Last August I went together with my daughter Andrea on a trip to Denmark to visit my sister Beatriz, who lives there. Among the cultural visits that we made, we decided to go to the Kronborg castle, in Helsingør. This is known as well as the “Hamlet castle“, referred to in Shakespeare‘s play as Elsinore.
This year 2016 is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, which happened on April 23rd 1616. A series of activities are organized along the year and across the globe to commemorate it. As you can imagine some of those activities take place at the Kronborg castle, therefore in this year, once in Denmark, the visit of that castle was a must.
The visit was superb:
- There were several actors impersonating the different characters of the play. You would find them at different spots of the castle.
- There was as well a stage put in place at the courtyard of the castle where in the evenings Hamlet is played (this year produced by Peter Holst-Beck). During the day, the actors were rehearsing the play. An extra of the visit then was to watch some passages of the play. In fact, one exhibition at the castle displayed some of the many renowned actors that have played Hamlet at Kronborg along the years.
- Other activity included the performing of a puppet show at a room in the castle, together with the characters of the king and the queen (similar to the Act 3 scene 2 of the play).
- And, of course, another performance consisted of an actor impersonating Hamlet, skull in hand at the ballroom of the castle, acting his lines “To be, or not to be: that is the question…”
It was certainly a great visit which I strongly recommend, as for DKK 90 (or about 13 euros) you will spend a very entertaining couple of hours.
Hamlet, the play
At the end of the visit, my sister and I bought copies of the book Hamlet at the castle shop: an edition by Christian Ejlers which includes some pictures of the tapestries with images of different kings of Denmark that can be found in the castle.
A few days after we concluded the trip, I started to read the book, which with 135 pages and despite its difficult old English language it reads in a few hours (spread in a few days in my case).
The plot of the book is rather well-known (no spoiler here): Hamlet’s father, the previous king, has recently died and Hamlet is profoundly affected by his death. A ghost of his father appears to him and this sets Hamlet into the search of who has killed his father.
I wanted to share some passages of the book that called my attention:
“Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.” (Ophelia to her brother Laertes)
“And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Not any unproportioned thought his act. […]
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement. […]
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry…” (Polonius)
“Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” (Hamlet)
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; […]
… ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, […]
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make us cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sickled o’er with the pale cast of thought, […]” (Hamlet)
“Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites; […]” (Hamlet)
“[…] May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?“ (King Claudius)
“[…] your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table; […]
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm. […]
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar” (Hamlet)
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” (King Claudius)
A classic, a short book, at times quite entertaining and intriguing, even if it requires some effort, it is a must read, strongly recommend. May be in your own language or a version with a more modern language (I later picked up a Spanish version that I found at my parents’ which was much easier to read… and you could clearly see that translations were not literal).
Let this post be my particular homage to the figure of William Shakespeare in this 400th anniversary.
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