The Universities and the Inns of Court

Alan H. Nelson

in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199697861
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 The Universities and the Inns of Court

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)


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Oxford and Cambridge, England's two historical universities, along with the Inns of Court in London, supplied significant impetus to the drama of early modern England. The University of Oxford traces its origins to 1230, the University of Cambridge to 1260. The two universities are best thought of, however, as federations of constituent colleges, each of which had its own history and character. All four Inns of Court, which are not ‘inns’ in the usual meaning of the word but voluntary societies dedicated to the practice and teaching of English common law, trace their histories back to the fourteenth century. The four inns are Gray's Inn, the Inner Temple, Lincoln's Inn, and the Middle Temple. Up to 1642, records survive of some 384 entertainment events at Cambridge, 185 at Oxford, and 125 at the Inns of Court. Cambridge and Oxford colleges went on performing plays until the 1640s, while the Inns of Court turned to revels and masques.

Keywords: University of Oxford; University of Cambridge; England; Inns of Court; drama; history; entertainment; plays; masques; revels

Article.  6020 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)

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