By Michelle O'Callaghan
Within the overdue 16th and early 17th centuries the resorts 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 similar 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 led to a risky but artistic 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 heritage and literature of sociability within the 17th century. This examine will offer many insights for historians and literary students of the interval.
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Additional info for English wits
What? ’ (line 84) under the gentle guidance of his friends finally becomes more civil, culminating in the promise as he leaves the stage that his satire will occasion only refined laughter. 22 Jonson launched his invective against the hyper-urbane theatre-going gallant in one of his earliest plays, The Case is Alter’d, and returned to this theme in Every Man Out. 23 It is an attribute the Jonsonian gallant shares with the Roman scurra, the professional parasite who wormed his way into the banquet, and abused the host’s hospitality through his malicious jests.
Other absent friends are made present through the exchange of letters, and the speaker chides ‘I. ’ for his forgetful silence, urging him to spend ‘Some hours on us your friends’ (line 12). The exchange of letters will re-integrate the errant friend, and describes forms of private conviviality which bind men together in the ‘duties of societies’ (line 7). These societies are exclusively male and urbane, in that they belong to the city as opposed to the country, and are explicitly defined against the embraces of a ‘loved wife’.
The associational culture of revelling and commoning at the Inns in the late sixteenth century continued to rely on the gentleman lawyer. Even so, the conjunction of chivalric burlesque and satiric urbanity in the Middle Temple revels illustrates the pressures within this communal identity, disclosing tensions between older masculine codes of honour and a culture of civility. The origins of clubbing in the revels give an alternative history of the private society in which civil acculturation exists in a fraught relationship with a masculine sociability that aggressively asserted independence, and favoured the forms of satire and libel.