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Prince of Cats

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The scene opens on the small apartment shared by KIT and WILL. In the dim light of early evening, we see two large wooden desks, each with a chair, at center, arranged back to back so that the two men will be facing each other when both are working. KIT’s desk is strewn with ramshackle stacks of papers and quills, WILL’s is fastidiously neat and organized. There are empty bottles scattered throughout the room, along with various other signs of dissolute living. We are in Elizabethan England, but there’s no call to make a big fuss about it (Kit would only laugh at you).

KIT enters, but stops just inside the door, surveying the dark room.

KIT: (without bothering to turn back) And Will? Bring a light!

WILL: (off) Can do. Yes. Coming!

WILL enters enthusiastically, candle in hand, as KIT sidesteps out of his way in time to avoid a collision. KIT begins to examine the bottles on his desk for one not yet empty.

WILL: (as he speaks, lighting the candles on each desk and at a few other points in the room, thus bringing up the lights) But honestly, Kit. It is, I swear. I’ve never seen anything so foul, so utterly bent on the destruction of all it surveys!

KIT: (happily alighting on a worthy bottle) Ha!

WILL: Kit! It’s nothing to laugh about! It’s a fiend from hell.

KIT: Will. (settling in) Dear boy. You expect me to believe that your patron, Lord Wriostheley, has secretly turned against you.

WILL: Yes.

KIT: Even though he continues to support you, both through pecuniary reward and in championing your as-yet-unworthy name in the highest circles.

WILL: Yes! Don’t you see? It’s all a part of his sinister plan!

KIT: Undoubtedly. But, to continue, so intent upon your ruin is he, that he has conjured up from the pits of hell Beelzebub’s most terrible servant using the blackest magics. He has done so, not to torment our most beloved queen, nor to plague the Spanish, nor, indeed, to hound London’s thieves, murderers, rapists, Catholics, or heaven preserve us, Puritans.

WILL: Kit, be serious, if only for a moment. That would be far too obvious.

KIT: Forgive me. Rather, Wriostheley has summoned this fiend to torment you.

WILL: Yes.

KIT: A second-rate poet and player.

WILL: With aspirations!

KIT: A second-rate poet and player, albeit with very lofty aspirations. And this foul beastie has taken the form of… Sweet Jove…

WILL: (earnestly) His cat.

KIT: His, as you say, cat. (beat) Will, we’ve been over this before, but are you quite sure you weren’t dropped on the head as a babe?

WILL: Kit! Don’t you see? Something must be done!

KIT: Certainly. Leave Wriostheley. Tell him to throw his support behind another, more successful, talented, more handsome playwright, perhaps one with a Cambridge education and a suspicious amount of support from the Queen’s spymaster-

WILL: (interrupting, desperately) Kit. No. I’ve just gotten to the good part of "The Rape of Lucrece" and it all seems to be coming together and Richard III is going to PROVE that the Henry Sixes weren’t just a fluke and I’m not about to be thwarted by... by hell spawn!

KIT: (beat) How is Richard III coming along, anyway? Have you fixed that ending yet?

WILL: (modestly) Well, I’ve got a hunch.

KIT: (eyes WILL) I see. (finishes off the last dregs from his bottle) Well. If you’re genuinely convinced that Wriostheley has sent fiends from hell to torment you and potentially drag you into everlasting fire…?

WILL: (nods vigorously) Oh, yes. Kit, I’m doomed.

KIT: Well, Will, I hope you’ll consider remembering me well in your will. Will. (he snickers- an old joke between them)

WILL: Kit. Now is NOT the time for puns.

KIT: (in utter seriousness) Will, if I have taught you anything at all, please know that it is ALWAYS a time for puns. (beat, then, an absurdity) So what do YOU propose, oh mighty Bard of Stratford on Avon?

WILL: Isn’t it obvious? Kit, we cannot risk it escaping the grip of Wriostheley’s binding incantations. We have no choice… but to kill it!

WILL pauses, clearly expecting KIT to jump at the idea and be roused into a fervor of action and singleminded adherence to the Mission.

KIT remains seated, staring blankly at WILL. After a beat, he produces what must be some sort of Emergency Flask from within his doublet and takes a healthy swig.

KIT: Right. Yes. Of course. Clearly, we must kill the evil cat beast from hell. (beat) Will, WHY. Why must we kill the cat?

WILL: Kit, I despair of you. Were you not listening? Every day I spend at Wriothesley’s, that thrice-damnéd cat hounds me. He torments me. As soon as I’ve begun a line of verse, he’s THERE. Yowling. Whining. Jumping into my lap when I’ve told him not to a dozen times previously. I was in the midst of writing a sonnet- the imagery was to die for Kit, truly it was, all about the obligation of the beautiful to beget children and thus their beauty might live forever-

KIT (interrupting him) Oh Will, honestly, again? We’ve been over this, you’ll never grow as a poet so long as you beat the same old drum.

WILL: (carrying on, steadfast): And that DEMON in feline form leapt onto the table and spilled my inkpot and RUINED the entire page. I couldn’t go on, Kit, it was too, too… TERRIBLE. (is quite affected by the remembrance of the tragedy)

KIT: (to himself) Blessing in disguise, more like. (to WILL) Will. Wonderful boy. Despair not. We shall rid the world of your damnéd cat and your verse shall flow forth uninterrupted in a majestical river of wonderment for all to behold. Or, more likely, you may write however many sonnets to the glories of procreation as you please. Lead the way.

WILL: (perking up) Really? To Wriothesley’s? And the cat?

KIT: Certainly not. To the tavern. (halting WILL’s objections) And thus fortified, onwards to Wriothesley’s no-doubt magnificent London abode, which I can only trust you may access as poet of the hour.

WILL: Oh, Kit! Truly, you are too good. We two, we happy two, we band of poets!-

KIT: (patiently interrupting again) Will. Please.

WILL: (abashed) Apologies. It won’t happen again, I swear it.

KIT: See that it doesn’t. (rises, blowing out the candles on the desk) To the tavern! Ho!

WILL: Yes! Tavern! Death to the evil cat fiend! (pauses to snuff the remaining candles as KIT manhandles him out the door) Onwards!

The lights fade as the candles are put out. They remain down for several long moments, then rise slowly: dawn breaking.

KIT and WILL stumble back in, clumsily navigating through the door, somewhat the worse for wear after a night of carousing and shenanigans, with all of their attention centered on the large woven basket they carry between them, its lid securely fastened by ropes tied in exuberant knots. They carefully place it on the two desks, and slowly take their chairs, their eyes steady upon the basket. A yowl emerges from the basket, truly fit for a fiend of WILL’s description. Neither KIT nor WILL seems quite able to comprehend what they have done, nor, exactly, why they have done it.

KIT: Sweet Moses on a mountaintop. What have we done?

WILL: We’ve… We’ve captured it, Kit! It’s our hostage, bound to depend upon our whims and fancies!

KIT: Will. We have a cat in a basket and we have no IDEA what to do with it now, because ONE of us was too much of a coward to enact the brilliant plan conceived in the intoxicating atmosphere of the estimable Boar’s Head Tavern. (beat) Which, considering the abundance of wenches and youths aching to provide all the distraction they can muster at said Tavern, may explain why it wasn’t the best of plans, but nevertheless, it was a plan and you have utterly failed to see it through.

WILL: But surely this is better! Your plan would have left us with the blood of a hell beast on our hands, certainly doomed to the ministrations of Satan himself for eternity! This way, we can make it see reason! Bend it to follow our wills! Make it our friend!

From within the basket, another, longer yowl emerges.

WILL: Or perhaps not. (lapsing into troubled contemplation of the basket)

KIT: (largely to himself) I knew I should have roomed with Thomas Kyd. Good man, Kyd. Sensible. The Spanish Tragedy…masterful, and that Hamlet has real promise. Kyd would have never have become obsessed with a Lord’s housecat, much less have stolen into said Lord’s home in the dead of night on a mission to enact… cat murder. Then, while some people might well have failed to send the cat scampering off this mortal coil, Kyd, bless the bugger, would never have adopted it under pretenses of avoiding the inevitable hellfire. (collapses into a heap over his desk)

At this, WILL perks up.

WILL: Kit, maybe Thomas Kyd would like a pet! I’m sure demons make wonderful rat catchers!

KIT: (picking himself up with resignation in his heart) No, Will. The most renowned poet in all England and his plucky young companion have stolen a cat- there’s no pawning it off on our friends. Hell spawn or not, it is our responsibility. Unless... Wait! I have it! A cunning plan!

WILL: Truly? Oh, share it, Kit!

KIT: (beat) No. It was rubbish. Forget I ever mentioned it. We remain doomed, doomed to a life of neverending feline yowls and ink-spilling displays of affection, followed by an overwarm afterlife with a Mephistopheles who wants to have a quick word about my portrayal of him in Doctor Faustus.

WILL: I’m terribly sorry, Kit. When the moment came, and I stood before it, dagger drawn and ready to do the terrible deed… My resolve crumbled and I couldn’t bear to go through with it all. It was a good plan! Truly it was. But perhaps… Perhaps the cat has been sent to us for a reason. Perhaps it’s not a fiend at all, but rather an angel in disguise! Or a Muse!

KIT: Will, I can’t help but think that until you get your theologies straight, it can be neither.

WILL: No, no I think I’ve solved it! This cat has been sent to us, sent to inspire the best poetry, the finest plays the world has ever seen, to raise our fortunes and make our names live forever!

KIT: (eyeing the basket) You think so?

WILL: Kit, I do. Why else would my will falter in the final moment, were it not that Will was meant to ascend the highest heaven of invention, to shake the spear of bright victory on the pinnacle of-

KIT: (interrupting) Will. On your hope of heaven, I beg of you, stop. That was wretched.

WILL: (deflating) I know. I thought if I kept going, it would get better…

KIT: (kindly) No mind. You keep trying. Maybe the cat will help after all. It’s worth the attempt.

WILL: I think so, Kit, truly, I do. (stands resolutely) I’m letting it loose. It’s the only way to ever find out.

KIT: Good man. (also rises) For myself, I shall leave you to it and heed the siren call of my own Muse. They play my Edward II today and I admit, it is not yet entirely finished. Give the hell beast my best, Will. (claps him on the arm and pauses, a fond look in his eye) I shall see you anon, I trust.

WILL: Of course, Kit. Now, be off! You shan’t steal any of the fruits of my Muse here.

They share a last smile and KIT exits cheerfully.

WILL eyes the knots and begins to untie them gently. He’s noted that there have been no recent yowls and has high hopes that he is not about to meet his doom, but he remains cautious.

WILL: (quietly, to himself) Good cat. Bonny cat. (wryly) Sometimes cat the curst. (he’s undone enough knots to gently ease back the lid and smiles at what he sees inside) The prettiest cat in Christendom. (he leaves the lid ajar and settles back at his desk, smiling blithely) Sleeping. I take it as a good omen. For in this sleep, what dreams may come! A most rare vision, a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. (with great expectation) Nothing for it but to try, though.

WILL takes up a quill and, after a moment’s pause to think, begins to scrawl across the page. He continues as the lights fade out.