The Danish city of Elsinore is located on the northern coast of Sealand opposite the city of Helsingborg in Sweden. Two ferry lines link the two cities; the crossing takes some 20 minutes. Lots of Swedes travel to Elsinore every day to visit the many liquor stores which line the main street. Beer, wine and alcoholic beverages are considerably cheaper in Denmark than in Sweden.

However, there is so much more to make Elsinore an interesting place to visit. It is one of Denmark’s oldest cities strategically located at the narrowest part of the sound between Denmark and Sweden. In the past South Sweden used to be part of Denmark and the Danes levied custom fees on all shipping from and to the Baltic Sea going through the Sound.

Above: 1964 GB 2/6d Shakespeare Festival

The income from the custom fees created considerable prosperity for the city of Elsinore. Some of the money was used to build a beautiful castle. Called Kronborg the castle dominates the coastline and can be easily seen from Helsingborg on the other side of the Sound. Today Kronborg Castle is a maritime museum and well worth a visit.

Hamlet is certainly one of the most well known plays in theatrical history. Written by William Shakespeare, the play takes place in Kronborg Castle. The castle is depicted on one of the three field post stamps issued in support of the pro-Nazi Danish Legion in 1944. The design is extremely peaceful despite being released during very troubled World War I1 times.

Above: 1944 Field post issue showing Kronborg Castle

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born in Stratford upon Avon and was educated at a local grammar school where he probably learnt Latin. Shakespeare is undoubtedly the most important figure in world literature and he had a considerable influence on the development of the English language.

Strangely enough not much is known about Shakespeare and his life and work. What we do know is that he got married, had children and moved to London. He was part owner of The Globe Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames. The Globe was destroyed in a fire during Shakespeare’s lifetime but was rebuilt some 20 years ago.

Shakespeare wrote more than 40 plays and a large number of sonnets. Not a single manuscript in Shakespeare’s handwriting has been preserved. All we have today are some signatures of the great bard.

We don’t really know what Shakespeare looked like as there are no contemporary portraits of him. There are a number of portraits which are supposed to depict the famous playwright and they have been used on various occasions for stamp designs. From 1899 to 1926, a series of Shakespeare labels in nine different colours were sold for one shilling each in support of the church in Stratford upon Avon. These labels show what is believed to be a fair portrait of Shakespeare.

Above: Shakespeare label supporting the church in Stratford upon Avon

The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke is probably Shakespeare’s most famous play. It was first performed in 1601.

The dramatic events begin with the demise of King Hamlet. Claudius, the late king’s brother, gets not only the throne of Denmark but also Queen Gertrude. Prince Hamlet harbours strong suspicions that Claudius has killed Hamlet’s father. He organizes a play with an ingenious plot in order to find out what really happened.

As his suspicions grow stronger, Prince Hamlet realizes that his own life is at risk and he pretends to be mad. Claudius decides to send his nephew to England to have him killed. However, Prince Hamlet returns to Elsinore and Denmark to face Claudius. It all ends in total tragedy with the deaths of almost all the principal characters through poisoned swords and wine.

By far the most significant part of the play is the skull scene where Prince Hamlet pronounces the words “To be or not to be, that is the question”. This scene is depicted on the 216d stamp released by Great Britain in 1964 in connection with the Shakespeare Festival. The 216d value was part of a set of five stamps but the only one that was recess printed.

Shakespeare often found the inspiration for his plays in other literary works. Hamlet was no exception. The play is based on a story in the Danish Chronicles by Saxo Grammaticus. It was also included in Histoires Tragiques by French writer Francois de Belleforest.

In the late 1500s many Scottish and English actors performed their plays in Elsinore. It is quite possible that Shakespeare met with some of these actors getting first hand accounts of the Danish city.

The tourist authorities in Elsinore like to suggest that William Shakespeare could possibly have been one of the English actors having visited Elsinore. However, there is absolutely no information about Shakespeare ever having left his native England.

Ever since the early 1800s, Hamlet has been staged at regular intervals by different theatre companies in the compound of Kronborg Castle.

Visitors to Elsinore should call at the city’s Tourist Office where they can obtain a leaflet describing a Shakespeare Walk which includes the castle, the old part of Elsinore and a garden outside the city centre. All these places feature prominently in Hamlet.