Shakespeare in Shoreditch | Wikimedia UK

This year is the 400th anniversary of
Shakespeare’s death in 1616 When you think of places associated with
Shakespeare in London first place will think of is probably a building that
opened for the first time in 1997, the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre on Bankside in Southwark. There’s not a lot left of 16th and 17th
century London largely because of the Great Fire of 1666; but here and there
some stone buildings remain and some which were rebuilt after the fire still
give a glimpse of a Elizabethan London. Shakespeare’s brother is buried in
Southwark Cathedral and you can see the remains of the Bishop of Winchester’s
lodgings where Shakespeare is recorded as living in 1600. In the 16th century as you can see in
the map, London pretty much finished at Bishopsgate and Aldgate in the East. Shakespeare lived on Bishopsgate near
The Theater in Shoreditch until a dispute with the landlord led to it being
demolished in 1596 and its timbers being used to construct The Globe. Archaeologists from the Museum of London have been uncovering the history of this
forgotten part of Elizabethan London where recent excavations have unearthed the foundations of another theater on Curtain Road, The Curtain theatre. Well what you’re looking at is the very early stages of the excavation of one of London’s earliest playhouses. This is the site of
The Curtain theater, it’s where I guess most famously associated with Shakespeare where he
performed in the late 1590s. It existed as a building much earlier. It was definitely operating as a public playhouse in the 1570s, but it’s one of the early playhouses we know very little about. It’s not really documented so that’s why the archaeology is really important. Well Shoreditch was a really interesting place in the 1590s. It’s just outside the City of London, so you’ve got a crowded city, and in comparison this was quite rural. You’ve got most of the buildings fronting onto Shoreditch High Street, the parish church of St Leonard’s and the
dissolved monastic precinct of Holywell just a few hundred meters up the road. And it’s surrounded by open fields and it’s kind of the place where people went for a bit
of R ‘n R. It was the place people could visit and inn or gaming house or a brothel
and obviously in the 1570s it was also a place to go and see a play. Shakespeare’s I guess most associated with the Chamberlain’s Men and the Chamberlain’s Men’s headquarters if you like was the theatre
just up the road but that closed in 1597 and they actually moved here, the company moved here at that point and they were performing here for a couple of years before The Globe was built in 1599. Well, we’ve done some previous
archaeological evaluation on the site so we know some of the internal walls survive which would have provided the support for the timber superstructure for the building. We also know parts of the the gravel yard surface survive where the audience would’ve been standing to watch performances of say Romeo and Juliet or Henry V, but one thing we haven’t really had a chance to look at so far is the backstage area so that’s really exciting, that’s sort of the unknown. Well in terms of things we
are hoping to find evidence of who was using the building in terms of both audience and actors. So the audience may have been eating and drinking while watching performances, so we might have evidence of the food they were eating; fruit seeds and nut shells, that kind of thing, as well as broken beer mugs. And for actors, we might get evidence of costume ornaments, beads and bells and that kind of thing, maybe props, and if we’re very lucky, evidence of special effects. I think for a long time people have associated, and rightly so, Shakespeare with The Globe and Bankside. That’s why this site’s really important to actually put Shakespeare’s Shoreditch back on the map so people can understand that this was London’s first theatreland. Wikimedia UK is hosting an editathon at Senate House Library on May 7th to celebrate 400 years since
the death of The Bard in 1616. The theme of the event is Shakespeare in London. If you want to come and find out how to add your knowledge to the online
encyclopedia written by you, why not join us?

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