A storied 400 years: Celebrating Shakespeare at Hamlet’s Castle

As 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the passing of England’s best-loved playwright, events are springing up around the world in his honour. And, not to miss out, Denmark – the setting of what is estimated to be Shakespeare’s most performed play – is putting on something truly unique. From August 1st to the 21st, Hamlet’s very own Kronborg Castle is opening its historic doors to world-leading theatre companies to perform in its storied courtyard. The organisers have ensured that Shakespeare – in performances, tours and talks – has lived on in Hamlet’s castle for the past 200 years.

Here’s our guide to making the most of your trip to Elsinore, the festival and your Denmark holiday.

The castle

Kronborg Castle up close.

Hamlet, recently voted by the UK’s theatre community as ‘Shakespeare’s Greatest Play’, owes much of its strength to its setting. The alcoves, enclosed chambers and the famous arras of this royal palace are the ideal backdrop to a plot full of doubt and deceit. And, its magnificent halls mean that it’s a story played out on the grandest of stages, adding extra weight to Hamlet’s actions and inactions. Those lucky enough to have seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s adaptation at the Barbican last season would have watched as these same ballrooms came crashing down, mirroring the plot’s capitulation.

And, at Kronborg, you’ll be able to witness the real thing. Sited on a peninsula in the country’s northeasternmost point, it enjoys all the remote trappings that plagued a guilt-ridden Hamlet while remaining just an hour’s drive north or short train hop from Copenhagen. Its strategic position is also ruggedly beautiful, looking out over a key Baltic Sea outlet to the east and protected from the west by a three-sided moat. While the original medieval fortress – built in the 1420s by King Eric VII – burnt down in 1629, King Christian IV rebuilt Kronborg as a Renaissance palace shortly after. Today, its creepy catacombs, royal bedrooms and ornate chapel can all be explored on visits and tours.

The festival

Bonze statue of Hamlet, contemplating, contemplating...

Over the first three weeks of August, some of the world’s leading theatre groups will be staging a range of Shakespearean productions in Kronborg’s courtyard. It’s the world’s oldest Shakespeare festival, and the Laurence Olivier Award-winning Cheek by Jowl company will be performing Measure for Measure, while Italian adaptations of Julius Caesar are performed along with The Two Gentlemen of Verona by the Globe’s resident theatre troupe.

Of course, between an operatic reimagining, a 90-minute modern abridge and screenings of classic films, there’s plenty of Hamlet to choose from. It all comes to life in this UNESCO-listed setting, reached by a walk along the torchlit moat. For full listings click here.

Your holiday

While you’re in Denmark, don’t miss out on all that this picturesque country has to offer. If Kronborg has whetted your appetite, perhaps book into a stay in one of its castles: there are 450-year-old redbrick turrets and pretty mansions set in the Danish Lakelands that have been converted into luxury hotels. Alternatively swap royal grandeur for boutique intimacy with cottage stays while you explore Denmark’s Gothic cathedrals and 18th century market towns. Whatever you do, you’ll find a country bursting with picturesque country drives, artsy cities and idyllic coastlines. If, as Hamlet contends, Denmark is a prison, then it’s a particularly beautiful one.

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