Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Wednesday, 10th March, 2010: life can go down the toilet

Yesterday was Barbie (39-18-33, and looking good as she reaches 50).

To carry the birthday theme forward, tod
ay marks the anniversary of the equally-surreal Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.

So, happy 474th, Tommy!

This was the guy whom Elizabeth sent to the Tower in 1569, for attempting a marriage with Mary, Queen of Scots, and who was beheaded, 2nd June 1572, for the treasonous Ridolfi plot to put Mary on the English throne. Neither were good career moves; but religion and ambition are equally blind to reason.

Howard's Dad was the Earl of Surrey, the inventor of English blank verse (for his translations of the Aeneid). With his mate, William Wyatt, he translated Plutarch's sonnets and invented the English sonnet. Surrey, too, had an appointment with the axe-man, but was rescued by the overnight death of Henry VIII.

Phew! A close shave, that!

Howard's Mum was Frances de Vere, daughter of the 15th Earl of Oxford, which means she was aunt of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl, and favourite among anti-Stratfordians to be the real "Shakespeare".

Today is also the anniversary of Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

Memo: to aspirant take-over artists:

Some you win (Julius Caesar).
Some you lose (Thomas Howard).

Or as
Sir John Harington (the DNB's preferred spelling), that eponymous inventor of the "John", had it in his Book of Epigrams:
Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Toilet humour

The "John" was devised at Wardour Castle, in Wiltshire. There was what the DNB article (over the name of Jason Scott-Warren) calls a convivial gathering, and most would recognise as a booze-up. Present were:
  • Harington,
  • the host Sir Matthew Arundell,
  • the Earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley, Shakespeare's pal and patron)
  • Wriothesley's sister, Mary (who married into the Arundell family, and whose daughter went on to become Lady Philpott -- so no laugh in that).
Out of this evening came a plan for a working flush toilet, which Harington published as a pamphlet entitled New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596).

The pun, of course, is on the word "jakes". In any case, Harington acquired the nickname "Ajax".

Harington was "saucy god-son" to Queen Elizabeth, and she soon had an ajax installed. Two centuries later, Harington's device would be improved by Joseph Bramah. The ball-cock was allegedly patented by Thomas Crapper (his sole contribution, apart from his name and a flair for advertising). Crapper's nephew, George, finally got the syphonic bog perfected and patented it in 1898.

Which only leaves the question: did Shakespeare have a coded reference to all this in the gloomy Jacques of As You Like It?
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