About the Project

The world’s first ever English novel – a little known satire of magic and religious controversy written during a time of immense political and social change across England and Europe – has been brought to life by researchers at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and Sussex.

A woodcut from William Griffith’s 1570 edition of William Baldwin’s ‘Beware the Cat’ 

The novel, Beware the Cat, was first written in 1552 before many of the more well-known early modern writers published their first work. It tells a tale of witchcraft, religious controversy, and talking cats in a bid to help us imagine what animals might say about the world if they had the ability to talk.

Centred on the grisly alchemical experiments of a rambling priest seeking to understand the language of cats, the story asks a question that has provoked humans across the ages: do birds and beasts have reason?

The Beware the Cat project is a piece of practice as research in which scholars and creative practitioners from the disciplines of Fine Art, Theatre, Literature, and Linguistics have worked together to interrogate and reshape this early modern prose text for reception in the theatre by a contemporary audience. The performance is multimedia, using music, song, reading of text, signs, and the projection of images. The series of images used in performance are specially commissioned artwork by Penny McCarthy, responding to the imagery and tone of William Baldwin’s text. You can view Penny McCarthy’s artwork here.