March 9, 2009

Researchers Uncover Remains Of Shakespeare’s First Theatre

Archaeologists from the Museum of London say they have unearthed what are likely the remains of Shakespeare's first theatre in Shoreditch, BBC News reported.

The remains of the theatre were found last summer and experts believe it was constructed around 1576. It is thought that the bard acted there and that it also hosted the premiere of Romeo and Juliet.

The team found part of the original curved wall of the playhouse, which was believed to be polygonal in shape, according to Taryn Nixon, from the Museum of London. They have also uncovered the gravel surface just below street level, gently sloping down towards the stage, where the bulk of the audience would have stood.

However, the stage itself may be buried underneath a housing development in what were once known as "the suburbs of sin" just outside the city.

"The Lord Mayor actually passed a decree that there shouldn't be any theatrical performances in the city...so just on the edge of the city is actually, classically, where you find all the slightly wilder, slightly more fun activities going on," she said.

Researchers also found a fragment of 16th-century pottery featuring the image of a man with beard and ruff.

The theatre, which was constructed by James Burbage, possibly using bricks from an old priory, is believed to have played host to Shakespeare's theatre company, the Chamberlain's Men.

The theatre was dismantled and moved piece by piece to construct the Globe Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames about 25 years after it was built. The Globe was recreated on a site nearby in the 1990s.

Romeo and Juliet and an early version of Hamlet were likely performed at the excavated site, as were some of Shakespeare's comedies, like A Midsummer Night's Dream, according to Penny Tuerk, from the Tower Theatre Company.

Tuerk added that there was a "huge appetite" for theatre at the time.

"People were flocking into the theatres and they would have grabbed anything that they could and put it on to please the crowds."

The Tower Theatre Company now owns the site and plans to preserve the architecture in situ and construct a new playhouse around it that will open in 2012.

"It will be a 21st Century equivalent of the original playhouse. A no frills, hard-working place of entertainment that will bring London theatre back to its roots," Tuerk said.

"Imagine actors in the future crossing the theatre and perhaps paying homage to Shakespeare as they go on stage for luck," she added.

Additionally, a newly identified portrait of Shakespeare was unveiled on Monday by Professor Stanley Wells, chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Art restorer Alec Cobbe owns the painting, which was likely created in 1610, six years before the playwright's death at the age of 46.

The annual celebration of Shakespeare's birthday on April 23 will be highlighted by a public display of the portrait in Stratford-upon-Avon.


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