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EnlargeMuseum of London Archaeology/ASSOCIATED PRESS Archaeologists
from the Museum of London Archaeology recently excavated the site of
the 16th-century Curtain Theatre, where Shakespeare staged some of his
Just in time for Shakespeare in the Park,
archaeologists have discovered the remains of the Bard's old stomping
grounds — ruins of a famous 16th-century theater, buried below the
streets of modern London. Known in its heyday as the Curtain Theatre,
it's often been eclipsed by its more famous younger sibling, the Globe.
But the Curtain is a big deal in its own right. Some of Shakespeare's most famous works premiered there — Romeo and Juliet and Henry V,
just to name a couple. NPR's Rachel Martin talked to the archaeologist
who dug up the theater, Chris Thomas of the Museum of London.
On what remains
only seen parts of it so far, but what remains are the foundations —
the brick walls of the Curtain Theatre — the floors inside the
galleries, and the yard. The yard is the bit in the middle where people
used to stand." On how they knew it was the Curtain
looked at the Rose Theatre — we've dug parts of that up before — and
we've dug a little bit of the Globe up before. And we've dug a little
bit of Shakespeare's first theater, which was rather unimaginatively
titled the Theatre. So we know what sort of form these things have, and
we know what shape they have. ... What we've got here [with the Curtain]
is the best surviving example of any of Shakespeare's theaters in
London. The others are all quite badly disturbed by later buildings, but
this one seems to be more or less intact." On the Curtain's lifespan
think it [was] built in 1577, so that's a year after the first theater.
And the last mention of it is in 1628, but it's just possible that it
continued all the way up to 1642. And we know all the theaters would
have been shut then, because the Puritans in power in England didn't
like theaters, and didn't like people having a lot of fun, so they
closed them all down." On Shakespeare's audience at the Curtain
Some of William Shakespeare's most famous plays, like Romeo and Juliet, had their debut at the Curtain Theatre.
"It's probably not something for the elite. I
think we've probably got to imagine that the productions were a bit more
rowdy and the audience probably participated quite a lot more than they
do in modern theatrical productions."
On the location of Shakespeare's theaters
to start with, the Theatre and the Curtain Theatre were in Shoreditch,
which is immediately north of the City of London. So you can imagine
that the theaters are in suburban areas that are just outside the
jurisdiction of the city, so they can get away with quite a lot more.
And then once the Rose and the Globe and the other theaters get built,
they all get built on the south side of the river, again outside the
city. So once the Theatre closes, the Curtain is on its own up in
Shoreditch and all the rest are down in Southwark on the south side of
On unexpected discoveries
of the nicest things is, buried in the floor, was a ceramic pot, just
buried in the floor as a mouse trap. And I think those are the little
things that are quite nice and give you a bit more of a feel for the
people or the place."
On the future of the excavation
we have to move on, in that we just located it, found it and covered it
up for the time being. Now, if a new development gets permission to be
built, then we'll be uncovering most of it, and we'll be putting it on
display so that people can come and visit it, and that's when it will
get really exciting."