Shakespearean bird whistle prop discovered in Bard day's dig


A prop believed to have been used to make bird noises in early performances of Romeo And Juliet has been discovered at an archaeological dig.

Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) excavating The Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch, east London, found the fragmentary ceramic bird whistle, which dates from the late 16th century.

The first folio of William Shakespeare's collected plays published in 1623

The team is digging at The Curtain Theatre, one of Shakespeare's least-documented playhouses and where he premiered Henry V.

His troupe, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, used The Curtain as its base from 1597-1599 and Romeo And Juliet was performed there.

Experts broke ground in April and are hoping to excavate through 18th-century remains to uncover the 16th- and 17th-century Curtain Theatre, which is two to three metres below modern ground level.

It was discovered during excavations of Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch

Since starting the dig they have found that the building appears to have been rectangular, measuring approximately 22 x 30 metres, rather than being polygonal.

Walls up to 1.5 metres high survive in places, the team said, and it has been able to identify the courtyard, where theatregoers stood, and the inner walls, which held the galleries where wealthier audience members would have sat.

The bird whistle found "may have been used for sound effects in theatrical performances," the team's blog said.

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh as Romeo and Juliet (AP)

Bird whistles were used as children's toys at the time but in Romeo And Juliet, staged at the Curtain Theatre in the late 16th century, there are numerous references to bird song, such as "That birds would sing and think it were not night".

Once the detailed dig is complete, the remains of The Curtain will be preserved in situ, and artefacts discovered and records taken during the excavation will be brought back to MOLA to be studied in detail by specialists.