THE CAT IN SHAKESPEARE

Shakespeare - the cat in shakespeareThe cat is referred to in many of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, albeit always negatively.  And it was Shakespeare who borrowed the name Tybalt from the fable Reynard the Fox, and used it in his play Romeo and Juliet, wherein Mercutio insultingly remarks that Tybalt is a “rat catcher” and the “king of cats.” He also refers to the cat’s ability to have nine lives when, again, Mercutio remarks, “Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.”  The first witch in MacBeth says, “Thrice the brindled cat hath mew’d.” And in another passage the witch says, “I come, Graymalkin.”  In Henry IV …..”I am melancholy as a gib cat.” In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff remarks that Pistol has “cat-a-mountain” looks.  A reference to the term “gato-montes” derived from Spanish meaning wild cat.  If the word cat was used, it was most likely a term of contempt, as in Tempest, when Antonio states, “For all the rest, they’ll take suggestion as a cat laps milk” and when Shylock says, “A harmless necessary cat.” And also, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Lysander says, “Hang off, thou cat.” Once more too, in Coriolanus it has the same meaning.  “Twas you incensed the rabble; Cats, that can judge as fitly of his worth, As I can of those mysteries which heaven Will not have earth to know.”   In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare refers to the game practiced in Scotland and by the Dutch, which was mentioned previously, where a cat was hung up on a cross beam between two high poles in a small barrel half filled with soot, and then men on horseback would ride back and forth trying to hit the barrel and break it, in order to release the cat for further torture and ultimate death.   Benedick says, “Hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me.”  Undoubtedly Shakespeare was not a fan of cats, but he did mention them many times in his plays, mostly using them as metaphorical tools to express the opinions of women and to describe women’s nature. 


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