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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Cats
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1322  Monday, 21 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Dec 1998 14:07:04 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1320  Re: Cats; Rites; Titus

[2]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Dec 1998 23:07:30 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1320 Re: Cats; Rites; Titus


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Dec 1998 14:07:04 EST
Subject: 9.1320  Re: Cats; Rites; Titus
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1320  Re: Cats; Rites; Titus

>  Though I think that Shakespeare especially in the early comedies and
>  tragedies will use a dirty pun whenever he can manage to fit it in, I
>  have some problems with Prince of Cats as a pun on "cazzo," even though
>  I had a friend whose name was Katz whose introduction always caused
>  snickers among Florentines.  Tybalt is also described as a princox, a
>  presumptuous and arrogant young man, an aggressive twit, a tomcat
>  constantly yowling to prove his manhood.  Isn't that enough to make him
>  Prince of Cats?  Also, if Shakespeare wanted to pun on "cazzo," why
>  would he do that for an audience that, for the most part, couldn't be
>  expected to get the Italian joke?

I think it's pretty clear that Shakespeare expected at least some
segment of his audiences to know Italian: why else would he have
Mercutio speak it, two lines before the king of cats reference, at
3.1.76?:

O calm, dishonorable, vile submission!
Alla stoccata carries it away.
Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?

Tyb. What wouldst thou have with me?

Mer. Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives . . .

Hardin Craig glosses the earlier reference (at 2.4.19) by observing that
the king of the cats in Reynard was Tybalt-"who," says Mercutio in the
same scene, "fights as you sing prick-song."

As Dr. Hamilton points out, and Dr. Flannagan implies, "cat" in general
was a pejorative in English, so the groundlings would have understood
without reference to Italian sexual slur that Mercutio was being nasty.
But given that Mercutio, like his creator, speaks Italian, and is given
to bawdy and/or punning remarks, is it such a stretch to imagine that
Shakespeare was amusing himself in this instance with just the sort of
word-play in which he characteristically delighted, maugre the folks in
the cheap seats who may not have understood?

Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 18 Dec 1998 23:07:30 +0000
Subject: 9.1320 Re: Cats; Rites; Titus
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1320 Re: Cats; Rites; Titus

> Though I think that Shakespeare especially in the early comedies and
> tragedies will use a dirty pun whenever he can manage to fit it in, I
> have some problems with Prince of Cats as a pun on "cazzo," even though
> I had a friend whose name was Katz whose introduction always caused
> snickers among Florentines.  Tybalt is also described as a princox, a
> presumptuous and arrogant young man, an aggressive twit, a tomcat
> constantly yowling to prove his manhood.  Isn't that enough to make him
> Prince of Cats?  Also, if Shakespeare wanted to pun on "cazzo," why
> would he do that for an audience that, for the most part, couldn't be
> expected to get the Italian joke?

Tybalt was the name of a famous Parisian fencer of the time, and I
believe he was also known as Prince of Cats. I got this piece of
information from a fencer who knew a great deal about the history of
fencing, but unfortunately have no references. I shouldn't think they'd
be too hard to find.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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