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London guidebooks will soon add a new place to their list of tourist attractions. The remains of an Elizabethan1 theatre called The Curtain,recently discovered in East London, will be of special value to Shakespeare lovers. It is probablytheplace where Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet, was performed for the first time. Just like other theatres in Shakespeare’s times The Curtain was probably a round building with a big yard in front of the stage. Most of the audience stood there. There was also a wooden gallery around the yard with seats for people who could pay more. Another interesting feature is that the building had no roof.
The Curtain was constructed in 1577, earlier than the most famous Elizabethan theatre The Globe. Plays were performed in The Curtain until the 1620s. Then it closed down. Many people think that stage curtains were an inspiration for its name but it’s not true. In fact, the theatre took its name from one of the streets in the area.
Shakespeare and his acting group played in The Curtain for about two years. However, they did not like it very much. The audience that came to The Curtain were more interested in watching amusing performances with sword fights and acrobats than watching Shakespeare’s plays about unhappy lovers or cruel kings. Because his plays were not as popular as he had hoped, Shakespeare and his players left The Curtain in 1599, when The Globe finallyopened across the river.
The discovery of The Curtain was made after developers decided to build new offices and residential buildings in that part of London. Architects created an interesting project but according to British law, before builders can start any construction, the area must be carefully examined by archaeologists. And so it was in this case. The remains were discovered by a small team from the Museum of London Archaeology. So far they have uncovered only a small part of the old walls and the yard, but they hope that much more of the original theatre is still there. Unfortunately, after so many centuries, there is no chance of finding wooden structures in good condition or pages of Shakespeare’s plays. They are lost forever. However, the museum experts are optimistic that they will find some items from the Elizabethan era, for example special pottery boxes, similar to modern piggy banks, in which people put coins when they entered the theatre. There were no tickets at the time, people just paid in cash: one penny for a standing place in the yard, and another one if they wanted a seat in the gallery.
New flats and office buildings are soon going to be built, so the theatre won’t be reconstructed and we won’t see modern plays performed there. There was a suggestion to move the remains to some other location, but the idea was rejected. The plan to make The Curtain part of a shopping centre was not accepted, either. However, the area will be open to the public and tourists will be able to see the remains and read information about the site. The building company believes that the discovery will make this part of London more attractive for future buyers and investors. Theatre specialists, on the other hand, hope to attract more tourists to Shakespeare’s plays.
adapted from www.news.sky.com; www.guardian.co.uk
1 Elizabethan – from the period when Elizabeth I was Queen of England.