Here's Proof That Shakespeare Was The Original Hipster
The Debrief: Long before The Lion King hit Shaftesbury Avenue, Shakespeare was kind of a big deal in the original theatreland
London's First Theatreland
If you thought that beards and body jewellery were just symptoms of Hackney’s swelling gentrification over the last ten years, then think again.
England’s finest literary mind and original hipster, William Shakespeare himself, made East London his stomping ground more than 400 years ago. Shoreditch as the land of the young creatives is no new thing: it’s close proximity to the City – then a walled square mile but today mainly determined by the high volume of grumpy suits and the scoff-able distances between Prets – means that it always earned itself a reputation as ‘proper’ London’s filthy little sister.
No surprises, then, that two of Shakespeare’s earliest theaters – and in fact two of London’s first – opened on Curtain Road in the 16th century. Once the domain of middle-class Londoners wanting to dip their toes into the squalid peripheries of the hotbed of crime and prostitution, playhouses were a bit risqué, and visiting one always had the added thrill of danger not far away.
The Theatre, imaginatively so-named as the first purpose built playhouse in London, stood on what we think of now as that stretch of pavement you que around to get into Hoxton Pony on a Friday night. Shakespeare and his boys, the Chamberlains Men, were the resident theatre troupe there from 1594. Unsurprisingly perhaps, thanks to it’s ‘seditious’ reputation and, you know, the technological limitations of the day, there aren’t any images of The Theatre. But written accounts describe a three-storied, five-walled structure made of plaster and timber, with a big open space in the middle for the poorer theatre-goers to stand in.
The Globe (1st and 2nd Editions)
Sound familiar? That’s because in 1597, when the lease to the land ran out and nasty disputes over who owned the building ensued, The Chamberlains men literally dismantled the building with their bare hands whilst the landlord was away and moved it across the river to Bankside, where it thrived (for a disappointingly short period) as The Globe. Fire and ‘disapproving puritans’ over the next century (the 1600’s weren’t a great time for London, in the grand scheme of history) meant that the second version of the original Theatre wasn’t a long-term fixture, and it was only reincarnated on it’s current site, a few hundred meters away right on the river, in the last 60 years. What we know as Shakespeares Globe is a structurally accurate recreation of the Bankside theatre where the bard owned shares and produced some of his best plays, 400 years ago.
A smaller scale theatre, The Curtain, thought to be named after his location on the ‘wrong’ side of the city wall, opened up the road in 1577 and briefly housed the Chamberlains Men during the interim between their sneaky demolition of The Theatre and the re-building of it in 1599.
Both sites are marked, if you know what to look out for during your next Shoreditch jaunt.
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