Dig at Shakespeare Theater Reveals a Surprise

It was rectangular, not circular; and toys for sound effects were found
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2016 4:54 PM CDT
Dig at Shakespeare Theater Reveals a Surprise
Archaeologists work on the exposed remains at the site of Shakespeare's Curtain Theater.   (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The Bard was truly ahead of his time—and not only because of his way with words. Archaeologists digging at one of London's oldest playhouses, where Shakespeare's company performed from 1597 to 1599, have found a ceramic bird whistle they believe was used for sound effects—perhaps during the 1598 premiere of Romeo and Juliet, in which the characters discuss hearing a nightingale or lark. "Theater producers at that time were always trying to find new ways to animate their productions and delight audiences," archaeologist Heather Knight tells the BBC. Clay tobacco pipes and an animal bone comb were also found at the Curtain Theatre, but most interesting is that the playhouse is rectangular instead of circular, as was more typical in that era, per the AP.

"It's a total surprise to us," a Shakespeare scholar tells the Independent of the 1,000-person venue. It stretched 100 feet by 72 feet and "has probably the best preserved remains of any of the playhouses we've looked at," including an open gravel yard where attendees would stand to watch the action and inner walls that held the galleries, she adds. A theater expert notes the building was likely converted from a previous use into a theater. "Out of the nine playhouses that we know in Tudor London, there are only two that have no reference to any construction," including the Curtain, he says. "It's beginning to make sense now." Excavations at the site will continue for another month. The theater foundation will then be preserved and artifacts put on display by 2019. (Shakespeare's skull is missing.)

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