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Foundations of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre Found in Shoreditch

Curtain Theatre (2)

<![CDATA[The remains of the Shakespearean-era Curtain Theatre, including shoulder-high walls and rectangular foundations, have been recently found and identified at a Shoreditch development site. In an interview in the Guardian, renowned Shakespeare archaeologist Julian Bowsher, who specializes in the locations of the sites the Bard performed at as an actor and the locations where his plays themselves were performed; indicated that the Curtain’s rectangular design was a bit of a shock. As the site where the very first performances of such plays as Henry V and Romeo and Juliet might have taken place, the Curtain’s squared-off shape clashes with Henry V’s famous prologue, where the stage was referred to in shape as a “wooden O”. Bowsher said that he’ll have to revise his previous scholarship on The Curtain, as the evidence seems clear that before it was a playhouse, it had likely been an Elizabethan-era tenement. All indications point to the theater being converted once more into a block of flats after The Curtain was no longer in use as a playhouse, the archaeologist added. According to Heather Knight, the excavation’s senior archaeologist, the theater’s remains are some of the best preserved of all of the Tudor-era playhouses excavated to this day. The key to the preservation is actually due to its status as a conversion, the theater being reused as a tenement house led to far more of the structure surviving to the modern era, much more than the South Bank theaters known to have been some of Shakespeare’s most famous haunts, the Rose and the Globe. The current Globe is of course a reconstruction, while the original structures are nothing more than barely visible traces of foundation. The curtain’s architectural remains include a collection of brick walls, some as tall as 1.5 meters. Additionally, the area within the stage where the groundlings would have stood, a sloping surface covered in gravel, has also survived partially. Also surviving are some limited documentation from the era that tell us that the Curtain was set just 100 meters from another playhouse on the outskirts of the city of London, and stood in a fair meadow. The name of the playhouse itself comes from Curtain Road, a medieval pathway that ran parallel to a priory’s old curtain wall. Additionally, the theater was the site of one of Shakespeare’s performances as an actor in 1598, when he appeared in ‘Every Man In His Humour’, by Ben Jonson. Apparently the neighborhood the Curtain was situated in was less than idyllic. Theater manager Richard Burbage, a close friend of Shakespeare, had been fined regularly for running an unlicensed tavern, or “tippling house,” in close proximity to the playhouse, according to surviving records. Fights seemed to have been common, such as an incident where a Thames ferryman assailed two actors for not paying their fares. The backstage area of The Curtain is still being excavated. Tours of the site are available every Friday from now until June 24th. ]]>

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