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London Thurday 3-15

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 2 years, 6 months ago


Today, we'll take a walking tour: Legal and Illegal London 

Time: 10:00 am

Meeting Place: Holborn tube station, outside the large exit on the Kingsway


Agenda: The tour will take us around the various places the practice of law evolved through medieval and early modern London. Most important for our purposes are the Inns of Court. There are 4: the Inner and Middle Temples, Gray's Inn, and Lincoln's Inn.


The Inns were important for a couple of reasons. They essentially were "law schools"; young men would graduate university and head here for legal training. Some would become actual lawyers, but most were here as a kind of finishing school, working on their languages and forms of argument and making important connections at court and in commerce.


Many of Shakespeare's contemporaries studied at the inns, including John Marston, Thomas Middleton, and Thomas Lodge. John Donne was at Lincoln's Inn. Playwright and poet Ben Jonson did not attend an inn, but did dedicate (pdf; scroll to the bottom) his play Every Man Out of his Humor to the inns, describing them as the "noblest nurseries of humanity and liberty, in the Kingdome: the INNS OF COURT.” Humanity and liberty? He's drawing on the Latin to praise the inns for furthering the humanist curriculum and a commitment to free expression. This was only partly due to the subject matter of law. What Jonson liked was the literary society there--the brisk intellectual arguments over law, and, "when the gowne and cap is off, and the Lord of Liberty raignes," the highly literate conversation and play.


Shakespeare did not attend an inn, but he's important there because the inns were sites of elaborately planned festivities and frequent play performances. In 1594 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men put on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors at Gray’s Inn (leading to a tussle subsequently dubbed "the night of errors). Twelfth Night was staged at Middle Temple in 1602. What I'd like to show you are the great halls, the large spaces that served as dining halls as well as performance spaces. How do you think it might have affected things to put on a play in an intimate space, with a whole lot of (mostly) young men who are in a decidedly festive mood. If you've read those Shakespeare plays, do you think they were appropriate to the occasion?


If you fancy a 20-page overview, have a look here. Otherwise, enjoy the walk!


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