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Please forgive that this page is still evolving.

Elsinore Castle.

Elsinore, the Sound, and Helsingborg, 1588

As mentioned on the Main Page, the stage action of Hamlet occurs in and around the fictional Elsinore Castle, based on the real Kronborg Castle at Helsingor, Denmark. Like Kronborg, Elsinore Castle is by the sea.

About why Shakespeare would have set his play at a castle based on Kronborg, in addition to what's mentioned on the Main Page, there is also surviving documentation that a company of English actors played at Helsingor in 1585. Presumably, that would have been part of the celebration of the Castle's completion. Further, actors who later became part of Shakespeare’s company are known to have given performances at the Danish Court. Then, English actors played in Denmark, at Copenhagen, for the coronation of King Christian IV, in 1596. Thus, there was significant travel of actors from England to Denmark in that era. Shakespeare had persons in his own profession to talk to, about Kronborg Castle, and Denmark.

So, Kronborg Castle, at Helsingor, was known to English sailors, and to English actors, and also to the English people as a "current event" item in the news. Then also, there was a religious sympathy between England and Denmark, in that they both were officially Protestant, at the time of Hamlet, in opposition to the Roman Catholicism of the Spanish Empire. Denmark's adoption of a Protestant religion, Lutheranism, as the state religion, buttressed the English break from the Roman Catholic Church, which began under Henry VIII.

In sum, It becomes easy enough to see why Shakespeare based his Elsinore Castle on Kronborg Castle, at Helsingor.

It appears we are also supposed to understand, in Hamlet, that the fictional Norway in the play is just across the strait, corresponding to where Helsingborg, Sweden, is in reality. That part of Sweden was Danish in Shakespeare's time. The province of Scania, where Helsingborg is, became part of Sweden in 1658.

The image to the upper right shows the geographic area around the Øresund in an artist's conception from 1588. North is to the left. The illustration has an ample amount of artistic license (which is good, for showing various features.)

You may use the following link to see the image at full size:
Illustration, full size

You may then have to click the image to enlarge it fully.

Kronborg Castle is prominent just below center in the illustration, with the town of Helsingor beside the Castle. Helsingborg, and its castle, are across the Øresund, at upper center. Another illustration of Helsingborg, from 1589, is below, left.

an artist's conception of Helsingborg in 1589

The Danes built both castles, with a view to controlling the Øresund, so they could impose duties (taxes) for passage. Helsingborg Castle was built in the early 1300s, and Kronborg Castle was completed in about 1585. Kronborg Castle is in the form of a huge, palatial fortress, essentially a single structure. Helsingborg Castle was in a more typically Medieval style, a walled hamlet (if you'll pardon the expression) with a central keep.

Kronborg Castle is well preserved, and is now a popular tourist attraction. It is the most visited castle in Denmark, undoubtedly assisted by its association with Hamlet.

All that remains of Helsingborg Castle is the central tower, the keep, named Kärnan, which means the Core. The Core can be seen in the image of the Øresund area, and with a better view of it in the picture of Helsingborg from 1589. The Core has been rebuilt and preserved, and is also a tourist attraction now. I include a modern image of Kärnan in the Notes for Scene 1.

Kronborg cannon fire

Notice how busy the Sound is, in the old pictures. The artists must have known it to be a well travelled waterway.

In the image of the Øresund area, you may notice the island of Ven (Hven in Danish) where astronomer Tycho Brahe made his famous observations, and then the lighthouse (labelled "Pharus") on the point at the left. The illustration has many interesting features.

Also, to the left of Kronborg Castle in the image, the 1588 illustration of the Øresund area that is, one can see a yellow spot, imaged at right. It is apparently the artist's depiction of cannon fire from the platform beside the Castle. The platform beside Elsinore Castle is the setting for Scene 1 of Hamlet, as the play begins.

BOOKMARK for me, further on play locations.

Graveyard Scene & Scene 4. Mention Wittenberg, France, Poland, England, etc. Mention the apparent interior arrangement of Elsinore Castle.

Extract St Olaf church from old illustration, compare to modern pic.

Cultural Basis

The idea of opposing castle is definitely stereotypical in western culture. NOTE to me, go on to mention tarot card illustrations which pre-date Shakespeare, for one thing, and then etc.


© 2014 Jeffrey Paul Jordan

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