117: The Progress of Picker & Stealer

A fluffy black, white and ginger cat against the night sky.
Tricks – Mistress of the Revels.

I was not joyed when Picker and Stealer wished to give newes.

They believed they could say whate’er they chose to all cats of their akwayntance.  And none durst strike them a blow, because they fought as they spake.  In turns.

Onix told me they attacked him at his own door once.  They swore he gave them evil looks as they passed by.

No sooner had he kicked one off than the other sprang on him anew.    He’d feared for his verie life.

But I’d wished for a Revel where all would speak free, so when Picker and Stealer came forward I sayt, “These witty sisters have friends in places high and low.  They gather more newes in a sennight [week] than most can in a year.  Lend them your ears.”

“Or they’ll tear them from your heads!” called a cat.

A lean tabby cat on a roof at night.

“I’ll lend Stealer the tip of one,” called another.  “She has need of it.”

“The cat that bit off hers has more need of a vomitive!” cried Onix, of a sudden bold.


“Friends,” sayt I, “at this our Revel we may slander great folks.  Yea, and great cats too.  None shall be punished for it.  So if you choose to spread the newes Picker and Stealer bring, I pray you name them not.  Else everie paw might be turned against them, and they silenced forever.”

Then I sat, hoping I’d took the winds of wickedness from those sisters’ sails.

Even so, they sayt too much.  And too little.  Viz.

“We may be queens, but it’s not in summer that we make our progress.  We hear tell that Queen Puss used to set forth then, and eat her friends’ estates bare.

“We make our circumambulation of this town in the Fasting Time at winter’s end [Lent], but we eat well enough. 

“For ’tis then that pigeons will risk all for a blackened crust, and fishwives cease to watch their wares when a friend comes with a cup of warm ale.

“Few ever chase us far, for fear they’ll fall and brake a leg.

“First, we travelled eastward and passed beyond the Tower to learn the newes from the keys [quays].

The Tower of London, a view from across the river.

“There we heard tell that the Hector was making readie for Constantinople.  What pitie our Turkey friend here was not with us!  He could be on his way home now.

Picker is sorry that Kettie did not know of the ship that sailed for Constantinople.

“Aboard the Hector is a most ingenious gift for the Emperor of the Turks, because he’s had nowt to cheer him since he strangled all his brothers.

“The weather came warm, so we turned from the river and went among the vasty fields where playhouses lie. 

“Fancy, if you can, how mazed we were to find that one playhouse had fled our scene!

“A cat there sayt men came in the night and carried it away.  They have a plat to bear it over the river, and raise it anew on the south bank.  Thievery!

“We slipped into the other playhouse, and stayed long enough to snap an oyster or four.  The play was of some fool named Harry, as all fools are.

“That was not the onlie comedie we saw.  By the Tower we watched London’s Harry – we mean Lord Essex, for Lord Southampton is but his ’prentice – gather his soldiers before they made this town their stage.

“As we homeward came we met the cat who lodges with the doctor of astrologick fame.  Shall we tell you what the stars say of Essex?”

All spake at once then.  Some called for more of the Turkey Emperor, others to know what the learned doctor had discovered.

A few screeched, “Scandal!  Give us scandal!”

I wished to hear more of the play, but kept that thought well hid.

Instead, I sayt we would meet again on the morrow, when Picker and Stealer could answer all.

And to myself I vowed I’d slay them single or together before I’d yield my place as Mistress of the Revels.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorPicker and Stealer got around, even if they didn’t do the circumambulation they boasted of.

First eastward, possibly as far as Blackwall.  Though certainly not as far as Gravesend, about 20 miles downriver, from where the Hector sailed for Constantinople in February 1599.

Next, back towards the Tower and Tower Hill where the Earl of Essex assembled his troop before the parade through London which Tricks and Onix saw.  Then north to Shoreditch – still a rural area beyond the city wall – which had two playhouses, the Theatre and the Curtain.  There they found the Theatre had disappeared.  So on to the Curtain, where (Lent being over and the playhouse open) they may have seen a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

A major excursion for two cats, and it took them a couple of months.

As for the vanishing playhouse:  James Burbage, who died in 1597 shortly after his Blackfriars project fell through, had owned the Theatre, which he’d built on leased land.

A portrait thought to be of Richard Burbage (1567-1618)

The Theatre closed when the lease expired, and the actors had temporary use of the Curtain.

James Burbage’s sons Cuthbert and actor Richard, with the other actor/shareholders in the company (John Heminges, Will Kemp, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, and William Shakespeare), leased some land across the river in Southwark.

The Burbage brothers then invited the actors to help finance the new playhouse they planned to build there, in return for a share of the box-office profits.  It was built from the materials taken from the Theatre.

Nowadays the replica playhouse in Southwark is called Shakespeare’s Globe, but I can’t help thinking it should be known as Burbages’.