February 22, 2011

Our cats were not given names from Shakespeare.

No one ever thought Ms. Emily's name was based on a Shakespearean character, but many (most) people assumed that Cassius and MacBeth were named for characters from the plays. Not so.

Cassius showed up as a homeless kitten (3-4 weeks old) at the Fellowship. He had all the markings of an orange tabby cat but less than 1% of the orange - his shadings were pure Siamese. And like many of his Siasmese forebears and cousins, he had some of the awkward gait that must be the result of so much early inbreeding. As Cassius got a little older he very much took the gait of a four-legged Hercule Poirot, especially when walking away (think of David Suchet and not of Peter Ustinov or others). Anyway, Cassius was given his name as a tribute to Muhammad Ali - who was no longer attached to that name (I don't know why Muhammad Ali was given the name Cassius - that could well have been from Shakespeare). When Ali said that he no longer wanted to be called Cassius Clay, I thought that was fine and accepted his name as Muhammad Ali. But still, Cassius got his name as a homage of sorts to the early swaggering but graceful young boxer. And Cassius never seemed to mind his name. He lived some 19 years. He could be a bit cantankerous but was at heart the sweetest of guys, a bit swaggery but graceful in his Poirot-ambling way.

MacBeth's name was originally shorter. As a kitten who showed up squalling outside our front door (a rounded black and white upset kitty) he was mistakenly judged a 'she' and our granddaughter Elizabeth who was of an age when she had decided she would rather be called Beth rather Elizabeth (though no one else seemed to adjust to her wishes) named the kitten Beth. When it became apparant (or rather was discovered) that she was 'he' we decided that Beth was not the most appropriate name.

Much earlier in our married life A & I had a similar experience when a tiny puppy showed up at our door asking for refuge - like the early Beth, we carried the puppy door-to-door to find where it belonged but no one claimed it. I was working nights and had just been in bed a short time when A woke me with the puppy in hand and informed me that it was homeless and wondered if we should adopt it (or perhaps take it to the SPCA). I could tell by the way the question was framed what answer was expected of me and so, of course, I said that we should adopt the homeless puppy. Before returning to my anticipated rest, I asked her if the hound was male or female and A (who is usually quite adept at deciphering such things, told me the pup was a male).

So, after a conversation of sorts, we christened the puppy Michael Valentine Smith (actually my influence is most apparent here since I had just been re-reading Stranger in a Strange Land. Anyway, Michael appeared satisfied with his new name. Later when it became apparent (or was discovered) that the supposed gender was in error, we stuck with the name Michael and she wore it with what appeared to be a continuing satisfaction (I had explained to her some of the background of her fictional namesake). And she was a perfect enough Michael - we mostly called her Michael and not Michael Valentine Smith. Anyway the name worked well enough.

Not so with 'Beth' or so it seemed to us - first of all, Beth never responded to our using the name but ignored us as though certain that we must have intended to address some other creature. I suggested we keep the name but make it a little 'manlier' by placing a Mac in front to show that we understood that he was he and not she. He seemed to accept the new name as readily as he had the earlier shorter version and was apparently not at all put out by the sudden change from a simple to a compound name. I earlier said that Cassius was graceful - and he was - at least to the extent possible in his on awkward kind of stumbling way - but MacBeth is really the most graceful of the entire family. He walks or runs up and down stairs and jumps on top of things with a natural and refined fluidity that moves beyond mere gracefulness. There's probably a word for grace in motion to the nth degree - the only word I know for it is MacBeth.

Cassius' grace was more an inner state of being (full of savoir-faire) and no less to the nth degree. We will miss him.

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