Shakespeare’s Footprints Found: 600-Year-Old Stage Unearthed in Norfolk Theatre

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Highly celebrated for his unparalleled contribution to English drama, the famed William Shakespeare was known to both act and write. A recent revelation from a theatre in Norfolk could potentially shed light on the stage where this luminary might have performed.

Said to be the oldest operating theatre in the United Kingdom, St George’s Guildhall dating back to 1445, is situated in King’s Lynn. Recent renovation endeavours have led to the discovery of floorboards hidden beneath the theatre’s existing auditorium. Upon examination, these boards were ascertained to be from the 15th Century.

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Evidence points strongly to the probability of Shakespeare enacting his dramatic performances at this venue around the years 1592 or 1593. At a time when the London theatres were shut down due to the plague, acting companies, including the Earl of Pembroke’s Men – believed to comprise Shakespeare – would often visit regions like King’s Lynn.

Tim FitzHigham, the Guildhall’s creative director, is in possession of a borough account book from 1592-93 that records the Guildhall funds being used to bring Shakespeare’s company to their venue.

The long-lost floorboards were exposed during last month’s renovation project at the Guildhall and had remained concealed for three-quarters of a century after a new floor was laid down. Upon their discovery, historical buildings expert Dr Jonathan Clark was enlisted to study the venue.

To his astonishment, Clark found the floorboards within the existing floor, each measuring 12 inches in length and 6 inches in depth. He concluded that these are the very boards that have felt the tread of Shakespeare himself.

Clark combined tree ring dating with a thorough examination of the construction of the building to date the floor to the period between 1417 and 1430, when the initial construction of the Guildhall took place. He confidently suggests, “We know that these [floorboards] were definitely here in 1592, and in 1592 we think Shakespeare is performing in King’s Lynn, so this is likely to be the surface that Shakespeare was walking on.”

What makes this discovery extraordinarily significant is not only the fact that it is the largest 15th Century timber floor in the UK, but also the only extant evidence of a stage that once felt the presence of Shakespeare.

Despite disagreements in academia about Shakespeare acting in King’s Lynn, the majority voice suggest that this finding is indeed a momentous breakthrough, given that he could have been a part of the Earl of Pembroke’s Men troupe who performed his plays Henry VI and Titus Andronicus and visited King’s Lynn in 1593.

Back in the venue, FitzHigham strongly posits that Shakespeare performed there, backed by a series of theories. As the discussion continues, the Guildhall plans to reveal more secrets about this unparalleled discovery at an event aptly titled Revealing the Secrets of the Guildhall.

Beneath the stage, the medieval floorboards span the size of a tennis court, instilling a sense of awe and wonder in FitzHigham. “600 years old,” he says. “Not just Shakespeare’s trodden on it, but everyone in between and we’re trying to make that safe and share it with everybody for the next hundreds of years going forward.”