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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Cat in the Adage
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0114  Monday, 21 January 2002

[1]     From:   William Walsh <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 09:59:22 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

[2]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 10:29:44 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

[3]     From:   Louis Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 09:37:04 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage: Harrison's note

[4]     From:   Todd Pettigrew <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 11:49:07 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

[5]     From:   Martin Orkin <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 20:25:56 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

[6]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 18:37:16 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

[7]     From:   Brad Berens <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Jan 2002 11:25:47 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Walsh <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 09:59:22 -0500
Subject: 13.0111 Cat in the Adage
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

This one is a Wodehouse favorite:

'That is the problem which is torturing me, Jeeves. I can't make up my
mind.  You remember the fellow you've mentioned to me once or twice, who
let something wait upon something? You know who I mean -- the cat chap.'

'Macbeth, sir, a character in a play of that name by the late William
Shakespeare. He was described as letting "I dare not" wait upon "I
would", like the poor cat i' th' adage.'

According to Bartlett, it refers to a quote by John Heywood:

The cat would eate fish, and would not wet her feete.

Bill Walsh

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 10:29:44 -0500
Subject: 13.0111 Cat in the Adage
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

Susan St. John asked:

> I know that "the cat i' the adage" is referred to in Macbeth (Lady M,
> Act I, sc. vii), but what is the adage to which it refers??  "Curiosity
> killed the cat" is the only one I can think of, but that doesn't seem
> quite apropos.

I still have my old Pelican Shakespeare from college (oh God, about 30
years ago) and it says the cat wants the fish but doesn't want to get
its paws wet--linking up with "what thou wouldst highly, that thou
wouldst holily."

Dana Shilling

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Swilley <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 09:37:04 -0600
Subject: 13.0111 Cat in the Adage: Harrison's note
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage: Harrison's note

The G. B. Harrison text of the plays gives us the note that the adage
is, "The cat would eat fish but would not wet her feet."

L. Swilley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd Pettigrew <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 11:49:07 -0800
Subject: 13.0111 Cat in the Adage
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

According to the editors of the Norton Shakespeare (Greenblatt et al.)
the proverb is:

"The cat wanted fish but would not wet her feet."

Thus, Macbeth, like the cat in the adage, wants to be king but hesitates
to kill to get it.

t.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Orkin <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 20:25:56 -0800
Subject: 13.0111 Cat in the Adage
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

For the cat i'the adage see 'The cat would eat fish but she will not wet
her feet'' c1225 Tilley, C144. For fuller information check A Reader in
the Language of Shakespearean Drama, ed V Salmon and E Burness, p. 494.

Martin Orkin

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 18:37:16 -0000
Subject: 13.0111 Cat in the Adage
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

The adage Susan St. John is looking for is, I suspect: "The cat would
like to eat fish, but is loath to wet her feet."

It is at least medieval, usually found in the form: "Catus amat piscem,
sed non vult tingere plantas"

Or

"Cat lufat visch, ac he nele his feth wete" [see Englische Studien 31
(1902), p.7 - this dates from early 13th C]

Chaucer used it in his "House of Fame" (III.1783f.):

"For ye be lyke the sweynte [tired] cat
That wolde have fissh; but wostow what?
He wolde nothing wete his clowes"
[a rare example of the great man screwing up the original...]

If not from Chaucer, Shakespeare might have known it from John Heywood's
"Dialogue of Proverbs" (c.1549), I.xi.sig.B8v:

"The cat would eate fyshe, and wold not wet her feete".

Other cat adages which fit the Macbeth context to a greater or lesser
extent:

A cat in gloves catches no mice. [But a murderer in gloves leaves no
fingerprints and does not have to wash off the blood...]

A cat may look at a King.

The cat, the rat, and Lovell the dog, rule all England under the hog.
[Well, perhaps it has nothing to do with Macbeth, but it's fun
nonetheless...]

m [iaow]

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brad Berens <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Jan 2002 11:25:47 -0800
Subject: 13.0111 Cat in the Adage
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0111 Cat in the Adage

This is for Susan St. John:

The proverb is "the cat would eat fish but she will not wet her feet."

If you need a citation, it's from R.W. Dent's immensely useful
Shakespeare's Proverbial Language: An Index (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1981), on page 71.

        Best,
        Brad

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