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To be or not to be

All at sea in Elsinore

The number one favourite for a first cruise is the Norwegian fjords. I'm on the other side, though, sailing around Sweden, though today I've crossed the water (it looks more like a wide river than the open sea) to be in Denmark. With me so far? When I arrive, the streets of Helsingborg ooze medieval charm though there is a bit of a reek from the drains. Something rotten in the state of Denmark? Ah yes, Helsingborg is, of course, Elsinore and there’s no getting away from Hamlet. Up at the castle, there’s a fun walk through the old dungeons to meet the ghost of Hamlet’s father at the moment he persuades him to take revenge on his behalf.

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Just outside there’s a plaque commemorating Shakespeare but the words you hear are not his (with the odd exception). Rather, they’re an introduction to the story which is then vividly re-enacted in the rooms of the castle as you walk through them. So, in the queen’s bedroom, Polonius is murdered by Hamlet, after a ding dong of a row between Gertrude and her son. In the huge state ballroom, Hamlet does say “To be or not to be” but then explains what the speech is all about in rather plainer English. It all goes down well with the crowd, especially the Swedish and Danish schoolchildren, when he talks directly to them.

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But should he be here? Well, probably not, really. The current castle is essentially a Renaissance palace, the older castle being destroyed except for the chapel in the endless wars between the Swedes and the Danes. (Why do we have them down as so peaceable?)

Then again, there is the distinct possibility that Hamlet did not ever visit the original castle, let alone live in it. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderfully dramatic setting and few actors can resist it. Olivier played Hamlet here with his then wife, Vivien Leigh as Ophelia. Richard Burton did the same though without Elizabeth Taylor.

But is Hamlet in Elsinore just fake news? Maybe. But it would be a shame to let the facts get in the way of such a good story. Ask Shakespeare.

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