Next year the long-awaited Museum of Shakespeare will open in London on the site of a lost theatre that the legendary playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) knew intimately. “This will be Shakespeare as you have never experienced it before,” said Harry Parr, co-founder of the project.
The new museum, located in Shoreditch, will explore the life of Shakespeare and the culture of sixteenth-century London through a series of permanent interactive experiences. New archaeological finds from the site will be displayed, such as a bird whistle possibly used for sound effects during performances and pottery money boxes that were smashed to garner the day’s box office receipts.
Visitors to the museum will be able to look down on the archaeological remains of The Curtain Playhouse – one of the earliest purpose-built theatres in London. Built in 1577, this cultural hub housed countless Shakespeare performances, including the first showings of Romeo and Juliet and Henry V.
After it closed in 1620, the exact site of the theatre was lost until excavations began in the area between 2011 and 2016. Archaeologists discovered that the stage area, yard, and brick foundations of the tiered timber seating had been remarkably well preserved three metres underground. A plethora of objects discarded by Elizabethan theatregoers were unearthed during the excavation, like dropped buttons, clay pipes, pins, coins, and nutshells from theatre snacks.
“It’s fantastic that Elizabethan London’s longest-lived playhouse, which has so many stories to tell about creativity and opportunity, can adapt once more to show how performance worked, why it mattered, and why it still does today,” explained Dr Callan Davies, of the University of Roehampton. “It offers the chance to meet Shakespeare in the playful culture of his age as well as ours, amongst businesswomen and ambitious standup comics, innovative craftspeople and bold storytellers.”
According to the museum, visitors can also “soak up the sights, smells, sounds and people” who inspired Shakespeare. The latest AI technology will allow theatre lovers to walk across the Elizabethan stage as a projected reconstruction of the playhouse “will place guests in animated performances and scheduled workshops”.
The project was designed by creative studio Bompas & Parr in collaboration with Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and Historic England. It is part of a 2.3-acre (one-hectare) development site led by Cain International, alongside the construction of 412 apartments, offices, and shops.