Dick Whittington

Definition

Theater

  • In popular legend and pantomime, a poor orphan who rises tobecome Lord Mayor of London through the rat-catching abilities of his cat. Dickmakes his way to London when he hears that the streets there are paved withgold, only to end up as a kitchen boy in the house of a rich merchant. Whenhis master encourages each of his servants to take part in sending a cargo ofmerchandise to Barbary, Dick sends his cat, but subsequently runs away fromthe cook's ill-treatment. He is recalled by the sound of Bow bells seeming tosay: "Turn again Whittington, Lord Mayor of London." He returns tofind that his cat had been purchased for a vast sum by the King of Barbary,who was plagued by rats and mice. He marries his master's daughter, Alice,prospers as a merchant, and becomes Lord Mayor.

    The real Richard Whittington, a wealthy aristocrat who was three timesLord Mayor of London, died in 1423. The familiar legend first appeared in a1605 play, The History of Richard Whittington (now lost); it is alsoalluded to in plays by Thomas Heywood and Beaumont and Fletcher. The firstpantomimes on the subject date from the early 19th century.

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