Initial findings from excavation at Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre revealed

MOLA team

Today we unveiled our initial findings from the detailed excavation of The Curtain Theatre, in London’s Shoreditch. Our archaeologists can now show that the playhouse appears to be a rectangular building, measuring approximately 22m x30m, rather than being polygonal.

Having broken ground just less than a month ago, early findings from the excavation, of what is one of Shakespeare’s least historically documented playhouses, suggest that the structure, in places, reused the walls of earlier buildings, with the back section of the playhouse being a new addition.

Walls survive up to 1.5 metres high in places, and our archaeologists have been able to identify the courtyard, where theatregoers stood, and the inner walls, which held the galleries where wealthier audience members would have sat.

The on site team have also discovered artefacts including a fragmentary ceramic bird whistle, dating from the late 16th century. Bird whistles were children’s toys but in this context may have been used for sound effects in theatrical performances. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, staged at the Curtain Theatre in the late 16th century, there are numerous references to bird song, such as “That birds would sing and think it were not night”.

We have also found personal items, including a bone comb. Combs like this were used for grooming and would have been an essential item used by actors backstage, just like today.

Our archaeologists will continue to excavate the site for another month, delving deeper into the story of this historic theatre. The public can book tours to visit the site on Fridays from 20 May to 24 June. Tours are free but spaces are limited so booking is essential. Full details can be found on our events pages.

Once the dig is complete, the remains of the Curtain will be preserved in-situ, and the artefacts uncovered and records taken during the excavation will then be studied in detail by our specialists. A display of the finds will sit alongside the theatre remains as part of a cultural and visitor centre at the heart of The Stage, a new £750m mixed-use development backed by Cain Hoy and designed by architects Perkins+Will, including 33,000 sq ft of retail, over 200,000 sq ft of office space, and more than 400 homes. The development will also feature over an acre of vibrant public space including a performance area and a park.

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