William Baldwin concealed his 16th-century book Beware the Cat because of its satirical swipes at the Catholic church. Now, it’s celebrated on stage
What was the first novel in the English language? This seemingly benign question is the source of centuries of literary squabbles. Some claim the title for Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur; others insist it is Robinson Crusoe, but there are also camps for Moll Flanders and Pamela.
Now there is one more to add to the mix: a little-known contender about a coterie of talking cats and an alchemist that dates back to the 16th century. As cute as it sounds today, this book was so potentially inflammatory at the time, with its themes of sexual violence and religious satire tucked beneath its fuzzy feline plot, that its author, William Baldwin, hid the manuscript away at the height of the Reformation. Its title alone, Beware the Cat – thought to be a shortening of “Beware the Catholic” – might have got him killed.
I always suspect my cat knows more than I can tell
Beware the Cat is at the Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 6 July and the Workshop Theatre in Leeds on 23 November.