Literary escapade: Elsinore

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.

052_Elseneur

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.

054_Elseneur

  1. July 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I loathe plays when the shock factor is supposed to be something new. Boring.
    Hamlet is my least favourite Shakespeare play–well actually it’s a toss up with Romeo and Juliet. I like the photos, though.

    Like

    • July 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      I’m not a fan of Romeo and Juliet either. Can’t help finding the ending foolish.

      It was great visiting Elsinore.

      Like

  2. Azimov
    July 22, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    I’m not a fan of updating Shakespeare and placing it in modern settings. Watching a character sitting on a motorbike using words like ‘forsooth’…it strains credibility. I prefer Shakespeare in the proper setting, costume, etc. Roman Polanski’s ‘MacBeth’ is a particular favourite.

    Like

    • July 26, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Oh dear, now I have this image of Hamlet on a Harley Davidson.

      Sometimes modern settings are well done. I’ve seen a modern version of ‘Tis Pitty She’s a Whore and it was fantastic. (there’s a post about it on my blog if you’re interested)

      It’s risky but when it’s good it gives a new perspective to the play, to the argumentation displayed by the playwright and can create a link between a long-dead writer and a contemporary audience.

      Like

  3. July 23, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Sounds like a great trip, Emma. It’s interesting to hear about the history of the castle.

    Like

    • July 26, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks Jacqui. It was a nice trip

      Like

  4. July 23, 2015 at 11:01 am

    What a great trip to take Emma.

    Elsinore looks impressive, though I picture it much darker and gloomier in the play.

    I really do not like changing the setting and other playing around with Shakespeare plays. The distortion of Hamlet that you describe sounds awful. A few years ago I saw a version of Macbeth set in a post apocalyptic future. In my opinion it really was not a good idea.

    The the other hand, bi – lingual versions of Shakespeare with the two languages facing one another in the book sounds like a great idea.

    Like

    • July 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      It was a very nice trip.

      As I said to Asimov in a comment above. I’m not opposed to older plays placed in a modern setting. The director must be very good though, because it’s risky. I’ve had bad experiences with it and very good as well. When it’s good, it washes out the idea that what’s on stage happened in a distant past and is not applicable today. It shows how relevant the plays can be even today.

      These bilingual editions are fantastic, really. Do you have those for French plays? (Maybe Canadian publishers have some)

      Like

  5. July 25, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Emma – I love your literary escapade reports. I’ve always wanted to visit Elsinore (I lived on Elsinore Street in Los Angeles back when I worked as an English teaching assistant, so my colleagues often made Hamlet jokes).

    “Copenhagen for a long weekend” – how I envy you Europeans!

    Like

    • July 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks, Scott. I’ll keep on writing them. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not boring readers with my personal trips but apparently I’m not.

      You used to live on Elsinore Street, how funny.
      In France we have neighbourhoods with themed street names. Have you seen that? a block has bird names, another one musicians, another one poets or writers. I’ve never seen a Romain Gary street, though. (After a quick google search, there seem to be one in Thiais, Saint-Brieuc and Nice, of course)

      Like

  1. August 16, 2015 at 10:41 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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