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By Michelle O'Callaghan

Within the overdue 16th and early 17th centuries the lodges of court docket and classy London taverns constructed a tradition of clubbing, city sociability and wit. The convivial societies that emerged created rituals to outline social identities and to interact in literary play and political dialogue. Michelle O'Callaghan argues that the lawyer-wits, together with John Hoskyns, in corporation with authors comparable to John Donne, Ben Jonson and Thomas Coryate, consciously reinvigorated humanist traditions of discovered play. Their experiments with burlesque, ceremonial dinner literature, parody and satire ended in a risky but inventive discussion among civility and licence, and among excitement and the violence of scurrilous phrases. The wits inaugurated a style of literary fellowship that formed the background and literature of sociability within the 17th century. This research will supply many insights for historians and literary students of the interval.

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To jud ge with distinct ion’ The Jonson we know well is the court dramatist and King’s poet; the significance of his association with the Inns of Court is less familiar. 4 This was a formative period in Jonson’s professional career, when he established his reputation in the public theatre. The gentleman lawyer, a man of independent judgement, skilled in the laws of the realm, and therefore well qualified to provide free and frank counsel, was an attractive figure as it enabled the aspiring dramatist to establish his own professional credibility.

Friendship is experienced as an excess of intimacy that overwhelms the speaker with its difficult commitments. These familiar epistles describe a complex social world in which individuals must constantly negotiate between their own necessities and conflicting social obligations and ideals. The image of the ‘short roll of friends writ in my heart’, opening the epistle to ‘I. ’, tropes a particular mode of scribal publication, the intimate Gentleman lawyers at the Inns of Court 21 circulation of verse epistles amongst an exclusive group of friends.

Asper, the sharp, bitter satirist of Every Man Out, is counselled by Cordatus (prudent and wise) and Mitis (mild and mitigating) to temper the violence of his satiric strain, to make it corrective rather than destructive. The Grex have been described as the ‘stage equivalent of a marginal gloss’; 21 a parallel can also usefully be drawn with the Renaissance dialogue in which meaning resides in the dialogic relationship between the interlocutors. Cordatus and Mitis mitigate Asper’s onstage behaviour, counselling propriety in language and gesture.

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