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Excavation of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre begins in Shoreditch

PUBLISHED: 18:44 25 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:27 20 February 2017

Jonathan Goldstein, Cain Hoy’s chief executive, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, and Heather Knight, the Senior Archaeologist leading the dig on behalf of MOLA at the launch of The Stage dig

Jonathan Goldstein, Cain Hoy’s chief executive, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, and Heather Knight, the Senior Archaeologist leading the dig on behalf of MOLA at the launch of The Stage dig

ADRIAN POPE popephoto@btinternet.com++

Archaeologists began excavating one of Shakespeare’s lesser known playhouses today – the Curtain Theatre where Henry V was first performed, which will be preserved as a cultural centre in situ once the dig is complete.

Jonathan Goldstein, Cain Hoy’s chief executive; Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy; and Heather Knight, the senior archaeologist leading the dig on behalf of MOLA at the launch of The Stage dig (Picture: Adrian Pope) Jonathan Goldstein, Cain Hoy’s chief executive; Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy; and Heather Knight, the senior archaeologist leading the dig on behalf of MOLA at the launch of The Stage dig (Picture: Adrian Pope)

The team from Museum of London Archaeology officially “broke the ground” at the site of The Stage in Shoreditch, almost 400 years to the day since the death of the Bard himself.

The dig was launched by Ed Vaizey MP, the Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, and it is hoped it will shed light on Elizabethan playhouses.

Mr Vaizey said: “The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death is a fitting time to be excavating this significant historical site. Shoreditch today is one of London’s most vibrant locations, and its prominence as a theatrical hotspot during Shakespeare’s time highlights this area’s enduring cultural appeal.”

Evidence for the theatre - revealed through trial excavation at the site of The Stage in 2012 - indicates its remains are exceptionally well preserved, surviving to over 1.5 metres in places.

It is hoped that the remains of the Curtain, which are approximately two to three metres below modern ground level, will give archaeologists more clues about the physical structure and use of the theatre, and shed new light on the cultural makeup of the area and performances in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Once archaeologists break through the 18th century remains which encase the Curtain Theatre, they will be looking for evidence of the stage in particular as well as the backstage area, the yard and the stairwells that led the theatregoers who could pay for seats up to the galleries.

Heather Knight, the senior archaeologist leading the dig said: “There is also the possibility of finding fragments of props, costumes or items used by the audience, including food remains or drinking vessels, which could tell us more about theatre productions and culture at the time.”

Once the dig is complete, the remains of the Curtain will be preserved in-situ, and artefacts discovered and records taken during the excavation will be studied in detail.

A display of the finds will sit alongside the theatre remains as part of a cultural and visitor centre at The Stage, a £750m development with homes, retail and office space.

Findings from the dig will be reported next month.

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