Words From A Learned Feline Bard

by Kevin Burton

   If you love Shakespeare, or cats, or both, today I’ve got you covered.

   I’m not as familiar with the works of Shakespeare as I am the works of say, Three Dog Night. I say this to my own shame.

   But I know cats. I love cats, sure as I’m sittin’ here.

    I’m probably just days away from getting back into the cat business, welcoming a new feline friend to the household, two years after my beloved Mex died.

   You ask me cats or dogs and I say, please. There is no contest.

   Cats are the only domesticatable creatures who I think could appreciate Shakespeare. They’re smart and stealthy. They want affection on their own terms.

   I probably would have made a good cat.  Now there’s an interesting thought for another post, another time.

   What I’ve got today is a very funny piece written by Jack Kolb, a professor in the Department of English at UCLA. Thanks to my friend Tracy Duffy for sending it to me.

   Kolb knows cats and Shakespeare. So with no further preamble, here is his “Hamlet’s Cat Soliloquy.”

   “To go outside, and there perchance to stay Or to remain within: that is the question: 
Whether ’tis better for a cat to suffer 
The cuffs and buffets of inclement weather That Nature rains on those who roam abroad, 
Or take a nap upon a scrap of carpet, 
And so by dozing melt the solid hours 
That clog the clock’s bright gears with sullen time 
And stall the dinner bell.  To sit, to stare Outdoors, and by a stare to seem to state 
A wish to venture forth without delay, 
Then when the portal’s opened up, to stand As if transfixed by doubt.  To prowl; to sleep; 
To choose not knowing when we may once more 
Our re-admittance again: aye, there’s the hairball; 
For if a paw were shaped to turn a knob, Or work a lock or slip a window-catch, 
And going out and coming in were made As simple as the breaking of a bowl, 
What cat would bear the household’s petty plagues, The cook’s well-practised kicks, the butler’s broom, 
The infant’s careless pokes, the tickled ears, The trampled tail, and all the daily shocks 
That fur is heir to, when, of his own free will, 
He might his exodus or entrance make 
with a mere mitten?  Who would spaniels fear, Or strays trespassing from a neighbour’s yard, 
But that the dread of our unheeded cries 
And scratches at a barricaded door 
No claw can open up, dispels our nerve 
And makes us rather bear our humans’ faults 
Than run away to unguessed miseries? 
Thus caution doth make house cats of us all; 
And thus the bristling hair of resolution 
Is softened up with the pale brush of thought, And since our choices hinge on weighty things, We pause upon the threshold of decision. 

   Kolb’s piece runs 296 words. I hope to recite it soon to a new Burton cat.  If I can’t get her to appreciate the beauty and humor in it, at least she won’t try to eat the paper it’s written on, as a dog might.

   I almost wrote as a dog would, but I’m feeling generous. Feeling kind of BBC, kind of classical music. Shakespeare will do that to you.

   Kolb’s piece may be just the thing I needed before re-entering the cat world, to get me back in touch with the way cats think.   

   Our Christmas tree is up and should be fully decorated before the weekend is over.  That will probably provide our new cat her first threshold of decision.

   “To climb the heights or merely sniff, that is the question.”

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