Two of the four sites – Inner Temple and Middle Temple – were located centrally in the capital below the Strand to the east of Temple Bar, while Lincoln’s Inn was just north of the Strand. Gray’s Inn was positioned further north on a north-south axis along the western edge of Gray’s Inn Road.
The students at the four Inns of Court also often organised and acted in plays and masques at winter festival times at the Inn’s hall, priding themselves on their ‘rhetorical’ powers of persuasion, an essential part of a good lawyer’s professional equipment. The tradition is still carried on today when Inn members create and perform in Christmas shows. However, in the Shakepearean period all four sites should be considered authentic ShaLT performance locations in their own right, since their indoor halls were used as performance spaces for visiting playing companies. Most famously, in 1594 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men put on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors at Gray’s Inn, whilst his Twelfth Night was staged at Middle Temple in 1602.
Furthermore, thanks to recent research it is now clear that plays were performed very regularly indeed at the four Inns of Court – but especially at Inner Temple - so they have a firm place in this history as alternative sites for theatrical performance in the period. However, as with the court performances, these activities were not open to the fee-paying public, but were provided to entertain and instruct the socially élite audiences of lawyers. The Inns of Court are important, since we can positively identify them as performance sites for various plays, many of them known, and including those by Shakespeare mentioned above.
Thomas Nashe, Pierce Peniless, 1592
‘The afternoon being the idlest time of the day, wherein men that are their own masters (as gentlemen of the Court, the Inns of the Court, and the number of captains and soldiers about London) do wholly bestow themselves upon pleasure, and that pleasure they divide (how virtuously it skills not) either upon gaming, following of harlots, drinking, or seeing a play.’
John Manningham of the Middle Temple, at Candlemass, February 1602
‘At our feast we had a play called ‘Twelve Night, or what you will’; much like the Comedy of Errors or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and near to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practice in it to make the steward believe his lady widow was in love with him, by counterfeiting a letter as from his lady, in general terms, telling him what she liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel, etc., and then when he came to practise, making believe they took him to be mad.’