Plague like Cats

Soft Instruments of Sharp Justice in William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat

in Explorations in Renaissance Culture
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Although many scholars have acknowledged the dark thread interwoven into William Baldwin’s playful narrative Beware the Cat, they have largely ignored the role of plague in heightening the work’s sense of impending danger. Baldwin intensifies our sense of peril by including at every level of his narrative references to plague. In Beware the Cat, contagious disease symbolically melds with other kinds of divine punishment. These include bestial transformations, farcical exposure, and painful afflictions, especially the startling appearances of and painful biting, scratching, strangling, and suffocation by cats. All are ways that God punishes his creatures for their abominations. Baldwin’s emphasis on plague as God’s vengeance for sin becomes one of the cats’ most significant meanings and a key to our understanding of the protagonist Gregory Streamer’s strange quest.

Plague like Cats

Soft Instruments of Sharp Justice in William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat

in Explorations in Renaissance Culture



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    “Cat (musio).” ms Lit D 10 Canterbury Bestiary, f.11. Canterbury Cathedral Library.

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    Three cats, one holding a rat; a rat feeding on eggs. Bestiary.

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    Three cats sit; one holds Mouse in forepaws. A fourth cat stalks mouse (outside frame). The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. ms M.81. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) in 1902.

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    “Of the Catte,” The noble lyfe & natures of Man, of beastes, serpentys, fowles & fisshes yt be most knowen (1527), Doesborsche, Jan van, translated by Laurens Andrewe, 1527? Wellcome Library, London.

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    Woodcut of a cat walking between a bawd and a young married woman. Aesopus, Vita, after Rinucius, et Fabulae, Lib. I–IV, translated into English by William Caxton. Westminster, 26 Mar. 1484.


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