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London's four Inns of Court (Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, and the Inner and the Middle Temple) served, probably from the fourteenth century, as nurseries not only of common law and lawyers, but of the social arts of music and dancing, and of the mimetic arts of comedy, tragedy, and the masque. Their denizens composed and acted in their own plays, especially in the 1560s under Elizabeth I, and performed in masques composed by professional playwrights in the Jacobean period.
This three-volume edition of dramatic records surviving from the Inns of Court collection includes material from manuscripts and printed books from the archives and libraries of all four Inns, as well as from The National Archives, the British Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library and other repositories, covering over 200 years from 1407 to the closing of the theatres in 1642.
Of particular note are account entries from the beginning of the seventeenth century which situate performances of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors (1594) and Twelfth Night (1602) in the context of annual visits to the Inns of Court by professional playing companies, such as (after 1603) the king's men.
The Introduction provides a survey of Christmas entertainment supervised by Inns of Court Masters of the Revels and Christmas Princes, including minstrels, a lion-tamer, musicians, disguisings, plays, masques, and even a puppet-show. The illustrations (ground-plans and plates) offer evidence of the original performance conditions for Inns of Court plays and masques.