Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre proves ‘all the world’s a stage’—or Shoreditch at least

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 November 2016

Unearthing truth about Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre [photos: Museum of London Archaeology]

Unearthing truth about Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre [photos: Museum of London Archaeology]


The remains of the stage built for Shakespeare’s historic Curtain Theatre is much longer than first thought and contains evidence of a passageway beneath it, archaeologists have discovered.

To be or not to be... was this The Curtain's purpose-built stage?To be or not to be... was this The Curtain's purpose-built stage?

The theatre was purpose-built in Shoreditch at the rear of another building in Curtain Road, Museum of London archaeologists now confirm.

The remains are being preserved as the centrepiece of The Stage, a £750m commercial and residential development.

“This discovery transforms our understanding of Elizabethan theatres,” senior archaeologist Heather Knight said. “Finding evidence for one of the first stages specifically built for plays was hugely significant and raises questions about the function of the theatre.

“The unusual shape and layout may have influenced plays like Henry V and Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare wrote before his company of players moved to The Globe on the Southbank with its different-shape stage.”

The Curtain was where Elizabethans came solely for entertainment, a rectangular theatre for plays and activities, with its timber galleries for wealthier theatre-goers and open-air courtyard ‘promenade’ with a compacted gravel surface for those with less to spend.

It is one of earliest Elizabethan playhouses where theatre-goers paid to get in, confirmed by fragments of ceramic money boxes found at the site. The boxes would be used to collect coins and taken to a ‘box’ office to be smashed open and the money counted—the origins of the term ‘box office’ still used in theatres today.

Glass beads and pins which may have come from performance costumes have also been unearthed along with drinking vessels and clay pipes.

Developers Cain Hoy’s chief executive Jonathan Goldstein said: “The plot is thickening—this excavation continues to keep us on the edge of our seats. It’s fitting that 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, we are uncovering the secrets of one of his least documented theatres.

”Shoreditch is undoubtedly London’s original theatreland. The Stage is set to create a new district in East London.”

The excavated artefacts are being covered over for the moment with a protective membrane and special type of neutral sand, while construction of the development continues.

A display of the finds goes on show alongside the remains of the theatre foundation as part of a cultural centre when The Stage development is completed.

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