- The Rose and the Globe—Play-Houses of Shakespeare's Bank-Side, Southwark: Excavations 1988–90
In 1988, a 1950s-era office building near the south end of Southwark Bridge, London, was razed in order to build a new office block. Before construction could begin, archeologists from the Museum of London carried out an exploratory dig in late December, and by the end of January had located what was soon identified as part of the foundation of the Rose playhouse, where plays by Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare had premiered in the late sixteenth century. By May 1989, some two-thirds of the theatre's foundation had been uncovered.
Only five months later (in October 1989), about 10 percent of the foundation of the Globe playhouse was uncovered less than fifty meters away, showing what appears to be the foundation of a stair turret jutting out from a small section of the outer gallery wall of the theatre. After extensive (but by no means complete) archeological explorations, both excavations were backfilled in sand and covered by plastic or semi-permeable textiles. A redesigned office building was erected over the Rose site, leaving the remains of the foundation inaccessible but more or less undisturbed, while pavement stones covered the small portion of the Globe foundation that had been exposed.
Julian Bowsher and Pat Miller, the authors of this scrupulously detailed analysis of the two sites, were part of the team from the Museum of London that undertook these excavations. In reporting their findings with an abundance of data, fine illustrations, and cogent analysis, they studiously avoid recounting the excitement they must have felt in finding two of the most important archeological sites in London; they similarly refrain from describing the dramatic and ultimately successful demonstrations in early 1989 to "save" the Rose from being buried and forgotten once again. But they do give us a meticulous inventory and careful analysis of the complete archeological record and, just as important, relate these findings to the surviving though, often ambiguous, documentary record. The pictures that emerge must be judged the truest reconstructions of these playhouses currently available.
The excavation of the Rose site, for example, revealed two overlapping foundations—one of the original Rose built in 1587, and a later remodeling and expansion of the theatre to the north. The excavations revealed that the original Rose was a fourteen-sided polygon, measuring approximately seventy-one feet in diameter. The archeologists found no evidence of a cover or "heavens" over the stage, and the drip-lines beneath the gallery walls suggest that this first version of the Rose may have had only two stories (or, perhaps, three stories, with little or no overhang of each gallery). We know from the account book of the owner of the Rose (Philip Henslowe) that extensive remodeling took place in 1592, and the excavated foundations duly show that the northern part of the theatre was widened and the stage moved some two meters to the north, with a roof above it. The authors suggest that the purpose of these renovations was to improve sightlines and "enhance the attractions of the stage" (59, 64), whatever that means, but it is likely that increasing seating capacity and the introduction of more light into this narrow playhouse, while at the same time shielding the stage from the elements, influenced the expansion.
The portion of the Globe that was unearthed is so small that the authors can draw fewer conclusions about it than they can about the Rose. The limited evidence supports the assumption that the second Globe was built on the same foundation as the first Globe (which had burned in 1613). But there is simply not enough of the outer gallery wall extant to surmise the size and shape of the playhouse with confidence. Based on the perceived angles between what appear to be two flat sections of the outer and inner gallery walls, Bowsher and Miller estimate that...