This week is Part 2 in our 2 part series on John Harington, the man who invented the first flush toilet in England. Our guest, Bob Cromwell, is back again this week to take us back to 16th century England and explore the exciting life of John Harington beyond his invention of the flush toilet. Harington was known as a literary figure, primarily for his translation of Orlando Furioso, and was a godson to Elizabeth I as well as a courtier in the royal court. Harington’s destiny was set into motion by his father, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London alongside Elizabeth I. Harington the son would go on to tutor the son of James I during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Bob Cromwell is here to share with us some of the historical research that suggests the life of John Harington created such a splash in English society during Shakespeare’s lifetime that Shakespeare himself may have included references to Harington in his plays. 

Join the conversation below.

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Bob Cromwell is the author of the article, The History of the Flush Toilet and lead historian at Bob’s work has led him to document plumbing in 24 countries, through the Neolithic era to spacecraft and several writers and artists in addition to Shakespeare. Bob holds a PhD, and has worked as a consultant for the Folger Shakespeare Library. Find more about Bob in the show notes for today’s episode. 

In this episode, I’ll be asking Bob Cromwell about :

  • In Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours’s Lost and Troilus and Cressida, we see a pun on “a jakes” which is a reference to the Metamorphosis of Ajax that Harington wrote in 1596, just a few years before these plays were written. We know that Shakespeare references current events in his plays frequently, with puns like this one being just one way we can see 16th century culture jumping off the stage with Shakespeare’s works. Bob, does Shakespeare write other references to John Harington and his translation of Orlando Furioso that we can find in his plays?
  • Harington was a master at translations, remembered in posterity for tackling works like Orlando Furioso. However, despite his work as predominantly a literary figure, Elizabeth I calls Harington to participate in a military expedition in 1599. Bob, this seems like an odd selection by Elizabeth given Harington’s general lack of military expertise. Why was Harington selected for this position? 
  • After Elizabeth I dies in 1603, Harington goes to work in James I household as the tutor for his son, Henry. Bob, how did Harington make the leap from courtier to royal tutor under James I?

… and more!

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • 16th century portrait of Queen Mary I
  • 16th century manuscript defining the nature of the Privy Chamber
  • 16th century oil painting, Portrait of Elizabeth I
  • 16th century portrait of John Harington, The Son
  • Image of document, “Orlando Furioso” Title Page, 1558
  • Image of document, “Harington’s Orlando Furioso” Title Page, 3rd Ed., 1634, Author Ludovico Arisosto, John Harington, G. Miller, J. Parker
  • Image of document, “Orlando Furioso,” Italian Version, 1551, Author Ludovico Arisosto
  • “As You Like It” Title Page, William Shakespeare, 1623
  • 20th century illustration of Orlando pinning love poems in “As you like it”
  • 18th century oil painting of Jacques and the Wounded Stag: ‘As You Like It,’ Act II, Scene I
  • 17th century portrait of King James IV of Scotland, I of England
  • Image of an ornate lantern from the 16th century
  • 17th century portrait of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
  • Photo of John Harington’s Gravestone
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Using this episode for a lesson in your class?

This episode has a complete lesson pack! Lesson packs include a basic history guide plus 5 worksheets that coordinate with the podcast episode to create a complete lesson so it is easy to incorporate today’s episode into your classroom. This lesson pack is available inside the Resource Library for Shakespeare Educators on Patreon.

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