The cat holds a distinctive space in the human environment, being both domesticated and in full possession of its wild nature. This article considers representations of cats in both written sources—including poetry, natural history, the Bestiary, and moral texts—and the visual arts, in order to demonstrate that the cat may be simultaneously read as naturalistic and symbolic, representing at the extreme both a much-loved pet and the threat of damnation. This reading is applied to Chaucer's Summoner's Tale in order to argue that the cat displaced by Friar John offers a pointed criticism of the hypocrisy of the mendicant orders.

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