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Literary escapade: Elsinore

July 22, 2015 11 comments

I have seen Hamlet on stage once. It was a modern version where Hamlet ended up naked while Rage Against the Machine was blearing to get you in the mood, I guess. Teenagers had come with their teachers and were giggling at the nakedness. I can’t say it’s my best experience in a theatre. I’m French, so I’ve never studied Shakespeare in school, I discovered his plays by myself afterwards. This probably explains why I thought Elsinore was as real as the Sleeping Beauty’s castle. I assumed that Shakespeare had invented a place, outside of his own country, to be sure not to offend his queen with his plays. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Elsinor actually existed and was a mere thirty minutes away from Copenhagen where I was headed for a long weekend.

So I bought a bilingual edition of Hamlet, brought it with me to Denmark and started to read the play on the way to Elsinore. I love those bilingual editions by Folio. On the left page, you’ve got the original text and on the right page, you have the French translation. You can follow the text line by line, it’s very useful and relaxing as you can switch to French when Shakespearian English becomes too difficult.

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I am not going to review Hamlet. Really, what could I say that has not been said?

066_ElseneurLet’s talk about Kronborg castle in Helsingør (Elsinore in Danish). Kronborg castle was improved by King Frederic II at the end of the 16th century. In 1629, a fire destroyed part of the castle and King Christian IV had it renovated. What we see today in the castle mostly pictures King Christian IV’s times. This means it didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s times but older parts are preserved, like the door on this picture.

I understand that Hamlet comes from a Danish old legend, reported by the French writer François de Belleforest in his book Histoires prodigieuses in 1582. Then Thomas Kyd made a play out of Belleforest’s tale and it gave Shakspeare the idea to write Hamlet. This explains why it’s set in Denmark and Kronborg was, in Shakespeare’s times, where the King of Denmark used to live. It is established that Shakespeare never set a foot in Elsinore but Shakespeare has his sculpture engraved in the castle’s wall anyway. And the marketing team at Kronborg castle plays the Shakespeare card as much as possible. They organise Shakesperian tours on the premises.

084_Elseneur_Shakespeare085_Elseneur_ShakespeareAs for me, I like to imagine that Shakespeare had at least seen paintings or drawings of Elsinore or that he had read about it. Here’s the terrace where Hamlet is supposed to have met with his father’s ghost.

082_ElseneurAnd here’s a general view of the castle. Even if Shakespeare never went to Elsinore, it’s still a nice visit to do and a great opportunity to read Hamlet.

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