The Curtain Theatre Unearthed


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0226  Wednesday, 6 June 2012


From:        Stuart Manger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 6, 2012 6:17:35 AM EDT

Subject:     ‘The Curtain’


Might interest members. 


[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Stuart Manger for calling attention to this news. Below are excerpts from The Guardian and several other reports. –Hardy]


Shakespeare’s Curtain theatre unearthed in east London: 

Theatre where Romeo and Juliet was first performed is rediscovered in Shoreditch centuries after it was dismantled


Maev Kennedy

The Guardian, Tuesday 5 June 2012


Well preserved remains of Shakespeare’s original “wooden O” stage, the Curtain theatre where Henry V and Romeo and Juliet were first performed, have been discovered in a yard in east London.


The Curtain theatre in Shoreditch preceded the Globe on the Thames as Shakespeare’s first venue, showcasing several of his most famous plays. But it was dismantled in the 17th century and its precise location lost.


Now part of the gravelled yard in Shoreditch where the groundlings stood, ate, gossiped and watched the plays, and foundation walls on which the tiers of wooden galleries were built have been uncovered in what was open ground for 500 years while the surrounding district became one of the most densely built in London.


Experts from Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA) have found two sections of exterior wall, crucial for giving the dimensions of the theatre, and are confident of revealing more as the site is cleared for redevelopment. An outer yard paved with sheep knuckle bones could date from the theatre or slightly later housing.


It has long been known that the Curtain – named after the ancient road it fronted – was in the area, but its exact site was lost after the building fell into disuse in the late 1620s. The site in Hewett Street is only a stone’s throw from a remarkably accurate plaque marking the best guess for its location. The Curtain, built in 1577, was only a few hundred yards from another theatre further along Curtain Road, imaginatively named the Theatre, whose foundations were discovered in 2008, also by MoLA. Both were among the earliest purpose-built theatres in London, and intimately connected with Shakespeare.


When the actor-manager James Burbage fell out with his landlord at the Theatre, the company – according to cherished theatre legend – dismantled the timbers overnight and shipped them across the river to build his most famous theatre, the Globe, on Bankside.


Until the new theatre was ready, his company used the Curtain for at least two years from 1597, where Henry V, and it is believed Romeo and Juliet, were first staged. The vivid image of a theatre as a wooden O comes from the prologue to Henry V: “Can this Cock-Pit hold within this Woodden O, the very Caskes that did affright the Ayre at Agincourt?”


[ . . . ]


Chris Thomas of MoLA, who led the excavation, said the remains were remarkably well preserved, probably because for centuries they remained under open space as the theatre fell out of use and was redeveloped as housing, becoming back gardens, a pub yard – the entrance was probably where the small Victorian pub, the Horse and Groom, a listed building which will be retained, now stands – and then a garage with an inspection pit which, unknown to its builders, almost laid bare the Tudor foundations.


[ . . . ]


Remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre found

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press 


LONDON (AP) — Archaeologists in London have discovered the remains of an Elizabethan theater where some of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed — a venue immortalized as “this wooden O” in the prologue to “Henry V.”


Experts from the Museum of London said Wednesday they had uncovered part of the gravel yard and gallery walls of the 435-year-old Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch, just east of London’s business district.


The remains — of a polygonal structure, typical of 16th-century theaters — were found behind a pub on a site marked for redevelopment.


The Curtain opened in 1577 and was home to Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, from 1597 until the Globe Theatre was built across the river two years later.


[ . . . ]


The Lord Chamberlain’s Men decamped in 1599 to the Globe, the theater they’d built using timbers smuggled from the original Theatre.


The Curtain survived as a theater at least until the 1620s, making it the longest-lived of London’s Elizabethan playhouses.


Museum archaeologists plan further excavation of the Curtain later this year, and a real estate company redeveloping the site said it intends to preserve the remains.


The Theater and the Curtain were London’s first successful playhouses — previously, plays had been staged in inn yards and other makeshift spaces. There is evidence that an earlier venue, The Red Lion, was built outside the city in the 1560s but lasted only a few months.


Traces of several of the venues have survived. In 2008, archaeologists found remains of The Theater just down the road from the site of the Curtain.


On the south bank of the Thames, Shakespeare’s plays are staged in a reconstruction of the Globe playhouse built near the original site. Remains of The Rose, another Elizabethan venue, have also been found nearby.


All were built outside the city walls, free from regulation by civic leaders hostile to theaters and other disreputable entertainments.


Heather Knight, a senior Museum of London archaeologist, said that despite recent discoveries there is still much to learn about the Elizabethan theater.


“The late 16th century was a time of a theatrical arms race in London,” she said. “The proprietors of these building were making improvements to attract customers. So to have the chance to look at the earliest of these buildings (The Theater), and the one that had the longest life is a real opportunity.”


Jill Lawless can be reached at


Shorthand Example (Egan, Davidson)


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0225  Tuesday, 5 June 2012


From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 4, 2012 11:30:44 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: Shorthand Example (Egan, Davidson)


Gerald E. Downs presents a bunch of evidence that the manuscript of Robert Greene’s John of Bordeaux (Alnwick Castle Manuscript 507) was created by expansion of a stenographic recording made during a performance.


Downs says that he has been “preaching that a big ‘clinching textual example’ [of stenographic reproduction] does exist”. That is, Downs claims he has an example of a textual feature that can ONLY be explained by stenographic recording.  He then lists a lot of features of John of Bordeaux that point to stenographic recording, or perhaps memorial reconstruction. But he doesn’t identify any of them as the clinching textual example.


Downs says that Gabriel Egan “must disagree with [his] conclusion that the playtext is transcribed from stenographic notes”. Gabriel Egan doesn’t; Egan reviewed the article favourably saying that the claim was plausible but not proven, for want of a clinching textual example.


Gerald: which bit of evidence do you think clinches the argument? One example will do. Twenty-five non-clinching examples won’t.


Gabriel Egan


Plummer Tempest


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0224  Tuesday, 5 June 2012

From:        Devin Duntz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 4, 2012 12:00:52 PM EDT

Subject:     Shakespeare’s The Tempest


Thursday, June 14, NCM Fathom and BY Experience present a one-time only movie theater showing of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's critically acclaimed production of THE TEMPEST, starring Academy Award® Winner Christopher Plummer. 


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Pure on behalf of NCM Fathom

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Pedestrians Crossing Cairncross


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0223  Monday, 4 June 2012


From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 1, 2012 1:42:51 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Peds


> But Larry, what do you think? Was F 2H6 partially influenced 

>by Q3 “Contention”?


I don’t know, but the Oxford editors (principally William Montgomery) accepted the hypothesis that certain “close correspondences could have resulted from Q having been used intermittently as copy for F.”  Textual Companion at 175.  I think that is at least plausible.


Shorthand Example


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0222  Monday, 4 June 2012


From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 4, 2012 1:23:34 AM EDT

Subject:     Shorthand Example (Egan, Davidson)


On the “Pedestrians” thread Gabriel Egan commented on an issue I raised there (and elsewhere). I would like to see more discussion of it on this forum.


> Downs proposes a new complication: the use of shorthand.

> Adele Davidson also advocates the shorthand theory, in a

> series of articles and a book on the texts of King Lear.

> It seems to me that those advocating shorthand should

> set themselves the task of finding at least one clinching

> textual example where shorthand just has to be the

> explanation. Finding a collection of examples where it is

> plausible is much less persuasive than finding one certain

> case. The analogy would be with York’s bungled genealogy

> clinching the case for memorial reconstruction in CYL/2H6.


I’ve been (patiently?) preaching that a big “clinching textual example” does exist. I’m sure Gabriel has seen my article on John of Bordeaux; he must disagree with my conclusion that the playtext is transcribed from stenographic notes. In that case, it seems to me that the ball is in his court, response-wise. If one says, “here’s the evidence,” is “go find the evidence” the (interested) response? I will list some of the reasons for my belief and I will try to answer any objections from Gabriel Egan or others.


I credit Adele Davidson while I disagree with some of her hypotheses. She cites my Bordox article favorably in an exchange with Richard (nor Robert nor Ronald) Knowles (PBSA), though she’s not an advocate of shorthand reporting. She holds that Lear was transcribed in shorthand from written text and re-transcribed to what became the Q1 printer’s copy. As I don’t agree I may be the only current advocate of theatrical reporting. Lonesome as that sounds, I expect a fair response someday, but not soon. At the moment I feel a bit like the ‘gambling cub’ Trigger Johnson: when “the sharpies, they were taking him for fair; he said,


>I’m wise—this game ain’t on the square.  

>I mean them loaded dice ain’t gonna do, 

>‘Cause I got somethin’ here that’s loaded too.


John of Bordeaux is loaded with evidence; nothing from the era even compares. Once preconceptions are set aside the play is not hard to figure out, textually speaking. It’s just hard to believe (going in). Still, I am confident others will agree with me. The evidence is powerful and multi-faceted; I’m willing to discuss it, though I expect few or no takers; here’s a list:


1) Bordox (one spelling employed by the scribe, S) is a manuscript not in the hand of the author (Robert Greene). It has a short speech added by Henry Chettle and is annotated by known but unidentified theatrical hands. There is no “veil of print” to bemoan. How many questions could be answered if Q1 copy for Romeo & Juliet was extant? Bordox has no second text; too bad, but its lessons may be applied to other bad texts, some with better versions to compare.


2) The text is in a generally unorthodox, phonetic, English spelling. S is influenced by conventions and uses many common spellings, but one’s impression is of an “unlettered” yet phonetically clear writer who was familiar with the language. This is reinforced by Latin passages, which are botched sometimes beyond hope, despite their phonetic spellings. How does this happen in transcription of written text?


3) Yet Burdiox is transcribed, as scribal errors show, but not in such a way as to suppose a “good” text was followed.


4) Although the play is primarily in verse the text is generally undivided. Verse written as such is usually corrupt; lines that ought to scan don’t, often for reasons attributable to actors (greetings, elucidations, etc).


Had Bordox been printed, these characteristics would have spoilt the text in ‘bad quarto’ ways. I don’t allow them much corroborative weight, but this text usually brings features of problematic printed plays under its wing without ruffling a feather. The play is mislined already.


5) The scribe denotes changes of speakers very often by a parenthesis or two, midline: blah blah) hamlet) yatika yatika. At times he will use the mark when there is probably a pause but no new speaker. I infer there was no attempt to identify speakers until transcription, when they were mis-assigned, unassigned, or the ‘)’ was transcribed before S realized there was no new speaker:


emperor  now frolike frier I prethe tell me why great Ameroth

  Bacon  did pries theas things so dere) for that the . . . 417


  Bacon   for that let me a lone onlie sit still whill vandermast

              yor son and I attend yor grace) now morpheus . . . 435


In the first example S left out the prefix, which was supplied by one of the revisers. In the second, S has the parenthesis but Bacon resumes his speech. I haven’t cited these before; just looked for instances in the pile. A reader understanding this expedient (such as a compositor) may himself take account of the marked pause with a dash or colon.


Prefix error is an inexplicable characteristic of bad quartos if they are copied from good texts or even memorial reconstructions. No interested party should screw up speech headings; for shorthand it’s unavoidable. I see s.p. error as a common sign of reporting, at times decidingly so. Most editors see no evidence there; yet this text (with little argument) shows how and why the errors occur. Knowles repeats Duthie’s wrong assumption that speech ascription would deprive stenographers of the time necessary to record dialogue. They ignored prefixes; this is not a complication but an explanation of complications, a la Bordox.


6) The text has two remarkable repetitions. One is (the clown) Perce’s anticipation (by twenty lines) of part of his speech, complete with the lead-in that crosses him up and the recovery getting him back on track. As others observe, a scribe is not capable of copying what he hasn’t seen; that mistake belongs to the actor’s memory. The other repeats sixteen words from a much earlier speech, so flummoxing the actor that his fellow has to reorient them. To me these instances are convincing of performance and I think most will agree.


York’s Contention genealogy points to memorial error all right, but it doesn’t distinguish between memorial reconstruction or performance. The Bordox instances indicate performance and theatrical reporting. 


7) Despite many words using more letters than necessary (‘heigh Consayght’), the text exhibits a number of characteristics that bespeak rapid writing. Together these represent over- and under-expansion of phonetic notes.


8) One of the more interesting features is the interchange of b and p, virtually impossible in normal scribal copying. But a stenograph standing for both letters would leave transcription to context while allowing the artisan to blow by the ambiguity of sound. All was geared to speed.


9) I have elsewhere discussed the scribe’s use of u and v, which shows a characteristic combination of utility and ignorance.


10) The actor John Holland is added in the margin at three points by a reviser (revision didn’t get very far). Of course that’s not evidence of a shorthand report, but the same name has been taken as evidence of authorial foul papers. That’s imaginary, reasonable as it sounds. But in this case a group of players is preparing a ‘stolne and surreptitious’ text for the stage. If we get our thinking about shorthand out of reverse we will see these correspondences differently.


11) S often wrote in ways agreeing with technical causes of errors that Davidson has discussed. For instance, ‘waigh’, ‘kep’, ‘temp’, foregoing the ending t. In transcription the reporter doesn’t attach what he left off in his fast notes. This type of sign would normally be corrected in print.


12) The text of Bordox is virtually unpunctuated. A stenographer hadn’t time and his transcription was better left to those who cared. Although I think the “Shakespeare didn’t punctuate” suggestion is utterly mistaken there is no reason to compare notes here: Bordox is evidence of bad quarto punctuation; imagination is not (I reject STM out of hand). If we remember Blayney’s description of Q1 Lear punctuation as “insane” and “do it yourself” (or something like that), we can see where a text like Bordox would induce a compositor to pass the buck.


While these examples cover the most distinctive features of the text, a reader may find corroboration of reporting just about anywhere—that won’t corroborate anything else. Now if we accept that King Lear was copied from written text by shorthand we pretty much stop there; but if a performance was adequately captured it doesn’t stop. This guy could do it again & again. So shorthand is not a complication; it is simplifying.


The very existence of Bordox predicts other examples of like reporting; “like is known by like.” Bordox explains bad Latin and Italian; prefix and set direction error; mislineation; odd spelling; repetitions; and whatnot. Such features have been noticed enough to suspect texts as shorthand reports (most of which have been re-designated MR or FP). But now they may be seen to be transmitted like Bordeaux. Conversely, their features corroborate the manuscript evidence, especially when other texts of the same plays are compared, and more evidence is explained. For example, Chettle was involved with printers of bad quartos, maybe with R&J itself; no doubt with reported sermons; and he appears to be responsible for Groatsworth. “Doesn’t mean a thing.” But it does; he is the guy hanging around in the detective movie—the one who did it.


The most remarkable thing about Bordox is how well it is done. Actors did a good job with the so-so play. A realization that the stenographer produced a self-evidently accurate record of the performance is not an argument against its happening; he’s just unhesitatingly good. Davidson (PBSA) sticks to her guns and says Lear could not have been recorded in performance. Then why cite Bordox as evidence of reporting? It was all the same to any adept reporter. What was Shakespeare to him? Or him to Shakespeare? Well, maybe thievery saved King Lear and other plays from oblivion. “Even those . . .”


I’ve come to think that texts classified as ‘good’ may in reality be ‘bad.’ The way to bring order to chaos, should we prefer order, is to examine shorthand theory to find where to draw the line between authorized and memorial texts.


The only argument against John of Bordeaux as a shorthand report is alternative explanation of the evidence. For any given instance one may produce alternatives, perhaps plausibly. But ‘not enough’ is too much to overcome. And the ‘hear/see/speak no evil’ non-approach doesn’t cut it either; premises are made to be broken. There is value in inquiry.


Gerald E. Downs


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