Last weekend was Open House London, when historic and culturally important locations that are normally either closed to the public or charge admission are open for free. We went to several places, but my favorite was Middle Temple Hall. One of the four Inns of Court, members today can go for daily lunches in the Hall. It’s tucked away just off the Strand, a warren of gardens and cobbled streets that is, like so much here, completely invisible from the street if you don’t know to look for it.
Built between 1562 and 1573, it is (as one of the placards in the hall said) basically a miracle that the Middle Temple is still standing after the fire of 1666 and the Blitz (though it did suffer some damage during the latter, but it seems as if the affected areas were restored largely with the original materials).
Of course, the most interesting aspect of Middle Temple Hall for me, is this:
Though the website and some printed materials elide this to “first performance,” but all we actually know is that it’s the first performance on record, which may not be the same thing. At any rate, it’s pretty amazing to stand on a floor where William Shakespeare and Richard Burbage almost certainly stood. The Globe put on a production of Twelfth Night in 2002 in the hall, and the arranged it in a very long alley, with audience members along the two long sides of the hall, and one of the shorter ends.
This is much more similar to staging at the Globe and Blackfriars (though the Lord Chamberlain’s/King’s Men weren’t performing there yet in 1602) than facing the audience flat-on would be, but it’s also sufficiently different to raise a lot of interesting questions about staging. And if this was the very first performance, if perhaps the play was written for the Candlemas celebrations that year, would these slightly altered staging demands (if the Globe was even ‘correct’ in choosing to orient the stage that way) be reflected in the requirements of the text itself? A play that could only be performed in the Inns of Court would be pretty useless to the company– whatever its original intent, they’d know it would eventually have to be done at the Globe– but perhaps alterations were undertaken in the interim? After all, Candlemas falls very shortly before Lent, when the theatres were required (at least technically… it doesn’t seem to be a rule they often bothered to follow) to be closed and there would (again, in theory) be plenty of time for rewrites.
To conclude, I’d like to present this fact from the website’s description of the “finely carved oak screen at the east end of the Hall”: “The screen’s two double-leaved, spiked doors were installed in 1671 in an attempt by the Masters of the Bench to prevent high-spirited and rebellious students from occupying the Hall for illegal revelling over Christmas.” Oops.