Archaeologists are uncovering new secrets about the stage for which Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest plays.
The discoveries at the recently-uncovered Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch are asking new questions about how the physical attributes of the theatre may have influenced the Bard’s writing.
Explorations of the remains of the Curtain, one of London’s earliest dedicated theatres, reveals that the stage is much longer than first thought and contains evidence of an unusual passageway beneath the stage.
The remains of the theatre, opened in 1577, will be preserved in situ and will become the centrepiece of The Stage, a new mixed-use development of shops, homes and public spaces .
After three months of examination, archaeologists from Mola also confirm that the theatre was a purpose-built structure at the rear of another building on Curtain Road in Shoreditch.
Mola senior archaeologist Heather Knight said: “Finding evidence for one of the first stages that was specifically built for plays at the end of the dig was exciting and significant. This discovery could transform our understanding of the evolution of Elizabethan theatres.
“It also raises questions about the function of the theatre and the types of entertainment that might have been staged here.
“For example, did the unusual shape and layout of the Curtain stage influence the plays such as Henry V and Romeo and Juliet that he wrote before his company moved to the Globe? As well as drama, could the Curtain’s stage space have been used for sporting spectacles?”
The Curtain Theatre had timber galleries with mid and upper areas for those who could afford to spend a little more, and a courtyard made from compacted gravel for those with less to spend.
Evidence of ceramic money boxes have also been found. This is where entrance fees would have been collected, later to be smashed to count the cash. It is the origin of the term “box office”.
Glass beads and pins, which may have come from actors’ costumes, were also unearthed along with drinking vessels and clay pipes.
The excavation has now been sealed and protected while the £750million, 400-home development is completed. Later, the ruins and the finds will form part of a visitor centre. There will also be a performance space.
Heather said: “With the excavation now complete, our plan is to do more in-depth analysis of the finds and further research that will shed some light on some of these mysteries.”