Exhibition space overview showing The Theatre footprint © Nissen Richards Studio

New archaeological evidence excavated at Shakespeare’s The Theatre as preparations to put archaeological remains centre stage in new exhibition commence

MOLA team

Our team of archaeologists have embarked on an exciting new excavation at the site of Shakespeare’s London playhouse and Hackney’s first Scheduled Ancient Monument, The Theatre. The work is underway to prepare the space for a new development, The Box Office, which will place the in-situ archaeological remains of The Theatre centre stage in an exhibition dedicated to exploring Elizabethan commercial theatre culture, and how The Theatre came to be one of the most important places in the story of Shakespeare in London.

MOLA archaeologists excavate the outide areas of The Theatre in 2018 (c) MOLA

In this most recent dig, we have built on the evidence uncovered in our 2008 excavations that revealed the classic polygonal playhouse structure surrounding the gravel yard. Incredible new evidence is emerging of how the area was remodelled by James Burbage, from buildings that belonged to the earlier Holywell Priory, to create an Elizabethan Theatre Complex

Shakespeare’s plays are known to have taken four hours plus to be performed and academics from Before Shakespeare believe there were cues in his plays to keep the attention of theatregoers, with plot recaps and clues about what comes next, something evident in Hamlet. The new archaeological evidence from The Theatre indicates how Burbage was creating a Theatre Complex with enough space for audiences to mill around and socialise during these long performances. It’s a rare and exquisite opportunity to peer into the much-fantasised about experience of going to a Shakespearean playhouse.

MOLA archaeologists excavate evidence of Burbage's remodelling of Holywell Priory buildings (c) MOLA

Heather Knight, our Lead Archaeologist on the dig, said:

“It’s incredible to be back on site at The Theatre, it’s an internationally significant and iconic archaeological site and a really special place for archaeologists, historians, thespians and Londoners but especially for Shoreditch, London’s first theatreland. It was the discovery of The Theatre that gave Hackney its first Scheduled Ancient Monument, hopefully this dig will bring more amazing discoveries to light.”

The exhibition, which will feature a viewing window onto the in-situ remains of The Theatre, which haven’t been seen by the public for over 400 years. It will display new discoveries made during the dig, iconic artefacts from our 2008 excavations and objects loaned by institutions across London. It will be fully accessible and open to the public towards the end of 2019.

The Theatre art wall in Shoreditch by Global Street Art (c) Global Street Art

The drama is set to continue outside of the building, where the scene is set for transformation. A beautiful art-wall evoking the tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet, two of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, has recently been unveiled by renowned street artists Global Street Art. The plans to further echo the area’s rich theatrical past include the installation of a William Shakespeare statue, a landmark commission designed and sculpted by Raphael Maklouf and Hayley Gibb. The construction of the new building and exhibition space will be undertaken by The Box Office New Inn Broadway Limited, a subsidiary company of the Belvedere Trust.

Street view of the Box Office building and exhibition space © Gallus Studio
Street view of the Box Office building and exhibition space © Gallus Studio

Adding to Hackney’s inimitable artistic appeal, the new space will encompass the cultural and creative forces that have been flourishing in Shoreditch for over 400 years and evoke the drama and excitement of Shakespearean theatre. By partnering with artists, sculptors, archaeologists and top museums, it’s hoped that it will be a go-to destination for dramatic events and act as an important educational resource for the local community.

  • Shakespeare
  • Post-medieval
  • Excavation
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