Search

Archaeologists blow the whistle on Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre unearthed at Shoreditch

PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 May 2016 | UPDATED: 15:13 27 May 2016

Archaeologist Paul McGarrity holds 16th century bird whistle

Archaeologist Paul McGarrity holds 16th century bird whistle

Museum of London Archeaology

A 450-year-old children’s bird whistle is among artefacts unearthed by archaeologists excavating Shakespeare’s historic Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch.

Elizabethan children's bird whistle... uncovered at remains of Shakespeare's Curtain TheatreElizabethan children's bird whistle... uncovered at remains of Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre

The Elizabethan playhouse recently discovered at a building site in Curtain Road, by Great Eastern Street, appears to be a rectangular building, measuring about 65ft by 90ft, rather than polygon like “the wooden O” playhouse narative in Shakespeare’s Henry V, as historians expoected.

“Every day new things are coming to light,” senior archaeologist Heather Knight said.

“Among the artefacts we have uncovered so far, the bird whistle is my favourite as it may have once been used as a sound effect replicating bird song in plays.

“Theatre producers at that time were always trying to find new ways to animate their productions.”

Surviving rectangular remains of Shakespeare's Curtain TheatreSurviving rectangular remains of Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre

The ceramic whistle was a common children’s toy, but in this context may have been used for sound effects in theatrical performances.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which was staged at The Curtain in the late 1500s, has references to bird song such as, “That birds would sing and think it were not night”.

The dig by a team from Museum of London Archaeology broke ground only last month—but has already unearthed a wealth of information about the theatre and everyday artefacts from the 16th and 17th centuries.

“Archaeologists and theatre historians have long pondered what the theatre looked like,” Heather added. “This excavation is starting to give up the secrets of this historic site.”

Archaeologist Sarah TrehyArchaeologist Sarah Trehy

The experts believe the Elizabethan builders reused the walls from earlier buildings in places, with the back section of the playhouse being a new addition.

Walls survive up to five feet high in places with archaeologists able to trace the courtyard where theatregoers once stood—and the inner walls which held the galleries where wealthier Elizabethan gentry would have sat.

The archaeologists also uncovered personal items such as a comb made from animal bone. Combs would have been an essential item for actors backstage, like today. They also found a theatre token that had laid buried for four centuries.

The theatre remains are being preserved on the site as part of the new £750m Stage housing and commercial complex, with the artefacts on display as part of a cultural and visitor centre.

Archaeologist uncovers pot in tactArchaeologist uncovers pot in tact

A series of public events is also being organised around the excavation to tie in with the Shakespeare 400 celebrations.

The dig continues for another month. The public can book tours on Fridays from today, up to June 24—they’re free, but spaces are limited and need to be booked online.

Latest Hackney Stories

13:30

After losing 4-1 at Manchester United Women on November 4, Karen Hills’ team will look to bounce back this weekend

Veteran manager signs up for stint on reality TV show

The 66-year-old, who helped produce ‘The Greater Game’ play, praised the work of Justin Edinburgh

10:00

The latest boxing news from Hackney

11:57

On Thursday November 15, London Fields Brewery bring together two of our favourite things in glorious harmony: beer and art.

Hundreds of parents have signed a petition calling on the Mayor of Hackney to support their primary school caretaker, who has been sacked after 16 years’ service.

09:00

Indie folk favourites Bon Iver will close the sophomore All Points East festival in Victoria Park with a headline gig on June 2.

12:42

Phil Glanville will be put under the spotlight at Hackney Mayor’s Question Time later this month.

PROMOTED CONTENT

If you are an unpaid carer in Hackney over the age of 25, who would like to get back into work, then Working for Carers can provide the practical assistance and support you need.

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now


Newsletter Sign Up

Hackney Gazette twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read news

Show Job Lists