The story of Hamlet by William Shakespeare takes place at a fictional castle called Elsinore in Helsingør, Denmark. Hamlet’s castle is known to have been modeled off of the famous Kronborg Castle in Denmark. This castle has been noted as one of the most important renaissance castles in Northern Europe. Today, the castle has been used several times for the play and features real guards from the castle. According the the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the Kronborg Castle was added to the World Heritage List back in 2000 because of its notability. Shakespeare uses the power of setting in the castle to draw emotion from the play. By using the Kronborg Castle for the setting of Hamlet, Shakespeare is able to create story that is intertwined with secrets within the walls of the old castle. The tragedy of the story is emphasized by the castle as the castle’s purpose is to protect the royal family, but tragically enough the family tore itself apart from inside it’s walls. For my final project, I have created a simplified diorama of the castle that highlights a few of the key architectural aspects like the towers, the chapel, the moat under the bridge, and the levels of elevated walls around the castle.
History and Today
The Kronborg Castle dates back to the 1420s when it was first built. It was strategically placed to govern the stretch of water between Denmark and Sweden called the Sound (Kronborg Castle). The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries since then. According to the UNESCO, “Work began on the construction of this outstanding Renaissance castle in 1574, and its defenses were reinforced according to the canons of the period’s military architecture in the late 17th century” (Kronborg Castle). Since then it has stayed intact. The restorations made to the castle have been done with precautions to keep the original building materials and designs of the castle. The UNESCO says, “Kronborg Castle and the surrounding fortifications belong to the Danish State. The castle and the adjoining fortress are listed buildings and protected in accordance with the Preservation of Buildings Act and the Museum Act” (Kronborg Castle). Because of this, any changes made to the castle have to be passed by the Danish Agency. The main risks that the castle faces are weathering, ground shifting, and lack of maintenance. These risks can be prevented by thorough inspections of the Agency for Palaces and Cultural Properties (Kronborg Castle). The castle was the home for the royal family up until 1785. Since 1935, it has been transformed into a museum for tourists. (Kronborg Castle in Denmark).
The setting of the Diorama focuses on the Kronborg Castle during the 16th Century. This has been based off of a hand drawn map from the Shakespeare Association of America at George Town University. As seen in the drawing, the castle has an open interior with walls surrounding it. My model of the castle focuses on some notable aspects like the bridge entering the castle which is surrounded by a moat. The moat was crucial to discourage invaders as it left one major entry into the castle, the bridge. Merchant ships are depicted which means trade must have been very influential. The gates on the castle are opened representing that the town surrounding Kronberg was welcoming to traders. The stone walls around the castle are elevated with short-cut grass on each level of the walls like the real castle. Part of the open interior has a church built into a side of the wall which can be referenced to the church used in Hamlet. One of the buildings in the inside of the walls has a clock and so there is a clock on the tower. The towers are painted green to represent the aged-green towers of the actual castle. I used popsicles for the sides of the gates and the foundation of the bridge to represent the original material I used on the first castle I made but was unfortunately destroyed. This is just like restorations of the castle that have been done to repair the damages that have been done over time as they use they use the original building materials. The choices I have made in creating the castle are the most interesting aspects I found.
If you are a visual learner, the diorama of Elsinore should aid in your understanding of the setting Shakespeare uses in Hamlet. Because of the difficulty of trying to capture all of the features of the Kronborg Castle, there are many features of the castle that were left out which is important to note. For instance, there are only four towers on the model but there are actually nine on the castle. For more information about the Kronborg Castle, visit these websites below.
Bolt, Rodney. “Shakespeare’s Danish Links.” The Telegraph. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/denmark/articles/Shakespeares-Danish-links/.
“Kronborg Castle.” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/696.
“[illustration]: Elsinore and Kronberg Castle as Known to the Elizabethans”. Shakespeare Quarterly 12.4 (1961): 424–424. Web. 14 April 2016.
“Kronborg Castle in Denmark: The Setting of Hamlet.” ReverseHomeSickness. 12 July 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <http://reversehomesickness.com/europe/kronborg-castle-denmark/.