England’s second permanent theater was built by the actor-manager James Burbage in 1576. Burbage called it … The Theatre. (Look, they were making the greatest works of drama in the English language at the time: they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a good name as well.)
Not far away, in Curtain Close, Shoreditch, another theater was built a year later, and dubbed The Curtain. This was used to try new shows or for lesser productions, and from 1597 to 1599 it became the home of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the theater company of William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet debuted there (it’s where the action in Shakespeare in Love would have taken place), as well as Henry V. Once the Globe was built, Shakespeare’s men left the Curtain for good.
The Curtain disappeared from the historical records by the 1620s, only to reappear last week:
It has been uncovered north of the river Thames in the trendy Shoreditch area, which in Shakespeare’s time was a poor but vibrant district popular with prostitutes.
Remains of walls forming the gallery and the yard within the venue have been discovered by archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA).
“This is a fantastic site which gives us unique insight into early Shakespearean theatres,” said Chris Thomas from MOLA, who is leading the archaeological work.”It is inspiring that the Museum of London has unearthed the foundations of the Curtain Theatre,” said Michael Boyd, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“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.”
The timing of the find is impeccable. London has been celebrating its cultural heritage with a world Shakespeare festival taking place at the Globe theatre and across the UK, as part of a festival to coincide with the Olympics this summer and will last to November.
“This is an outstanding site – and a fortuitous find in the year of the worldwide celebration of Shakespeare,” said Kim Stabler, archaeology advisor at English Heritage.
Archaeologists stumbled upon the Curtain Theatre’s remains on Hewett Street after work began on a regeneration project led by local developers last October.
The site’s owners, Plough Yard Development, plan to make the theatre central to their redevelopment plans.
“This is one of the most significant Shakespearean discoveries of recent years. Although the Curtain was known to have been in the area, its exact location was a mystery,” said a spokesman for the company.