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Kronborg Castle – Shakespeare’s Stronghold

By Laura Blake

Posted: 26th February 2014 09:20

Majestically overlooking the Sound of Øresund, Kronborg Castle is a proud monument of the European Renaissance.  Built as a stronghold in the 1420s by King Eric VII, its original purpose was to protect the town of Helsingør and control the entranceway to the Baltic Sea, but from 1574-85, King Frederick II had the imposing medieval fortress radically transformed into a Renaissance wonder.  Awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2000, this castle boasts more than enough history to captivate any visitor, but it has one undeniable lure that surpasses all others. 

Although originally known as Krogen (‘The Hook’) this castle will, for thousands of romantics across the globe, always be known as Elsinore Castle.  For it was this beautifully intriguing fortress that William Shakespeare chose as the setting for his famous tragedy, Hamlet.  Written between 1599 and 1602, the play is a beautiful and lyrical exploration of revenge and charts the precarious path of the Prince of Denmark as he descends into a world beset by heartache, loss and murder most foul.

Fans of the Bard will instantly recognise the setting, but this castle was very nearly not to be.  In 1629, a fire swept through Kronborg, destroying much of its interior.  Despite being rebuilt at the order of King Christian IV, the castle was besieged in 1658 by the Swedes, stripping it of its most valuable treasures.  In 1785 the castle was abandoned by the Royal Family and converted into army barracks.  The army too relocated in 1923, and after a lengthy period of renovation the castle was opened to the public. 

With such a deep-rooted connection with the English playwright, it is hard for visitors to escape the castle’s poetic history.  Hamlet was first performed here in 1816 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the cast consisted of soldiers from the garrison.  Since then, the play has been performed numerous times in the castle’s courtyard, with imminent actors such as Laurence Olivier, Christopher PlummerDerek Jacobi and Jude Law all venturing forth to bring the magic of Elsinore alive.  

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