“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them…”

We’re all familiar with these lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Recently I visited the very castle which inspired the depiction of Elsinore in that play.

Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark has a history dating from the 1420’s, when King Erik VII (aka Erik of Pomerania) realized the value of the location, namely that it controlled entrance to the Baltic Sea. He built a fortress there which, in the late 1500’s, King Frederick II transformed into the Renaissance masterpiece that today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kronborg Castle

The second photograph shows our guide standing where King Frederick II and Queen Sophie were seated, under a woven tapestried canopy, when feasts were held. Guests partook of wine which, due to time and transportation issues, was sour. Solution? Add spices like cinnamon, and sugar. The ability to procure these items spoke to the wealth of the king.

Great Hall of KronborgKronborg Tapestries

Another display of riches was the bountiful food offering: measure for measure, as much as twenty-four courses, translating to seventeen pounds per person. More proof of the host’s wealth, but obviously it wasn’t easy to eat all those vittles. Solution? Servers provided feathers to induce vomiting. If a guest was shy, he or she just waited until the king went first. It was all considered part of the entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, while there’s no certainty the Bard was ever at Kronberg, it’s apparent some of his colleagues performed there. The gunpowder toast scene in Hamlet is a clue, since insider information would have been needed to describe it. In short, when the king raised his glass to toast, nearby musicians beat their drums. That sound signaled trumpeters, whose blasts in turn were the sign for cannon fire.

Much ado about nothing? Maybe. But we do know all’s well that ends well.