Discoveries Boost Understanding of Early Shakespeare Stage

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November 20, 2016

The curtain has gone up again for Shakespeare's early efforts.

Researchers at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have unearthed a significant piece of the Curtain Theatre, one of London's first purpose-built theaters and an early favourite of famed Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare. Unlike other theatres of the day, which would have been adapted to include a stage, the rectangular Curtain was built with the stage and the audience in mind.

An intriguing bonus in the dig was the discovery of a long passageway running underneath the length of the stage. The theory is that actors could get from one side of the stage to the other quickly and secretly – a common enough occurrence in today's theater but not so commonly found or easily done in Elizabethan times.

The archaeologists also found fragments of ceramic money boxes, clay pipes, drinking cups, and even pins and glass beads.

The Curtain Theatre, which got its name not from a stage curtain but from a nearby piece of land called Curtain Close, was open from 1577 to 1624. Shakespeare's company the Lord Chamberlain's Men performed there from 1597 to 1599, when the Globe Theatre opened. Among the Shakespeare plays to be performed at the Curtain were Henry V and Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare himself was onstage in Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour at the Curtain in 1598.

MOLA archaeologists discovered the first bit of Curtain remains in 2012.

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