In Beware the Cat, William Baldwin’s immediate target is Catholicism. This book is one of many anti-catholic satires that appeared during Edward VI’s Protestant reign. In this story Baldwin goes beyond putting down the practices of the Church of Rome and exposes some of its foundational problems. He portrays, satirically, how knowledge is obtained and passed down in the church. At this time the culture was going through a transition from a largely oral and visual way of communicating to one based on text.
The whole idea of Protestantism is about having a personal relationship with God and not relying on someone else to read the Bible for you. But what about those that didn’t have access to a Bible? Again, people were left to rely on the church and the traditions that were being passed down. The trouble with traditions is that after so long, one can’t be certain of their origin. We see a debate being set up in the story about where true authoritative knowledge comes from. From the Protestant view, the trouble with that is these traditions and stories can and do mislead the devout christian.
In the beginning of the book in The Argument, Streamer disagrees with the author on what makes up knowledge; whether it is gained by experiences or authors (the reading of textual evidence). In Streamer’s Oration we see that he gets off track a number of times as he tries to begin his story. We find him wandering from gate to gate, talking about about how the gates got their names. It is evident that he doesn’t quite know where or how to begin his story. The use of the word gate is exceptional because Streamer is truly searching for an entrance for his story line.
Because he can’t seem to find it, it foreshadows the fact that Streamer’s knowledge, as we come to find out, really has no origin of its own. Baldwin uses another play on words with the word Criplegate and cripple, foreshadowing again that Streamer’s kind of reasoning has crippled him. We read that Streamer’s experience with cats is based on other people’s stories about cats, and that their stories are based on yet another series of stories. Here Baldwin is demonstrating how Catholicism has passed down tories and oral traditions over time and we never really know the origin of these stories and traditions well enough to prove them.
It also shows the reader that these kinds of stories simply lead to more stories and it ends up being uncontrolled and unmonitored. He then questions if having this experience based knowledge is truly having knowledge at all. Baldwin is building the story up in a rational way, for example, suggesting that the cats use human transportation and by suggesting that they revenge the death of Grimalkin, forming a close knit society, again alluding to the Catholic church.
What we read about in Part I sort of comes to life in Part III as the animals take over the narration of the story. They begin to tell tales of their vast experiences with humans. They show us a world where humans are an easy mark (where the wife believes that the cat is old woman’s daughter) and preposterous (where the sound of Mouse-Slayer’s feet brings panic to a town). In Part I we read about preying animals and Part III is then dealing with preying humans. The old woman takes advantage of the young men, then they take advantage of others in order to keep paying the old woman, in order to spend time with the girls.
This vicious cycle is representative of the Roman Church because she (the old woman), like the church, prospers from deceiving people and enticing them to do harmful acts in order to get her money. She is also making the young men psychologically dependent on her in a way, again, not unlike the church. In this work we’re able to see what happens in a religion and in a culture where written text plays a minor role and also when oral communication (traditions, passed down stories) is left uncontrolled by any textual authority.
Courtney from Study Moose
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