Archaeologists are convinced that they have discovered the remains of the theatre where Shakespeare’s first plays were performed, including Romeo and Juliet.
Archaeology is all about the thrilling voyage of discovery and bringing the excitement or archaeological discovery to the public. This exciting discovery was made by the archaeologists of the Museum of London during their excavations at a site in Shoreditch, where they are preparing for the construction of a new theatre by the Tower Theatre Company. This lost structure was found by the builders who were excavating the site and they called the museum archaeologists to the site to make sure they did not destroy anything.
The museum authorities revealed that it had long been known that there used to be an open air theatre in the area, but nobody knew of its exact location and in spite of searching for it, it could not be found earlier.
According to the museum spokesman, “It’s a theatre that’s been known about for a long time but no remains have ever been found. This is the theatre that the company of players that Shakespeare was part of first performed in and when he started writing, the company would have performed his plays.”
Prosaically named “The Theatre,” it was one of the first dedicated playhouses of London and a venture of James Burbage, a traveling player. Young William Shakespeare performed in this theatre as an actor in “The Lord Chamberlain’s Men” troupe of players. He also performed his first plays as a playwright there.
It is said that the other popular Shakespeare plays such as The Merchant Of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Richard III were also premiered at this theatre.
If this in fact is The Bard’s first theatre, it would mean that all the open-air theatres where Shakespeare’s plays were staged have been discovered. The other theatre’s already discovered are, the Rose Theatre in 1989 and the Globe Theatre.
Although, The Theatre was built in 1576, Shakespeare’s company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, only moved into it in the 1590s. Until then, all their performances have taken place at the Rose Theatre. In the year 1599, there was a dispute with the landlord and the company had to move again. Although the theatre was built by them, the land was not owned by them. So, when they had to move due to issues with the landlord, they just dismantled the theatre overnight and used all the material to build the Globe Theatre by the River Thames, which later became the home of Shakespeare’s plays. But the Globe Theatre was also destroyed in a fire in 1613 and was rebuilt by 1614.
Even after all the material was shifted and Globe Theatre was built, the foundations of the first theatre remained and that is what the archaeologists believe they may have found.
The Theatre, which seated 1018 people, was Shakespeare’s first theatre and was in many ways ahead of its time; its bold décor would become popular in the 60s and 70s. It was designed by a well-known local architect by the name Winnenberg, and the cost of construction was said to be $95,000.
One of the senior archaeologists of the Museum of London expressed his excitement by saying, “It’s extremely exciting to be so close to the known location of The Theatre and then find remains that look to be associated with it. As well as allowing us to walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare himself, the remains help us to start uncovering one of London’s enduring secrets.”
Archaeologists feel that there is a very high probability that this is in fact the lost theatre, going by the age, location and shape of the remains and they think what they unearthed is the north-eastern corner of the building. “It’s in the right place, it’s at the right angle to be a polygonal shape.”
The Tower Theatre Company that is constructing the new theatre is obviously thrilled at the prospect of building their theatre on the debut theatre of Shakespeare himself, where the memorable characters in some of his best plays have come to life. They say that they are currently discussing with the English Heritage and hope they would help them keep the archaeological remains in situ.