SHOREDITCH has been cool for centuries, even in the time of William Shakespeare. So hip that when the promoters of his time decided to open a new theatre, a site near Curtain Road (pictured), was the place.
For years there have been rumours about it; now scholars know where the theatre stood. The Theatre was built by the actor-promoter James Burbage in 1576, and the location was confirmed by the Museum of London Archaeology after excavations at 4-6 New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch EC2A 3PZ, in 2008. And of course, they dug up good stuff, some of which is going on display at Hackney Museum next month.
Among the items are roof tiles, sadly all that remains of the theatre; a piece of pottery featuring the image of a man with beard and ruff (Is this a Shakespeare portrait I see before me? Uhm, nay.) and pipes and drinking vessels that locals may have used (Ditchies, eh? Nothing changes).
There are also decorative tiles from the Holywell Priory that occupied the site around 1150; roof tiles, some of the last remaining fragments of the Theatre; pipes and drinking vessels that playgoers may have used during performances; a 17th-century crucible and mortar from an alchemist’s workshop (no, he never managed to turn coal into gold); and a well-used toothbrush from the Victorian era (yukk!).
Shakespeare wrote and performed at The Theatre between 1594 and 1597. Romeo and Juliet was almost certainly premiered there. Stage-layout details in the manuscript show that it was written to be performed in The Theatre. Shak certainly hung out down the Ditch. As he wrote in As You Like It, “I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it”.
Senior MusLon archaeologist Heather Knight said: “Shakespeare has not only helped to shape the culture of the capital, his influence is evident across the globe.
“Excavating the theatre gave Museum of London Archaeology the opportunity to add to the knowledge of this extraordinary figure.
“We are delighted that the finds are going to be displayed to the public at Hackney Museum.”
The Tower Theatre Company, an Islington amateur theatre group, had wanted to raise funds to build a modern theatre on the Shoreditch site, but is now looking elsewhere.
David Altheer 200412
* Shakespeare was born on 23 April and died on the same day, St George’s Day. Remembering that might win you a pub quiz. It might even be true (we’re assuming scholars are good enough at mathematics to decode calendar changes over the centuries).
* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.