Presenting the Early Modern Inns Of Court and the Circulation of Text

PhD researchers in the English department organise many conferences throughout the year. We asked current PhD researcher Julian Neuhauser, co-organiser of “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text” with newly-minted Dr Romola Nuttall, to reflect on what inspired the conference and the various other events that are set to take place this summer.

By Julian Neuhauser, PhD candidate in the English Department

Since their establishment in the 14th century, the Inns of Court have been at the centre of legal scholarship and practice. Thought of as the ‘third university’, the Inns attracted graduates of Oxford and Cambridge who wanted to professionalise as lawyers and politicians. These student members of the Inns brought with them the habits and forms of sociability that they learned at university, including their socio-literary activities.

Grays Inn
Grays Inn courtyard

In order to investigate the literary history of the Inns of Court, I have been co-organising, along with Romola Nuttall (who defended her thesis at King’s in 2018), a conference called “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text”. The conference will pull together cutting edge, materially-grounded, and culturally critical literary scholarship about the Inns, and we are also arranging a whole host of events around the papers and keynotes.

Romola was keen that we think about how to incorporate the Inns’ tradition of holding revels into our program. Revels were opulent and mirthful events, held annually around Christmas. They included lavish dinners, student run plays, and flyting – that is, combative (though usually well-spirited) extemporaneous oral jousting.

On the occasion of a particularly riotous Middle Temple revel in 1598, the poet and Middle Temple man Sir John Davies smashed a cudgel (like a Quidditch beater) over the head of fellow poet and lawyer Richard Martin. The event resulted in Davies’ ban from Middle Temple, but it also prompted him to return to New College, Oxford and, perhaps as an act of self-reflective contrition,[1] compose his poem Nosce Teipsum (‘Know Thyself’, check out an excerpt here.)

Though the thought of what literary masterpieces might grow from restaging a modern-day poet-on-poet cudgel fight was intriguing, we’ve decided instead to embrace a more controlled aspect of the revels: a theatrical performance. To this end, we will be staging a new production of Thomas Hughes’ The Misfortunes of Arthur. Misfortunes was composed for the 1587 Gray’s Inn revels and was performed twice in that year: once for the Revels and once for Queen Elizabeth I. The play’s third through fifth performances, taking place a mere 432 years later on the 12-14th of June, 2019, will be put on by the Dolphin’s Back, a theatre company that specialises in resuscitating all-but-forgotten early modern plays. Not only is it intrinsically exciting to see a play that has lain dormant for so long, but Misfortunes’ inherent pedagogical project (that rulers rule unwisely when they trust bad councillors) is pertinent today as it was in the early modern period.

Inns of Court coat of arms
Inns of Court coat of arms, via Wikimedia Commons.

Another conference event developed out of Romola’s and my own desire to explore the literary culture of the early modern Inns is an exhibition at Middle Temple Library. We approached the Keeper of the Middle Temple Library, Renae Satterley, with our idea to use their collection for an exhibition. Renae has been graciously enthusiastic and with her help we have developed an internship (taken up by a King’s MA in History student, David Williams) which will result in an exhibition of early modern literary materials, organised to thematically match our conference. The exhibition will run from April to July, 2019, and will be open to anyone using the Library. This exhibition will showcase materials that are not normally displayed, and it will offer an intriguing look into the literary collections of a legal library that has been collecting books since the 17th century.

Romola and I are delighted to have received conference presentation submissions that will directly engage with our performance and exhibition, as well as papers that fill the gaps between them. So far, a panel on the Misfortunes of Arthur has emerged, along with one on the book trade and libraries around the Inns, early modern Inns related literary networks, and religion at the Inns. There are papers on everything from the documents of the earliest known Inns revel to Aphra Behn’s connections to the Inns. We have also managed to secure two enormous figures in the field of early modern studies to give plenary addresses: the opening plenary will delivered by Professor Michelle O’Callaghan (University of Reading) and our closing plenary will be given by Emeritus Professor Arthur F. Marotti (Wayne State University).

In anticipation of our conference and performances, Romola and I have partnered with the Inner Temple Drama Society and the Inner Temple Historical Society for a talk to be held in Temple Church on June 4th, 2019. This talk will consist of excerpts from The Misfortunes of Arthur paired with scholarly/critical commentary. Watch this space and follow our Twitter for information regarding where to buy tickets for this exciting event.

Temple Church, printed in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, by C Davy (1827)

All of the essential aspects of “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text” are now in place, and others are still in development. Of course, no part of our program could be moving forward without the generous support of King’s Graduate School, the King’s Department of English, the King’s Centre for Early Modern Studies, and the London Shakespeare Centre. Middle Temple, Inner Temple, and Gray’s Inn have all contributed both their time and space to this project as in-kind support. The Society for Renaissance Studies has supported us by allowing us to lessen the financial strain for student attendance to our conference, and by assisting us with the costs associated with the filming of Misfortunes which will help to ensure that this play gets the critical attention it needs to edge further from obscurity and closer to Gorboduc’s place as the best know early modern Inns drama.

Romola and I are so excited by the way this conference is shaping up. We look forward to seeing you inn June!

You can follow  “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text” conference updates on Twitter @EarlyModernInns.

Public tickets for The Misfortunes of Arthur will be available soon (keep checking their twitter for details!). Half price concession tickets for performances will be available to students and to conference delegates.

[1] In his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Article, Davies, Sir John”, Sean Kelsey writes that “it was once believed [Davies] composed Nosce teipsum in a fit of remorse”. This is, of course, unqualified.

Featured image: ‘Legal London‘ map designed by Hoffman (1931).

Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.