[Milton-L] The Curtain Theatre rediscovered

Carol Barton, Ph.D. cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Wed Jun 13 11:18:58 EDT 2012

SHAKSPER: The CurtainCross-posted from SHAKSPER-L:

SHAKSPER: The Curtain 

From:        Stuart Manger < stuart.manger at btinternet.com>

Date:         June 6, 2012 6:17:35 AM EDT

Subject:     ‘The Curtain’


The Curtain Theatre Unearthed

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0226  Wednesday, 6 June 2012

From:        Stuart Manger <stuart.manger at btinternet.com>

Date:         June 6, 2012 6:17:35 AM EDT

Subject:     ‘The Curtain’


Might interest members. 

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Stuart Manger for calling attention to this news. Below are excerpts from The Guardian and several other reports. –Hardy]


Shakespeare’s Curtain theatre unearthed in east London: 

Theatre where Romeo and Juliet was first performed is rediscovered in Shoreditch centuries after it was dismantled

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian, Tuesday 5 June 2012

Well preserved remains of Shakespeare’s original “wooden O” stage, the Curtain theatre where Henry V and Romeo and Juliet were first performed, have been discovered in a yard in east London.

The Curtain theatre in Shoreditch preceded the Globe on the Thames as Shakespeare’s first venue, showcasing several of his most famous plays. But it was dismantled in the 17th century and its precise location lost.

Now part of the gravelled yard in Shoreditch where the groundlings stood, ate, gossiped and watched the plays, and foundation walls on which the tiers of wooden galleries were built have been uncovered in what was open ground for 500 years while the surrounding district became one of the most densely built in London.

Experts from Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA) have found two sections of exterior wall, crucial for giving the dimensions of the theatre, and are confident of revealing more as the site is cleared for redevelopment. An outer yard paved with sheep knuckle bones could date from the theatre or slightly later housing.

It has long been known that the Curtain – named after the ancient road it fronted – was in the area, but its exact site was lost after the building fell into disuse in the late 1620s. The site in Hewett Street is only a stone’s throw from a remarkably accurate plaque marking the best guess for its location. The Curtain, built in 1577, was only a few hundred yards from another theatre further along Curtain Road, imaginatively named the Theatre, whose foundations were discovered in 2008, also by MoLA. Both were among the earliest purpose-built theatres in London, and intimately connected with Shakespeare.

When the actor-manager James Burbage fell out with his landlord at the Theatre, the company – according to cherished theatre legend – dismantled the timbers overnight and shipped them across the river to build his most famous theatre, the Globe, on Bankside.

Until the new theatre was ready, his company used the Curtain for at least two years from 1597, where Henry V, and it is believed Romeo and Juliet, were first staged. The vivid image of a theatre as a wooden O comes from the prologue to Henry V: “Can this Cock-Pit hold within this Woodden O, the very Caskes that did affright the Ayre at Agincourt?”

[ . . . ]

Chris Thomas of MoLA, who led the excavation, said the remains were remarkably well preserved, probably because for centuries they remained under open space as the theatre fell out of use and was redeveloped as housing, becoming back gardens, a pub yard – the entrance was probably where the small Victorian pub, the Horse and Groom, a listed building which will be retained, now stands – and then a garage with an inspection pit which, unknown to its builders, almost laid bare the Tudor foundations.

[ . . . ]


Remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre found

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press 

LONDON (AP) — Archaeologists in London have discovered the remains of an Elizabethan theater where some of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed — a venue immortalized as “this wooden O” in the prologue to “Henry V.”

Experts from the Museum of London said Wednesday they had uncovered part of the gravel yard and gallery walls of the 435-year-old Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch, just east of London’s business district.

The remains — of a polygonal structure, typical of 16th-century theaters — were found behind a pub on a site marked for redevelopment.

The Curtain opened in 1577 and was home to Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, from 1597 until the Globe Theatre was built across the river two years later.

[ . . . ]

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men decamped in 1599 to the Globe, the theater they’d built using timbers smuggled from the original Theatre.

The Curtain survived as a theater at least until the 1620s, making it the longest-lived of London’s Elizabethan playhouses.

Museum archaeologists plan further excavation of the Curtain later this year, and a real estate company redeveloping the site said it intends to preserve the remains.

The Theater and the Curtain were London’s first successful playhouses — previously, plays had been staged in inn yards and other makeshift spaces. There is evidence that an earlier venue, The Red Lion, was built outside the city in the 1560s but lasted only a few months.

Traces of several of the venues have survived. In 2008, archaeologists found remains of The Theater just down the road from the site of the Curtain.

On the south bank of the Thames, Shakespeare’s plays are staged in a reconstruction of the Globe playhouse built near the original site. Remains of The Rose, another Elizabethan venue, have also been found nearby.

All were built outside the city walls, free from regulation by civic leaders hostile to theaters and other disreputable entertainments.

Heather Knight, a senior Museum of London archaeologist, said that despite recent discoveries there is still much to learn about the Elizabethan theater.

“The late 16th century was a time of a theatrical arms race in London,” she said. “The proprietors of these building were making improvements to attract customers. So to have the chance to look at the earliest of these buildings (The Theater), and the one that had the longest life is a real opportunity.”

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless


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Hardy M. Cook, editor at shaksper.net

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