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Shakespeare’s first theatre unearthed

Published 7 August 2008

Museum of London archaeologists working in Shoreditch have uncovered what they believe to be the foundations of one of London’s earliest playhouses.

Until now, the exact location of the open air playhouse, named The Theatre, has proved elusive, though it has long been known that it did exist. Founded by Elizabethan actor manager James Burbage in 1576, The Theatre remained open for over 20 years and saw a young William Shakespeare perform on its stage as part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men company of players. Some of the Bard’s earliest plays were also staged here.

After Burbage’s death in 1597, a tenancy dispute led his sons to dismantle The Theatre and use the timber to help construct the famous Globe theatre (pictured) on London’s Bankside in 1599.  

Appropriately, the remains were found during the excavation of the site at New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, in preparation for the building of a new theatre by Tower Theatre Company.

Commenting on the find, Jo Lyon, Senior Archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology, said: “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. We can now start to work on the detail of what the building here might have looked like, and expand our knowledge of the playhouses of Elizabethan London."

Tower Theatre Company’s Chairman, Jeff Kelly, said the company plans to work with Hackney Borough Council and English Heritage to ensure that the new theatre will allow the archaeological finds to remain in situ. “We are very excited that our plans for this site will not only create a valuable community facility for the area, but also bring public theatre in London back to its historic roots,” he said. “The discovery that we shall be building a 21st century playhouse where Shakespeare and Burbage played and where some of Shakespeare's plays must first have been performed is a huge inspiration.”



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