Only half an hour from Copenhagen, the Danish waterside town of Helsingør. has a completely different feel.
I was there to find out more about a rumour that the town’s Kronborg Castle was once frequented by England’s most famous playwright, Shakespeare. In fact, it’s rumoured that The Bard was so impressed by the place that it inspired Hamlet, one of his most famous characters.
A palace for a king
Of course, with every history there’s conjecture. Some consider the link tenuous at best and others pay no attention at all. Rumour or fact, I liked what the story promoted. The idea that a certain space and moment in time can motivate us all to think differently, or in Shakespeare’s case, of new things entirely.
Kronborg stood in isolation under grey skies, facing back across the harbour waters at the town. Passing the modern maritime museum I walked the length of the harbour towards its foreboding walls. The approach resembled a fortress more than a comfortable royal home. Quite apt considering that King Eric VII had originally built it with his country’s protection in mind. It was over two hundred years later that King Frederic II turned it into his renaissance pad.
Once through the heavy archway, I saw some familiar features: A large courtyard like that of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, long high corridors letting in the light like Versailles and naturally, the token gift shop! As with most royal palaces, the most impressive rooms were the halls where the kings received their guests.
Although every room was once lived in, they seemed unusually sparse. I wondered if their hollowness was due to the destructive fire of the 17th century, or maybe the fact that the Swedes had looted the castle of its treasures not long after its rebuild. Whatever the reason, it felt a little cold.
As I explored the grounds, I learnt that after ceasing to be a royal residence in the 18th century, the castle had since returned to its original role as a protective outpost. Today, as well as giving visitors a look into Denmark’s royal past, it also provides accommodation for the Danish army.
The famous visitor
My favourite part of the palace were the views. A winding stone staircase within a colossal turret eventually led to the roof. From there I could see for miles across the Baltic Sea to Sweden and was able to appreciate just how close the neighbours were. I could imagine King Eric’s concern that to protect his territory, building the then-named Krogen was a mandatory task. There was also beauty in the castle’s roof itself: a brilliant green against the unpredictable sky.
Above all, my thoughts kept returning to the castle’s famous visitor. I love Shakespeare’s writing for its honesty. At the heart of all his plays is the human story that never changes, and is probably why his success has endured: Whimsical lovers, genuine fears and the very ugly truths.
And so I feel it’s only right, that I keep the side up by admitting that I wasn’t really sure what he saw in Kronborg castle. Despite each space holding a human story, I left hollow and devoid of feeling. Although maybe that’s the point, I pondered while I looked back at the castle as the sun finally came out over its ominous walls.
Maybe it was exactly that feeling that inspired Shakespeare’s tragic tale of ghosts, murder and cold, rainy nights.