Orlando furioso in English heroical verse, by Sr Iohn Harington of Bathe knight

Chrzanowski 1607aLodovico Ariosto represented the sentiments, the passions, and the vices and virtues of 16th-century Italians in his epic poem, L’Orlando Furioso (The Crazy Orlando). This Renaissance classic, based on romances popular at the time, furnished the framework for the chivalric narrative in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Orlando Furioso is a tale of knights, dames, and courtesies when the Moors invaded France to avenge the death of their king’s father. In the story Orlando (Roland), Charlemagne’s nephew and most famous knight, falls madly in love with Angelica, who is also pursued by many other Christian and Moorish knights. She flees these attentions only to bestow her love in the end on a poor man without rank. Ariosto’s view of life, reflected throughout the poem, is one of ironic disillusionment—love is madness.

John Harington (1561–1612) was a witty courtier and godson of Queen Elizabeth. (He is also the acknowledged inventor of the flush toilet.) According to lore, Harington first translated the racy tale of Jocundo from Canto XXVIII and circulated it among the ladies of the Court. The Queen feigned to be shocked by some passages and reprimanded her godson for endangering the morals of her maids of honor. Elizabeth sentenced Harington to stay away from the Court until he had translated the whole of Ariosto’s poem. Harington completed the translation by 1591.

Harington’s Orlando Furioso is one of the major translations of the age, freely executed but faithful to the spirit and style of the original. At 33,000 lines in length and nearly 6,000 lines shorter than the original, the translation is seldom exactly what Ariosto wrote, shorter in places and expanded elsewhere—with moral truisms added. Each of the forty-six cantos of the poem is preceded by a full-page illustration (including the especially risqué one for Canto XXVIII). All are copied strictly or with slight variation from the plates used by Girolamo Porro in a Venice edition printed in 1584. The engravings are unsigned, purportedly the work of several engravers, including possibly Jodocus Hondius.

The present copy is the second edition of Orlando Furioso. Published in 1607, it is a page-by-page reprint of the 1591 edition with the same plates but including numerous small changes within the lines of the poem. The leaf with the illustration for Canto I is missing.

Chrzanowski 1607a *

STC 747

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675