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Besides producing and acting some of our best PreShakespaerian dramas, the Elizabethan lawyers put upon the stage at least one of William Shakespeare's plays. From the diary of a barrister (supposed to be John Manningham, of the Middle Temple), it is learnt that the Middle Templar's acted Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night. at the Readers' feast on Candlemas Day, 1601–2.*
In the following reign, the masques of the lawyers in no degree fell off with regard to splendor. Seldom had the Thames presented a more picturesque and exhilarating spectacle than it did on the evening of February 20, 1612, when the gentlemen masquers of Gray's Inn and the Temple, entered the king's royal barge at Winchester House, at seven o'clock, and made the voyage to Whitehall, attended by hundreds of barges and boats, each vessel being so brilliantly illuminated that the lights reflected upon the ripples of the river, seemed to be countless As though the hum and huzzas of the vast multitude on the water were insufficient to announce the approach of the dazzling pageant, guns marked the progress of the revellers, and as they drew near the palace, all the attendant bands of musicians played the same stirring tune with uniform time. It is on record that the king received the amateur actors with an excess of condescension, and was delighted with the masque which Master Beaumont of the Inner Temple, and his friend, Master Fletcher, had written and dedicated “to the worthy Sir Francis Bacon, his Majesty's Solicitor-General, and the grave and learned bench of the anciently-called
* The propensity of lawyers for the stage, lingered amongst barristers on Circuit, to a comparatively recent date. Old stagers' of the Home and Western Circuits, can recall how the juniors of their briefless and bagless days used to entertain the natives of Guildford and Exeter with Shakspaerian performances. The Northern Circuit also was at one time famous for the histrionic ability of its bar, but toward the close of the last century, the dramatic recreations of its junior members were discountenanced by the Grand Court.
houses of Grayes Inn and the Inner Temple, and the Inner Temple and Grayes Inn.” The cost of this entertainment was defrayed by the members of the two innseach reader paying £4, each ancient, £2 108.; each barrister, £2, and each student, 20s.
The Inner Temple and Gray's Inn having thus testified their loyalty and dramatic taste, in the following year on Shrove-Monday night (Feb. 15, 1613), Lincoln's Inn and the Middle Temple, with no less splendor and éclat, enacted at Whitehall a masque written by George Chapman. For this entertainment, Inigo Jones designed and perfected the theatrical decorations in a style worthy of an exhibition that formed part of the gaieties with which the marriage of the Palsgrave with the Princess Elizabeth was celebrated. And though the masquers went to Whitehall by land, their progress was not less pompous than the procession which had passed up the Thames in the February of the preceding year. Having mustered in Chancery Lane, at the official residence of the Master of the Rolls, the actors and their friends delighted the town with a gallant spectacle. Mounted on richly-caparisoned and mettlesome horses, they rode from Fleet Street up the Strand, and by Charing Cross to Whitehall, through a tempest of enthusiasm. Every house was illuminated, every window was crowded with faces, on every roof men stood in rows, from every balcony bright eyes looked down upon the gay scene, and from. basement to garret, from kennel to roof-top throughout the long way, deafening cheers testified, whilst they increased the delight of the multitude. Such a pageant would, even in these sober days, rouse London from her cold propriety. Having thrown aside his academic robe, each masquer had donned a fantastic dress of silver cloth embroidered with gold lace, gold plate, and ostrich plumes. He wore across his breast a goid baldrick, round his neck
a ruff of white feathers brightened with pearls and silver lace, and on his head a coronal of snowy plumes. Before each mounted masquer rode a torch-bearer, whose right hand waved a scourge of flame, instead of a leathern thong. In a gorgeous chariot, preceded by a long train of heralds, were exhibited the Dramatis Personæ--Honor, Plutus, Eunomia, Phemeis, Capriccio—arrayed in their appointed costumes; and it was rumored that the gbiden canopy of their coach had been bought for an enormous
Two other triumphal cars conveyed the twelve chief musicians of the kingdom, and these masters of melody were guarded by torch-bearers, marching two deep before and behind, and on either side of the glittering carriages. Preceding the musicians, rode a troop of ludicrous objects, who roused the derision of the mob, and made fat burghers laugh till tears ran down their cheeks. They were the mock masque, each resembling an ape, each wearing a fantastic dress that heightened the hideous absurdity of his monkey's visage, each riding upon an ass, or small pony, and each of them throwing shells upon the crowd by way of a largess. In the front of the mock masque, forming the vanguard of the entire spectacle, rode fifty gentlemen of the Inns of Court, reining high-bred horses, and followed by their running footmen, whose liveries added to the gorgeous magnificence of the display.
Besides the expenses which fell upon inviduals taking part in the play, or procession, this entertainment cost the two inns £1086 8s. 11d. About the same time Gray's Inn, at the instigation of Attorney General Sir Francis Bacon, performed · The Masque of Flowers' before the lords and ladies of the court, in the Banqueting-house, Whitehall; and six years later Thomas Middleton's 'Inner Temple Masque, or Masque of Heroes' was presented before a goodly company of grand ladies by the Inner Templars.
F all the masques mentioned in the records of the
Inns of Court, the most magnificent and costly was the famous Anti-Prynne demonstration, by which the lawyers endeavored to show their contemptuous disapproval of a work that inveighed against the licentiousness of the stage, and preferred a charge of wanton levity against those who encouraged theatrical performances.
Whilst the ‘Histriomastix' rendered the author ridiculous to mere men of pleasure, it roused fierce animosities by the truth and fearless completeness of its assertions; but to no order of society was the famous attack on the stage more offensive than to the lawyers; and of lawyers the members of Lincoln's Inn were the most vehement in their displeasure. The actors writhed under the attack; the lawyers were literally furious with ragefor whilst rating them soundly for their love of theatrical amusements, Prynne almost contrived to make it seem that his views were acceptable to the wisest and most reverend members of the legal profession. Himself a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, he with equal craft and audacity complimented the benchers of that society on the firmness with which they had forbidden professional actors to take part in the periodic revels of the inn, and on their inclination to govern the society in accordance with Puritanical principles. Addressing his "Much Honored Friends,
“ the Right Worshipful Masters of the Bench of the Honorable Flourishing Law Society of Lincoln's Inne," the utter-barrister said: “For whereas other Innes of Court (I know not by what evil custom, and worse example) admit of common actors and interludes upon their two grand festivalls, to recreate themselves withall, notwithstanding the statutes of our Kingdome (of which lawyers, of all others, should be most observant), have branded all professed stage-players for infamous rogues, and stageplayes for unlawful pastimes, especially on Lord’s-dayes and other solemn holidayes, on which these grand dayes ever fall; yet such hath been your pious tender care, not only of this societie's honor, but also of the young students' good (for the advancing of whose piety and studies you have of late erected a magnificent chapel, and since that a library), that as you have prohibited by late publicke orders, all disorderly Bacchanalian Grand-Christmasses (more fit for pagans than Christians; for the deboisest roarers than grave civill students, who should be patternes of sobriety unto others), together with all publicke dice-play in the Hall (a most pernicious, infamous game; condemned in all ages, all places, not onely by councels, fathers, divines, civilians, canonists, politicians, and other Christian writers; by divers Pagan authors of all sorts, and by Mahomet himselfe; but likewise by sundry heathen, yea, Christian Magistrates' edicts).”
Concerning the London theatres he observes that the “two old play houses” (ie., the Fortune and the Red Bull), the “new theatre” (i.e., Whitefriars play-house), and two other established theatres, being found inadequate to the wants of the play-going public, a sixth theatre had recently been opened. “The multitude of our London play-haunters being so augmented now, that all the ancient Divvel's Chappels (for so the fathers style all play-houses) being five in number, are not sufficient to containe their troops, whence we see a sixth now added to them, whereas even in vitious Nero his raigne there were but three standing theatres in Pagan Rome (though far more splendid than Christian London), and those three too many.". Having thus enumerated some of the saddest features of his age, the author of the ‘Player's