Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA)

MOLA_logo.width-500.pngThe excavation of the Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch prompted MOLA to bring together experts in Shakespeare, theatre, history and archaeology to share their knowledge during the Shakespeare400 season. The programme included lectures, workshops and walking tours about the theatrical scene, Shakespeare in London, rogues and villains of Shoreditch’s theatres, and eating and drinking in Shakespeare’s theatreland.


The Curtain Theatre excavation


Programme highlights

31 March 2016
Shoreditch: The Earliest London Theatreland a Talk with Archaeologist Julian Bowsher

Although there were a number of theatrical venues throughout London from the 1550s, the earliest concentration developed in Shoreditch in the 1570s. It was situated only a few minutes’ walk from the City, on a major route to the north, well-to-do houses in nearby Hoxton, and home to many of the leading playwrights and actors – all centred around two of the earliest successful playhouses in London. This talk explored these relationships as well as its history and development – and what archaeology had revealed.

5 April 2016
In Search of Shakespeare with BBC Historian Michael Wood

The BBC presenter and author of In Search of Shakespeare gave his own personal interpretation of the life and works of William Shakespeare in this talk based on his detailed experience and passion for the plays and poems alongside his extensive research into the biography of the historically elusive playwright.

11 April 2016
The Early Modern Theatrical Scene in London, in Conversation with Prof Duncan Salkeld and Dr Andy Kesson

A discussion, debate, questions and answers session on the place in Elizabethan culture and nature of theatre during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries between two academics from the universities of Roehampton and Chichester.

18 April 2016
Henry V, the Curtain, Shakespeare and the Manipulation of History

This talk looked at the real life historical events of the Agincourt campaign of 1415 contrasted against the authorship of Shakespeare’s most resilient play which was written against the background of late 16th century political events and has continued to be produced to reflect contemporary life.

23 April and 5 May 2016
Shoreditch: a Shakespearean Suburb? Walk with Senior Archaeologist Julian Bowsher

This walk started at The Stage Shoreditch site on Hewitt Street, then went on to St Leonard’s church, the ancient parish centre, allowing the walking group to survey the growth of the settlement, situated only a few minutes’ walk from the City. The group then meandered southwards, visiting the sites of the two major playhouses, the Theatre and the Curtain, as well as the streets, homes taverns and less savoury “entertainments” frequented by the leading playwrights and actors of the day.

Shakepseare bankside reconstruction by Faith Vardy (c) MOLA

25 April 2016
Shakespearean Performance in Modern London: Discussions and Performances on the Shakespeare in Modern Theatre

Presentations were given by directors Duncan Moore (KDC Theatre), Bryon Fear (South London Theatre) and Tom Salyers (Tower Theatre) and Jenny Eastop (Mercurius) alongside Pepe Pryke (Hon) Artistic Associate, The Rose Playhouse, about recent productions of Shakespeare plays and how they are relevant to life in modern London. Each presentation was complemented by excerpts from the plays performed by cast members.

28 April and 14 May 2016
The Curtain and Crime: Rogues and Villains of Elizabethan Theatre Walk

The walk started at the site of the Curtain Playhouse and was based around the crime and general roguishness associated with the Curtain, its players and the Shoreditch theatrical scene. The talk took a look at the rogues and villains themselves, people like Ben Jonson and Gabriel Spencer, Richard Tarleton, Christopher Marlowe and others. 

30 April and 1 June 2016 
Dig Shakespeare: archaeology and theatre family workshops

The Stage archaeology space gave visitors a chance to try their hand at being an archaeologist for the day or take part in theatrical workshops with The Malachites, Shoreditch's Shakespeare company. Archaeologists from MOLA were on hand to demonstrate some of the everyday skills they use and and talk about the history and excavation of Hackney’s Curtain Theatre and the Malachites, lead theatrical workshops.

5 May 2016
Shakespeare, Language and the Elizabethan Mind with Actor and Author Ben Crystal

Ben Crystal, the actor and author of Shakespeare’s Words and Shakespeare on Toast, dove into the hearts, minds, ears and words of Shakespeare’s world and asked what would it have been like to go to the theatre in Shakespeare’s time? How did his plays tap into his audience’s views on life and love? and how did the social, cultural and political developments of the time shape his writing?

Money boxes form Shakespearean Theatre (c) MOLA

6 May 2016
Eating and Drinking in Shakespeare’s Theatreland: the Archaeology of Entertainment

This talk explored the wider entertainment scene that was inextricably linked with theatre in Shakespeare’s time, using the latest evidence from archaeologically excavated sites to throw light on the many and varied aspects of theatre-going that Elizabethan and Jacobean Londoners would have enjoyed, from smoking and drinking ale to eating bar snacks. 

13 May 2016
Playing the Curtain with Dr Lucy Munro

From the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson in the 1590s to those of Dekker, Ford and Rowley in the 1620s, the Curtain Theatre was one of the most enduring performance places in early modern London. This talk explored some highlights of this long history, from Jonson's humours and Shakespeare's romantic comedies and histories, to the topical story of The Witch of Edmonton and lost plays such as Henry the Unable, The Plantation of Virginia and The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret.

20 May 2016
Shakespeare in London with Prof Stanley Wells

The author of Shakespeare & Co., Shakespeare: For All Time and the Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust discussed the professional and personal links with the capital that the Bard made.

25 May 2016
Digging Shakespeare’s Shoreditch: Excavating London’s First Theatreland

MOLA archaeologist Heather Knight delivered a talk about the excavations on the sites of the Theatre playhouse (built in 1576) and the site of the Curtain Theatre (in use by 1577). Both playhouses had a fascinating life, intrinsically linked with the story of William Shakespeare. We saw how, 400 years after the death of Shakespeare, archaeology is in the unique position of being able to add new details to the story of these iconic buildings with particular reference to the very latest from the upcoming excavation of the Curtain Theatre.

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