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Shakespeare Connected - ‘The natural gates and alleys of the body’ (Hamlet, 1.5.67): Physicality, Hygiene and Bodily Waste in Shakespeare’s World


As well as its use in diagnosis, urine was an important ingredient in the manufacture of various goods. Shakespeare’s father, a glover, would have used leather tanned in human or animal urine (see the display on the ground floor of the Birthplace). Urine is also rich in potassium nitrate (or ‘saltpetre’) which was used to make gunpowder. Hotspur refers to its destructive capacities, ‘This villainous saltpetre’ (Henry IV Part 1, 1.3.59).

This earthenware pot with handle was excavated in Nottingham in 1971 in the Market Square on the site of an inn. Perhaps all that beer, turned to urine, provided a reliable and plentiful source of raw materials.


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