“Can this Cock-Pit hold within this Woodden O, the very Caskes that did affright the Ayre at Agincourt?” Henry V Prologue.
That wooden O, the venue for the audience when the play was first performed, was in fact The Curtain Playhouse in Shoreditch. This popular place for Tudor people to visit and experience stories and art was part of the local community for many years. Who would have thought that the particular play-write on show that day would one day become the icon for all British play-writes to follow. Theatres were purposefully built in London for the first time around the time of Shakespeare, perhaps as the jousts of Henry VIII came to an end the public wanted something more relevant and attainable.
The theatre was lost to time during the 17th Century. When it closed at the beginning of that time, the four-hundred years that passed saw countless rebuilds and changes of purpose on what was the original site. In fact, there were two theatres next to one another. The neighbouring venue, simply called The Theatre, also saw works of Shakespeare within its walls. This too was eventually lost. The good news is that both of these historical meeting places have been discovered thanks to work carried out by the Museum Of London Archaeology.
The fascinating find that surprised most people was that what was described as an O was actually a rectangle. Drawing on images of Roman coliseums with their oval shape perhaps was an effort to conjure images of brutality and pitting men against men. To enter the theatre, in Tudor times, spectators would have to pass through a tavern. No-doubt business was good when popular plays were on show and the audience would have been suitably warmed by ale before the performance. With different layers of spectator area, the theatre would have housed better-off people in the seating area and the sixpence a head crowd in the yard section on their feet.
When the theatre was uncovered, archaeologists discovered all kinds of old things that people left behind when the venue closed down. Dropped belongings such as coins, buttons, pins, and pipes were littered all around and even the clay pots for ticket receipts that would need to be smashed at the end of the night were found laying around. The site has been rescued and restored for the modern day with a new museum in honour of William Shakespeare. An entire experience can now be had in the place where his plays were first witnessed. Visitors can explore the old Curtain Playhouse and see where the magic happened plus learn all kinds of things about the writer, his ideas, and the things people have said about him.
Via The Art Newspaper
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