William Shakespeare allegedly performed at St. George’s Guildhall in Norfolk at the end of the 16th century when London's theatres were closed because of the plague.
The plays of William Shakespeare have been performed on thousands of stages across the world. But the 15th-century stage recently uncovered at St. George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, is something special because experts believe that Shakespeare performed on it himself.
“Experts are now confidently saying these are the floorboards Shakespeare would have trodden,” Tim FitzHigham, the site’s creative director, told The Guardian. “It makes this building important nationally and internationally.”
The floorboards were discovered as part of a restoration effort at the guildhall, which was built in the 15th century as a religious meeting house before it was used as a theatrical venue. Archaeologists uncovered the floorboards beneath two other more recent layers of floor, and determined that the original flooring dated to between 1417 and 1430.
This confirmed “that the floor that we found underneath all the other layers of flooring, that has been built up over the hundreds of years, is the original floor,” FitzHigham explained to The New York Times.
He added: “That would have been the floor that was there when William Shakespeare performed there in 1592-93.”
As FitzHigham explained, there had always been rumors that Shakespeare had performed at St. George’s Guildhall. But there also seems to be evidence to confirm it. In 1593, when the plague closed theatres in London, Shakespeare and his company toured through King’s Lynn. According to The Guardian, a note in the theatre’s account book suggests that Shakespeare and his company were paid to perform there.
What’s more, Shakespeare’s plays apparently had a deep impact on a local woman. History Daily reports that a book published in Shakespeare’s lifetime describes how a woman in King’s Lynn was so affected by the themes of guilt in one of his plays that she confessed to murdering her husband.
This allegedly inspired Shakespeare as he wrote the Murder of Gonzago/Mousetrap scene in Hamlet.
“Shakespeare is known across the globe, so to be able make this claim is pretty magical,” FitzHigham said in a press release from the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk.
That said, not everyone is convinced of the find — or of its importance.
“In Shakespeare’s case, we actually don’t know for certain who he was acting with before 1594,” Siobhan Keenan, a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature at De Montfort University, explained to The New York Times. Whether or not he was in the company that performed at St. George’s Guildhall in 1593, she noted, was merely “speculative.”
Other experts don’t believe that the discovery means very much. Michael Dobson, the director of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, told The New York Times that the guildhall floorboards don’t add anything to what historians know about Shakespeare.
“I don’t think it’s hugely important unless you’re a kind of fetishist who really thinks that having a piece of wood that has probably been touched by Shakespeare’s foot is going to make an enormous difference to your understanding of the plays, which I rather doubt,” Dobson remarked.
Important or not, St. George’s Guildhall plans to incorporate the discovery of historic floor into the theatre’s ongoing renovations project.
“It confirms the guildhall as a heritage asset of national importance,” Simon Ring, Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Cabinet Member for Tourism, Events, and Marketing, said in the press release.
“It provides a further opportunity for us to promote its importance historically and to invite more funding so that we can complete the restoration to a standard that will not only stand the test of time, but also create an attraction that will catapult King’s Lynn and West Norfolk’s heritage into the world of ‘must visit’ British destinations.”
After reading about the 15th-century stage discovered at the guildhall in Norfolk where William Shakespeare perhaps once performed, look through these surprising facts about the Bard himself. Or, discover the true story of Henry V, the king who Shakespeare made into a legend.