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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

Introductory Translation And Analysis Via Queen-Gazing Cats

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

There is a poem many of you will be familiar with:

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?

I’ve been up to London to visit the Queen.

However, in the past year I have encountered a number of variants of this, which provide a useful starting point for anyone wishing to understand some of what I do.

To begin, analysis of different editions and versions of a text. This happens for many Shakespeare plays and operas.

There are two other traditional versions I’ve seen, both altering the second line. It might also be:

I’ve been up to London to look at the Queen.

I’ve been up to London to visit the queen.

Both offer alternative ideas for their reader.

The first implies the old egalitarian maxim, “a cat may look at a king”. That is to say, no matter how high and mighty the elite are, they may still be looked upon by the ‘lower’ ranks.

This is quite different from actively ‘visiting’, which both carries an implication of calling-upon in a more formal manner, and of being noticed in turn.

The second implies a difference in period - Queen suggests it is during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (or another Queen of the United Kingdom), queen (without the capitalisation for a name) suggests it might by any queen.

While not hugely significant, it’s the kind of thing that can be important with a richer text.

Finally, there is a variant on the first line; one from a children’s book I saw once.

I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.

This removes the old-fashioned ‘up to London’ (the book featured the cat taking a variety of selfies).

It also changes the rhythm of the original.

[Sidenote: I am aware that text analysis tends to refer to metre and things like iambs. While I can do this, I tend towards musical terminology as a more natural language for me.]

The original emphases are as follows:

I’ve been up to London to visit the Queen.

It is a rolling triplet, emphasising the act done (been), the place (London), the act done there (visit), and the person visited (Queen).

The modernised version changes this emphasis slightly.

I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.

Suddenly, that I am doing the having-been-to-London is more important than the having-been-to-London.

This is the point where we might drop a point of analysis because it’s overly pretentious. But if we decide it is significant, then this can lead us to a more self-centred cat; a product of Instagrammable feline selfies as a public-facing record of one’s life.

What if that cat decides to merely look at the Queen?

Suddenly, this is not so egalitarian. It does not require the participation required by visiting, merely the having-looked-at.

And, of course, changing the emphasis of the line might change the strongest emphasis.

My natural reading of the line I learnt as a child leads towards Queen at the end of the line. That is the most exciting part, and the triplet rhythm runs enthusiastically towards it.

However, starting the line with a strong I’ve makes it harder to do that. The most important thing becomes that the speaker has done something, not what they have done.

Other interpretations of all of the above are possible. That’s the fun of working with text. Perhaps, in your version, having been to London at all is the most exciting thing.

While it’s not a text that I’m likely to ever direct, I hope that the above gives some idea of some of the core tools one can use to prepare and analyse text for performance.

A person in a turban-like crown stands in a dim light.
There is one king, and his name is Duncan. For now.



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