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The exterior of St. George's Guildhall in King's Lynn, West Norfolk.

West Norfolk theatre discovers Medieval Stage where Shakespeare is said to have performed

The only working theatre that can claim Shakespeare performed there is celebrating the incredible discovery of the actual boards on which the famous Bard is...

The only working theatre that can claim Shakespeare performed there is celebrating the incredible discovery of the actual boards on which the famous Bard is believed to have trod.

“Everyone interested in Shakespeare and in the theatres of his time must feel a thrill of excitement at the discovery of the only surviving boards on which he is likely to have performed”

 Professor Sir Stanley Wells, Honorary President, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The nearly 600-year-old oak floorboards have been uncovered at St George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn, England’s largest medieval guildhall, which is currently undergoing a major refurbishment. The amazing find has been hailed by archaeological building expert, Dr Jonathan Clark, as “the largest expanse of timber medieval flooring in the country”.

The team celebrate the discovery of nearly 600-year-old floorboards at St George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn
The medieval stage uncovered at St. George’s Guildhall, King’s Lynn

St. George’s Guildhall began as a religious Guild meeting house, confirmed by Royal Charter in 1406, and went on to become a theatre with the first recorded performance in 1445. The guildhall is the oldest working theatre in the UK and is the only theatre in the world that can claim Shakespeare himself performed there.

The theatre was exclusively used by touring companies including Queen Elizabeth’s Men, a troupe of actors formed at the command of Queen Elizabeth I in 1583, who performed there ten times in the late 1500s. Due to another outbreak of the plague, London theatres were closed in 1592-3 and William Shakespeare and his company of actors were on tour in King’s Lynn. A note in the corporation of King’s Lynn account book shows Shakespeare’s company were paid by the corporation to perform there and Robert Armin, Shakespeare’s leading comic actor, was born in the historic town, one street away from St. George’s Guildhall. Armin was known for playing the comedy parts in Shakespeare’s plays including the Porter in Macbeth, the Gravedigger in Hamlet, Feste in Twelfth Night and the Fool in King Lear.

There is also evidence, in a book published in Shakespeare’s lifetime, of an incident that happened at the King’s Lynn theatre – where an audience member watching a play about a murder on stage was so consumed with guilt she confessed to killing her husband. It is believed that this incident inspired Shakespeare to write part of the plot of Hamlet with the Murder of Gonzago/Mousetrap scene.

The Grade I Listed building was derelict and in danger of demolition by 1945 before it was bought by a local landowner and turned into an arts centre. But the site, which also has an art gallery and lecture space, has been under-used in recent years and its future looked uncertain again in 2016. Archaeological work has been underway at the site for the last two months, which revealed the original floor, hidden underneath a 1960s and 1950s floors, as well as flooring believed to be from the 18th and 19th century.

Some of these floor beams uncovered at the Guildhall have been tested and dated to between 1417 and 1430, when the building was created. The large oak boards are almost twelve inches thick, held together with pegs rather than nails. It is believed the floor would have been laid by shipwrights and taken about a year to create.

Please note that the information provided on this webpage was accurate on the date and time it was published [07/11/2023 at 10:55]. Details may have changed after this time and date.

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