Metrolife: Denmark town where Hamlet’s story unfolds

Last Updated 21 September 2018, 11:52 IST

A short train journey northwards from Copenhagen brought us to Helsingor Station. The town was small but its standing was big, thanks to
William Shakespeare and one of his most acclaimed plays ‘Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark’.

The Kronborg castle, or Hamlet’s Castle as it is fondly called, is a spectacular structure. When we entered the red gates, a person dressed in a medieval regal costume said in a matching accent, “But what is your affair in Elsinore?” Even as I replied “We are here as visitors”, another voice from behind me said, “My lord, I came to see your father’s funeral”. Then it struck me — it was Horatio and Hamlet.

Elsinore, as referred in the play, is generally believed by scholars to be derived from Helsingør and Kronborg as the setting for the play. In his remembrance, Shakespeare Festival takes place in Kronborg Castle every year in August and we were lucky to be right in the middle of it.

Kronborg, built in the early 15th century by King Eric, is a strategically located castle which helped in controlling the merchant ships coming from the Baltic sea and also protecting the Danish land from unwanted incursions. The castle was rebuilt in 1620 when the original castle was destroyed in a fire.

After shaking off Hamlet and Horatio, we entered the main courtyard and were transported back a few centuries due to the renaissance architecture of the towers and the buildings and the outfits of the actors. The centre of the courtyard served as the stage for the play. Soon Hamlet arrived and exclaimed, “To be, or not to be, that’s the question”, and the multi-act play continued.

The stairs of a tower at one corner of the castle took us to the living quarters of the royalty. Every room was ornately decorated with artefacts. The castle also included a private chapel which was beautifully embellished with religious objects.

The paintings on the wall, the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, the fine wood furniture, all must have been mute spectators to the happenings within the castle’s walls.

As we returned to the courtyard, someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked us if we wanted to see the ghost of the King of Denmark. It was Horatio and we were game for it.

We followed him and Hamlet into the clammy casemates of the castle where we saw a translucent apparition of the king and heard him say, “I am thy father’s spirit”. The floor was wet and slippery and the surrounding dark and eerie. The ghost recounted the horrid tale of how his wife, the queen and his brother Claudius hatched a plot to kill him, the King of Denmark, while we watched spellbound. On hearing the spooky, screechy voice resounding on the walls of casemates, we got the goosebumps.

This stunning castle, which has stood the test of time and the vagaries of weather is certainly worth a visit on your trip to Denmark, at least to experience the play in its original settings.

(Published 07 June 2018, 12:15 IST)

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