Remains discovered from theatre where Shakespeare’s original plays were performed

(c) Museum of London Archaeology

Remains from the venue in which Romeo & Juliet is thought to have been first performed have been unearthed in East London. Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) came across The Curtain Theatre’s gallery walls and playhouse yard when redeveloping the site in Shoreditch.

The Curtain Theatre is thought to be one of oldest theatre spaces in London. It first opened in 1577 and became home to the Lord Chamberlain’s men – Shakespeare’s company – for two years, until the opening of the Globe Theatre. The Curtain fell into disuse and was dismantled in the 17th century, leaving its exact whereabouts unclear, until now.

Chris Thomas, lead archaeologist on MOLA’s redevelopment of the area, said: ‘This is a fantastic site which gives us unique insight into early Shakespearean theatres. On other Tudor theatres we’ve found quantities of little pottery money boxes, which the punters put the price of admission into on the way in, which were then smashed at the back of the theatre to get the takings – I’m sure some from the Curtain are still there, just waiting for us to find them.’

The Curtain hosted two significant premieres of Shakespeare’s work – Romeo & Juliet and Henry V. The theatre itself is referred to in the prologue to the latter: ‘Can this Cock-Pit hold within this Wooden O, the very Caskes that did affright the Ayre at Agincourt?’

RSC artistic director, Michael Boyd said of the discovery: ‘I look forward to touching the mud and stone, if not wood, and feeling the presence of that space where Shakespeare’s early work, including the histories, made such a lasting impact.’

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