It’s not often new facts come to light regarding The Bard but University of Southern Queensland (USQ) researcher Associate Professor Laurie Johnson has done just that.
Nine months of research, investigation and exploration has culminated in Shakespeare’s Lost Playhouse, a book that delves into an often forgotten about playhouse in the south of London and its important connection to Shakespeare.
The remains of the Newington Butts Playhouse, one of the earliest known Elizabethan theatres, are most likely lost, but Dr Johnson’s research indicates that the answer sits underneath a busy shopping centre in the south of London.
For centuries the Playhouse remained on the fringes of histories of Shakespeare’s career and of the golden age of the theatre with which his name is associated, but this is about to change thanks to Dr Johnson’s surprising findings.
“When people think of Shakespeare they often think of the Globe Theatre in London but tend not to think of many others. Shakespeare’s Lost Playhouse is about the discovery of the theatre at Newington Butts and the role it had in Shakespeare’s early career,” Dr Johnson said.
“For eleven days in June, 1594, Newington Butts was home to the two companies that would come to dominate the London theatres, including Shakespeare’s own Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
“This book is an exploration of that brief moment in time, drawing on archival studies, archaeology, environmental studies, geography, social, political, and cultural studies as well as methods developed within literary and theatre history to expand the scope of our understanding of the theatres, the rise of the playing business, and the formations of the playing companies.”
Born in Ipswich and raised in Goodna, Dr Johnson is a first-in-family student who has now taught in USQ’s School of Arts and Communications for the past 15 years.
Shakespeare’s Lost Playhouse is Dr Johnson’s third solo-authored monograph and fifth book overall.
“The wonderful thing about archival research is that no matter what you believe going in, the archives almost always seem to point you in a different direction,” he said.
“That was the case with this research – I expected I’d find evidence of a large amphitheatre-style polygonal structure, yet all of the leasehold information and other documents suggested that it was in fact a converted rectangular structure.
“Similarly, I found evidence that completely changes the perception of what the company would look like, who the members would be, and why they chose to stage the plays they did during their performance run in this building.”
Along with teaching literature and Shakespeare courses, Dr Johnson is also President of the Australian and New Zealand Shakespeare Association.
“After studying drama, history, and literature, I’ve long since had the desire to understand Shakespeare’s place in English literature from historical and theatrical perspectives,” he said.
“One of the things I try to do is paint a picture of the theatrical industry into which Shakespeare injected himself, which I hope continues to expand the history and geography of his career. I’d like this book to expand the mindsets of those who read it so that Newington Butts Playhouse becomes a part of the story of Shakespeare,” Dr Johnson said.