“Catfish” (someone who creates a fake online profile to find love or friendship) are all over our screens, from the 2010 documentary to MTV’s undercover-lover reality series to Notre Dame footballer Manti Te’o, who was reportedly bamboozled by an online girlfriend in late 2012.
Perfidious paramours didn’t simply appear with the advent of the internet, though. We’ve been fooling people into loving us for years—and there’s centuries’ worth of literature to prove it. To wit, here are six literary catfishes dangling from our reading rod:
Viola in Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare
The Bard’s got it bad for characters in disguise (see: King Lear, As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew), but only one incognito tale inspired an Amanda Bynes romantic comedy, and that is Twelfth Night. Waylaid by a shipwreck, Viola finds herself alone in a strange land and dresses up as a man (Cesario) to take a job at Duke Orsino’s court. It’s while in the guise of the trusty page that she falls in love with her employer…while he’s chasing the haughty Olivia. But then Orsino sees Cesario’s mad soccer skills and can’t help but to reciprocate those feelings. Wait—what?
Matilda in The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis
Once. Twice. Three times a catfish. Matilda arrives on the monastery’s doorstep as a man named Rosario, gaining the confidence of devout monk Ambrosia. She eventually reveals herself to be a woman (and the picture-perfect replica of the Madonna portrait Ambrosia has been lusting after), seducing him into sins of the flesh. Too bad she’s actually a spirit in service of Satan. The devil’s truly in the details, Ambrosia!
Cyrano and Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand
Illustrating that there are plenty of catfish in the sea, this pair take full advantage of each other’s strengths (Cyrano’s way with words, Christian’s bodacious, un-proboscisy looks) to woo the beautiful Roxanne. Yep, this a threesome worthy of the “It’s Complicated” status on Facebook.
The Scarlet Pimpernel in The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy
I’d argue that it’s Sir Percy Blakeney who’s the real fake here, fronting for our English hero, who has a flair for rescuing Frenchmen from the guillotine. It’s a necessary guise, though, as Blakeney’s actress wife, Marguerite St. Just, may not be the most trustworthy confidante. Consider Blakeney’s League of the Scarlet Pimpernel the French Revolution’s answer to the Avengers.
Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The flashy Rolls Royce and posh West Egg mansion are all real—even if their owner’s old-money persona is anything but. Raised on a dusty farm in North Dakota, James Gatz sets out to live the American dream, spurred by his love for the fair Daisy Fay. But bootlegging his way to the top of Long Island’s social strata leaves him a lonely man with only his millions to console him. #FirstWorldProblems