Located an hour north of Copenhagen on the North Sealand coast at Elsinore, Kronborg Castle is probably better known as Hamlet’s Castle and has been the setting for this annual theatrical spectacle since 1816. For the first week of August each year, in a tradition dating back 200 years, a series of Shakespearean plays have been performed by international artists. In 2016, this will be extended to a three week-long event for the first time.
Shakespeare Festival Programme 2016
In this fantastic double-anniversary year, the Shakespeare Festival at Hamlet’s Castle presents a veritable cornucopia of the best and most current Shakespeare productions, all specially handpicked for the 200th anniversary of their Shakespeare performance tradition.
This year, audiences will have a chance to experience Shakespeare performed in Russian for the very first time when the acclaimed English theatre company, Cheek by Jowl from London’s Barbican, in a co-production with the Pushkin Theatre, Moscow, presents a harrowing portrait of contemporary Russia in Measure for Measure.
Flute Theatre, led by Kelly Hunter - an offshoot of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is coming with an easily accessible and up to date production entitled Hamlet: Who’s There? The Two Gentlemen of Verona from Shakespeare’s Globe is an exuberant romantic comedy with an abundance of amusing entanglements.
In addition to this, Nordic Opera is presenting the world premiere of Hamlet in Absentia - a new Nordic opera based on Hamlet. Shakespeare Open Air Cinema is screening Laurence Olivier’s four-time Oscar winning Hamlet (1948), while the internationally acclaimed conductor, Frans Rasmussen, will bring the Festival to a close with HamletScenen’s Shakespeare in Concert in a festive collaboration with Helsingborg Symphonic Orchestra and guest soloists.
For families, there will be the annual Shakespeare Puppet theatre performances each day during July with 30 minute long wordless interpretations of Shakespeare’s classics created by some of the world’s most prestigious puppet theatre companies. Hamlet Live will also be added to this tradition, welcoming visitors to Kronborg with the characters of the play roaming the halls of the historic castle.
The history of Hamlet at Kronborg Castle
Performances by actors from the Globe Theatre in London are also planned and are especially poignant given the special relationship that dates back to The Bard himself. Creating a historic cultural bridge between Denmark and England, three of his troupe of the Lord Chamberlain's Men performed for the king of Denmark, Frederik II in Kronborg Castle in 1586, which was at the time Europe's most controversial and modern renaissance court.
When, around 1600, Shakespeare wrote "The Tragic History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" it is presumed he was inspired by a story first recorded more than 800 years ago by Saxo Grammaticus in his ‘History of Denmark’. From Saxo, the myth was passed on to Christiern Pedersen who in 1514 published the story of ‘Amled’. This publication was then reproduced in 1590 by the English dramatist Thomas Kyd and the play eventually became a tragedy focused on revenge.
Whether Shakespeare actually visited Elsinore is unknown. However, it is certain that several English and Scottish actors from his circle performed as guest players, both at Kronborg and in Elsinore. It is from these people that stories about the castle could have reached Shakespeare and inspired him to situate the play in these settings.
The tradition for the performance of Hamlet at Kronborg Castle re-emerged in 1816, when a group of soldiers, stationed at the garrison of Kronborg Castle commemorated the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a performance of Hamlet in the Canon Hall, located in the characteristically square Telegraph Tower.
In 1837, the first international company of actors came from London with a performance in the Castle courtyard by William Charles Macready in the leading role. 1916 saw the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and this time a cast of actors from the Danish National Theatre performed on the ramparts of Kronborg Castle.
The tradition continued and in 1937 saw the inauguration of the National Open Air Theatre with a performance by Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. For almost 20 years, interrupted only by World War II, many other famous British Shakespearean actors have joined international artists to tread the boards at Kronborg, including Sir John Gielgud (1939) and Richard Burton (1954). Later, under the leadership of various other producers, several more prominent names including Christopher Plummer (1964), Derek Jacobi (1979) and Kenneth Branagh (1988) joined the distinguished list. It is tradition for the Hamlet stage to host guest plays from all over the world and in previous years have included actors such as Simon Russell Beale (2000) and Jude Law (2009).
Since 2000 Hamlet’s Castle Kronborg has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The 2016 festival starts on 1 August 2016. For further details and high res. images go to