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STONES, BONES, AND WRECKS

The Long-Buried 16th-Century Theater Where Shakespeare's Earliest Plays Were Performed Will Reopen

Emily Petsko
Archaeologists on site at The Theatre during the 2008 excavation
Archaeologists on site at The Theatre during the 2008 excavation / Museum of London Archaeology
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Before Shakespeare performed his plays at the famous Globe theater, he graced the stage of another London-based playhouse. It was known simply as The Theatre, and Shakespeare staged some of his most famous plays there (including Romeo and Juliet). Plans are now underway to publicly unveil the site for the first time in over 400 years, Smithsonian reports.

The remains of the 16th-century playhouse were discovered in 2008 during an excavation. Now, the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) is working to turn the site into a public exhibition.

A floor plan of the exhibition, including The Theatre's footprint
A floor plan of the exhibition, including The Theatre's footprint / Nissen Richards Studio
A reconstructed view of what The Theatre once looked like
A reconstructed view of what The Theatre once looked like / David Toon, Lee Sands, and Museum of London Archaeology

Visitors will have the chance to view the remains of The Theatre through a window inside the exhibition, dubbed The Box Office. Other artifacts unearthed during the excavation will also be on view, as well as items loaned from institutions across London that highlight the history and culture of Elizabethan theater. The exhibition is expected to open in late 2019.

In the meantime, the process continues to be a learning experience for archaeologists. Just last week, MOLA announced new findings that showed that actor James Burbage, who designed the polygonal, three-tiered Theatre, also created a space surrounding the theater where visitors could relax during long performances. Shakespearean plays often lasted over four hours, and Burbage's complex was an area where guests could chat and stretch their legs.

"Shakespearean playhouses were melting pots of society, and whilst the interior seating arrangements reflected the everyday class divides, theatregoers from across the social spectrum gathered outside to eat and drink and mingle before a performance," MOLA said in a statement. "The recent archaeological excavations are exploring small pockets of these outside areas, and it is hoped that this ongoing research will reveal new insight and artifacts that will eventually be displayed in the exhibition."

[h/t Smithsonian]

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