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Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre uncovered in Shoreditch

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Remains from the Curtain, Shakespeare’s original “Wooden O” theatre, have been uncovered in an East London yard. As Shakespeare’s earliest venue, the Curtain theatre was believed to be home to the first performances of Henry V and Romeo and Juliet.

The theatre fell out of use in the 17th century and its exact location was lost. Its discovery on Hewett Street in Shoreditch is actually extremely close in proximity to where a plaque marking the best guess for the location is currently placed.

Individuals from Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA) have discovered two sections of an exterior wall, an outer yard paved with sheep knuckle bones, bits of broken clay pipe and fragments of china and wall tiles. While the archaeologists are confident they will uncover more as the site is cleared, the pieces of the wall found so far will aid in calculating the true dimensions of the theatre.

Named after the road it sat on, the Curtain was situated near a second playhouse named the Theatre whose remains were discovered three years ago also by MoLA. Both theatres have a strong connection to Shakespeare.

According to theatre legend, James Burbage, an actor-manager, came into disagreement with his landlord at the Theatre and tore down the building overnight. He then shipped the wood across the river where it was used to build the Globe. During the two years it took for the new theatre to be built, his company used the Curtain for performances.

According the Chris Thomas, who led the excavation, the artefacts are "exceptionally well preserved", most likely because they remained under open space for centuries. Over time, the space was redeveloped as housing, gardens, a pub yard, and a garage. The site is now owned by a development company which plans to incorporate the remains into a proposed retail and residential development. 

Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Michael Boyd said: "It is inspiring that the Museum of London has unearthed the foundations of The Curtain Theatre. I look forward to touching the mud and stone, if not wood, and feeling the presence of that space where Shakespeare's early work, including the histories, made such a lasting impact."

- Julianna Fazio


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