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SHAKESPEARE FANS FOIL ATTEMPT TO BURY RUINS OF 16TH-CENTURY THEATER

The British government temporarily stopped construction Monday of an office tower over the site of the Rose Theatre where Shakespeare may have performed.

Following an emotional campaign by leading British actors to save the site for public view, Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley told parliament the dumping of sand and gravel over the remains of the open-air 16th-century Rose Theatre in London would be delayed for at least a month.This would be to enable architects and conservationists to discuss how to preserve the theater.

Developers agreed to negotiations after some of Britain's most respected actors took center stage in efforts to rescue the historic site.

Ridley pledged $1.64 million in funds from the government and state-assisted English Heritage foundation to compensate developers for the building delay.

Shakespeare's words rang through the open-air theater for the first time in almost 400 years when a cast that included Ian McKellen, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and James Fox read from his works during an overnight candlelit protest.

"I realize that the advent of so-called progress rings the death knell on this, to us, magnificent find," Sir Laurence Olivier said in a message. "But it seems to me terrible that one's heritage can be swept under the concrete as though it never existed."

Protesters linked arms Monday morning to prevent trucks from dumping their loads where Shakespeare is believed to have acted and where his "Henry VI" is thought to have been performed for the first time in 1592.

The demonstrators cheered as the trucks retreated.

"Where's Our Will to Live?" read one banner.

"We are making history because we are preserving history," said one protester after a local member of parliament announced that the developers were willing to hold more talks at the government's Department of the Environment.

The developers say entombment will protect and preserve The Rose, discovered when an office building beside the River Thames was torn down last December.

Critics say the past will be buried and the public denied a chance to see the first such excavation of a Shakespearean theater.

A replica of The Globe, the circular open-air theater where many of Shakespeare's plays were first performed, is being built nearby under a project led by American actor-director Sam Wanamaker.

The Rose, named after a neighborhood brothel, was built in 1587. Plays were last performed there in 1603 and the polygonal arena was demolished soon afterward.