Kronborg Slot – Helsingor, Denmark

To Be or Not to Be at Hamlet’s Elsinore

So Elsinore Castle’s real name is Kronborg Slot, and so it was built centuries after the time of the Danish prince on whom Shakespeare based his tormented, brooding Hamlet. But this fortified Nordic icon of secret passages, with its suitably gloomy dungeon and canon-studded battlements, could not have been a better backdrop for Shakespeare’s dark tragedy.

After several miles of sleepy fishing villages along the coastal road north of Copenhagen, the great moat-encircled castle rises above the town of Helsingor that grew up around it. Filling its vast coffers via “400 years of legal piracy,” Helsingor Castle (as it is also called) collected tolls paid to the Danish crown from passing ships, until the taxes were abolished in 1857.

Originally built in 1420 and enlargened in 1574, Kronborg had all the trappings of a great regal Renaissance residence. Its starkly furnished Knights Hall is one of the largest and oldest in northern Europe; the luxurious castle chapel is still the dream wedding loca­tion for many a lucky Danish couple.

Occa­sional performances of Hamlet are staged in the torch-lit courtyard, where audiences can envision the inky fog and the tormented prince agonizing over the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Meanwhile, some­where off in a dark and dank chamber reposes the spirit of Viking chief Holger Danske, a mythic Charlemagne-era hero: legend has it that as long as he sleeps, the kingdom of Denmark will be safe.

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