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John Marston’s Parasitaster, or The Fawn

John Marston’s The Fawn, may be a play written for a boys’ company, The Children of the Queen’s Revels, around 1604, by a Middle Templar for an original audience largely of other Innsmen – but, as the recent Edward’s Boys production showed, it still works on a modern stage.

By Jackie Watson, 6 November 2021

Edward’s Boys are a minor miracle. For years now Perry Mills has guided the Stratford-upon-Avon-based schoolboy company to produce rarely seen plays for a modern audience, and they fly! (Sometimes unexpectedly…) Marston’s play may have a ‘difficult’ main title that must be avoided but the play’s concerns with misogyny, family relationships, power and its abuse still definitely talk to us today.

The online British Shakespeare Association conference on 6 November, organised and chaired by José Pérez Díez from the Oxford Marston project, spent a Saturday looking at the play in the context of other disguised ruler plays. ‘Nothing is ever casual or thrown away’ in Marston, as Mills told the conference, and the play had proven difficult to cut: all the lines of in-jokes and legal humour that he’d initially planned to remove out of pity for his young actors have a wider significance and don’t actually get in the way of engagement from a non-Innsmen audience.

There are many ways in which this is a play written with Innsmen in mind. Written by Marston just after James I acceded to the English throne, The Fawn explores, for a Blackfriars audience, courtiership, favouritism, and flattery in the context of a new political regime. Many men from the Inns were aiming to make the leap into such a profession, and, rather than the disguised Duke taking on a religious persona (as in contemporary plays such as Measure for Measure or The Malcontent), here Marston encourages the audience to judge life at the royal court as Hercules, the Duke of Ferrara, disguises himself as the courtier Faunus, and makes explicit his own feelings on the immorality and self-seeking at the centre of power.

The play’s text makes regular reference to the greed of lawyers, to legal concepts and terminology, to the fairness of judgement; it echoes the homosociality and the misogynistic conviviality of the Inns environment – and the often cruel and bullying atmosphere of its humour; and its finale, with Cupid as judge of the male reprobates, establishes a courtroom, with all the rhetoric of such a space that legal students were working to perfect. With many echoes of the 1597/8 Middle Temple revels, published just over 60 years later as Le Prince D’Amour, this final scene especially is full of in-jokes and self-reference, resonating undoubtedly with the Innsmen in the Blackfriars audience.

We all look forward with eager anticipation to Clare McManus’s edition of the play, in the forthcoming complete Oxford Marston. The recent performance of a play I never thought to see on stage was a joy, and, as the BSA Conference showed, there is a real interest in a work that could easily have been dismissed as a museum piece. To those of us whose work explores the Inns, though, it has an extra appeal.

Poster from the recent Edward’s Boys production

Middle Temple to Manoa

A little gem of an exhibition…

by Jackie Watson, 12 October 2021

We were lucky enough to have Dr Lauren Working and Dr Emily Stevenson present our first Mapping Inns seminar back in April 2021: opening our discussion of Innsmen and their interactions with the world beyond England. Both members of the TIDE project (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, 1550-1700), at the seminar, they told us about the exhibition they had been working on during the pandemic, enabled by Renae Satterley, Librarian at the Middle Temple. Well, the exhibition is now open – in the growing ‘new normal’ format, that is in person AND online.

In person, the little cases of the exhibition each contain a world in miniature. There are nine themes of the exhibition, from The World Encompass’d (looking at the networks of Francis Drake at the Inns), to the settling of Jamestown; from material culture such as Silken Threads, Feathers and Tobacco, to another on Merchants and Diplomats. As well as early modern printed texts, Middle Temple manuscripts and the exotic (and sometimes less exotic!) objects brought by early settlers and visitors from the ‘New World’, the curators have been working with the hugely talented ceramicist, Loraine Rutt, to encapsulate the ideas of the material on display in newly commissioned artworks. The miniature globes and porcelain vessels are visually stunning and thoughtfully reflect concepts of the travel and transculturality that the exhibition, and the Oxford TIDE project that begat it, encapsulate. You can see examples of Loraine’s work here.

The exhibition looks at some of the links between the Inns, particularly Middle Temple, and figures at the forefront of what was to become the colonial project. It shows how travel and trade were embedded into the social lives and conviviality of early modern Innsmen (as Lauren Working has explored in greater detail in her recent book, The Making of an Imperial Polity: Civility and America in the Jacobean Metropolis, available in the Resources section of this website).

It also asks the viewer of such exotic goods as pearls, feathers and tobacco to examine the underlying geopolitics of exploitation and production. In this way, Middle Temple to Manoa plays its part in the 21st century historical project giving a more nuanced understanding of the impact on other peoples of elite western desire for luxury items.  We are unable to see again the pearl-bedecked portraits of Elizabeth I without a greater consciousness of the impact of the trade in her characteristic and iconic jewels. 

One focus of the exhibition I found especially interesting was that on Richard Hakluyt and his influential book, The Principall Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English Nation. Emily Stevenson’s work on his networks, demonstrated in the exhibition, is revealing and, though he was not an Innsman himself, she argues that his connection with Middle Temple was an inspirational factor in the genesis of his work. 

All in all, the exhibition is a ‘must see’ for those interested in the cultural impact of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Inns. Open until December this year, if you’re in the UK contacting Renae Satterley at Middle Temple is the best way to organise a visit (Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm; email; or if you can’t get to London, its online catalogue will give the best sense of what you’re missing!

Principals of Navigation Richard Hakluyt 1589, Prime Meridian Pocket Globe Loraine Rutt 2021, Network Map Dr Emily Stevensn 2021
Principals of Navigation Richard Hakluyt 1589, Prime Meridian Pocket Globe Loraine Rutt 2021, Network Map Dr Emily Stevenson 2021

Let the mapping commence …

by Jackie Watson, 6 July 2021

Such a small lockdown idea to begin with…  Initially conceived as a collection focused on the Inns and Drama, to build on the fabulous, but now ten-year-old, essays of The Intellectual and the Cultural World of the Early Modern Inns of Court, ed. Archer, Goldring and Knight (MUP, 2011), Mapping the Early Modern Inns of Court is a project that has expanded quickly and continues to grow.

Though a slightly differently focused collection is still part of the plan (see details here), there is now a seminar series, held monthly in term time, and a website with areas for blogs to explore new ideas, reviews of recent publications and links to research.  There is a network for scholars of the early modern Inns, who come from a variety of disciplines, that will allow new researchers and those moving into the field to find others whose work relates to theirs.  And, in the longer term we hope, further web-based work will allow easier research into networks of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Innsmen.

The first of our seminar series, in May of this year, exploded the idea, taken for granted by many, that these institutions were insular and exclusive.  Lauren Working’s book, The Making of an Imperial Polity: Civility and America in the Jacobean Metropolis (published last year by CUP and available here) made the argument for the central involvement of Innsmen in the early seventeenth century American colonial project – exploring their cultural and social engagement with objects and ideas of colonisation.  Together with Emily Stevenson, whose recent DPhil thesis aimed to recontextualise Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations in his social networks, Working presented the seminar attendees with the ideas that lay behind their forthcoming Middle Temple exhibition: Global Networks at the Early Modern Inns of Court: From Middle Temple to Manoa.  From the start we have been beginning to map the spaces of the early modern Inns – and thinking of these apparently small, impermeable institutional spaces in terms of their role in the international spaces of early travel and colonisation.

The seminar has allowed participants to reflect on the social spaces of the Inns and on the networks of men working and writing there.  Our second seminar speaker, also key to the Middle Temple exhibition later this year, was the Inn’s librarian, Renae Satterley, whose paper made us reflect on the bibliographical collection of Robert Ashley: the collection that was the foundation of Middle Temple Library.  The seminars offer pre-reading for attendees to allow a more productive discussion following each paper, and for this one we considered Ashley’s translation of the second part of Miguel de Luna’s La verdadera historia del rey don Rodrigo as a way of looking at his attitudes to contemporary Islam, and at the part he and his family may have played in Jacobean theatre history, as a way into the ‘light literature’ in his collection.  The seminars build on one another to allow a more nuanced examination of the Inns as, to quote one of our speakers, ‘sites of ideological dissemination’, and we are beginning to map larger issues – that will continue to develop in future seminars.  How far are the Inns one cohesive unit, and how far is there institutional variation?  How far does the activity of the Inns work for the good of the commonwealth, and how far for the good of individuals?  And just how porous are the Inns as spaces?  We have so far seen the interactions between Innsmen and the wider world in their positions as lawyers, politicians, colonialists, book-collectors and writers – and no doubt this will continue to extend through future seminars.

We look forward to papers by Lorna Hutson, Blessin Adams and Michelle O’Callaghan in the forthcoming term – as we continue to add to our increasingly complex map.