Article Title

Playing Chaucer at the Early Elizabethan Inns of Court


Emily Buffey


While the impact of classical sources on Inns of Court drama has been widely documented, less acknowledged is the influence of Chaucer within the English law schools. This lack is due in part to restrictive definitions of early modern drama, which this article hopes to cross-examine. In so doing, it invites consideration of more flexible and ephemeral forms of early modern performance—specifically those that took place within a legal setting, including mock-trials and other legal exercises, as well as masques and orations—as examples of Chaucerian drama. I argue that there was a distinctive recognition among early Elizabethan lawyers and students of law of the moral, social and artistic advantages of “playing” Chaucer. Whether as a direct source-text for plays; a model of professional and literary aspiration; or a resource for structuring modes of thought, Chaucer is a powerful presence in the broad theatrical repertoire of the mid-Tudor Inns of Court. By demonstrating a fuller and more appreciative understanding of Chaucer’s influence within the legal societies of the Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn and the Middle Temple, this article traces a dynamic phase in Chaucer’s literary afterlife, bringing new understanding to the period’s legal drama and its sources.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.