59) ancient.

The Oxford locals, kept some way off, were probably dazzled.

And as for Gib’s “starveling poets”: in his biography of the Earl of Southampton, G P V Akrigg refers to a poem in Latin by John Sanford who describes him at Oxford as “…a lord of lofty line whom rich Southampton claims…as a great hero.  There was present no one more comely, no young man more outstanding in learning, though his mouth scarcely yet blooms with tender down.”

From this we may assume that Gib’s young Earl, almost 19, was not what we would call an early developer.  But, poets being what they are, that’s all we can believe.

In her biography of the Earl, Charlotte Carmichael Stopes attributes the poem to Philip Stringer. I couldn’t track down an online copy of the poem, but I’d be interested in what it had to say about the 26 year old Earl of Essex.  As Elizabeth’s favourite nobleman, he was the one to curry favour with.