There is something rotten in the state of f***ing Denmark,” was yelled at an astonished audience in the courtyard of Kronborg Castle this month when the German theatre company Staatsschauspiel Dresden performed its groundbreaking performance ‘Hamlet. Prince of Denmark’. One critic described it as “like throwing a hand grenade at all our previous ideas of Hamlet”.
HamletScenen was back this year offering an international platform for Shakespeare, and this year’s opening production was just a prelude to the kaleidoscope of Shakespearean productions coming our way to mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016.
What’s in a name?
Denmark can certainly thank William Shakespeare for writing the greatest tragedy ever written in the English language about a fictitious prince called Amleth who never even lived at the castle of Elsinore. For that matter did Mr Shakespeare even write the play? Many eminent people think not, including Mark Twain, Orsen Welles and, today, actors and directors like Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance (the previous director of The Globe Theatre) and, last and by all means least, me.
Non-Stratfordians, as we are called, suggest that Shakespeare was a ghost writer and that Sir Francis Bacon, the 17th Earl of Oxford, or Christopher Marlowe was the real playwright. We believe that Mr Shakespeare lacked the education, aristocratic sensibility and familiarity with the royal court that is apparent in all the plays.
My contribution to Shakespeare’s anniversary year will be my own play ‘Shakespeare’s Ghost’, which is based on these suppositions. How on earth did a glove-maker’s son from Stratford, who never left British shores, know so much about Venice and Verona and particularly Kronborg Castle in Denmark?
Elsinore would have been vaguely familiar to the Elizabethans, as a new castle had recently been built there, but nevertheless the details of the castle in the play seem to suggest the writer had actually walked the corridors between the royal rooms and the chapel and felt the bite of the wind whipping across the Sound on the cold dark battlements.
It could also be said that ‘Hamlet’ was the first of the Nordic Noir crime stories (like ‘The Killing’) with its sinister and soul-searching plot about the murder of the king by his own brother and Prince Hamlet’s desire for vengeance.
The quintessence of dust
All in all, the Hamlet brand is a winner – and perhaps it should supersede The Little Mermaid as the real icon of Denmark. Any of us who have taken our tourist friends to see the sights know how embarrassing it is to show them The Little Mermaid, a tiny statue perched on a rock with its unimpressive background and dull tales of decapitation.
How much better it is to take them to Kronborg Slot and show them the setting for the most famous Nordic Noir tragedy ever written and tell them that next year HamletScenen will act as a global Shakespeare producer, when a new production of Hamlet has its world premiere at Hamlet’s Castle involving international performers for the official opening of the 2016 Shakespeare Festival to celebrate 400 years since the death of, in my opinion, a ghost.