Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, at the seaward approach to The Sound Øresund, is one of northern Europe’s most important Renaissance castles. Known all over the world from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is also the most famous castle in Denmark with about 200.000 visitors each year.
King Frederik II’s Kronborg is both an elegant Renaissance castle and a monumental military fortress surrounded by major fortifications with bastions and ravelins. Some of the historical rooms house collections of Renaissance and Baroque interiors, and among the most important attractions are the 62-metre long ballroom, the wonderfully preserved chapel and the statue of “Holger the Dane”.
Development of Kronborg Castle
During the period 1998-2010, Kronborg Castle is undergoing extensive development to turn it into a modern exhibition centre and visitor attraction. The restoration of the buildings and fortress areas go hand-in-hand with the development of the historical presentation of the castle to the public.
The figure of Hamlet appeared for the first time more than 800 years ago in Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta danorum, or History of the Danes. From Saxo the legend continued to Danish writer Christiern Pedersen, who published a story about “Amleth” in 1514. This publication made the drama famous outside Denmark.
A French version of the story was authored by François de Belleforest in the 1500s, and when English dramaturge Thomas Kyd interpreted the work in 1590, he turned it into a drama of revenge.
Presumably inspired by Kyd’s now lost rendition, William Shakespeare wrote the play “The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” around 1600, thereby immortalising Saxo’s legendary prince.
Shakespeare used the names Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern for two noblemen in the play. It is not known whether Shakespeare was thinking of anybody in particular when he chose these names, but Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, or in Danish “Gyldenstjerne”, were the most powerful and wealthiest families in Denmark in the 14th and 15th centuries. Shakespeare had also seen the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe’s family crest, with Brahe’s ancestors Sophie Gyldenstjerne and Erik Rosenkrantz.
Hamlet and Kronborg
The legend’s association with Elsinore and Kronborg did not begin until Shakespeare, presumably due to Elsinore’s status as one of the world’s most important towns in the 1600s. Thanks to the Sound Dues which was a special toll that all passing ships had to pay in the town, Elsinore had become a traffic hub for international shipping.
The town was also regarded as a cultural centre due to the newly built royal castle, Kronborg. It is unknown whether Shakespeare actually ever visited Elsinore. It is known with certainty, however, that a number of English and Scots players from his retinue performed as visiting actors at Kronborg and in the town of Elsinore. They could have been the source of stories about the illustrious castle on the Sound that reached Shakespeare and which inspired him to set the play here.
“Hamlet” is one of the most famous and frequently performed stage plays in the world. Since the 1600s, countless theatrical productions at the castle and many other venues have endeavoured to keep the legend of Hamlet alive. That is why Kronborg is now known all over the world as Hamlet’s castle, and Elsinore is known as the Town of Hamlet.