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The Shakespeare Travel Tour (Part I)

In honor of William Shakespeare birthday (thought to be on April 23, 1564), I wanted to take a look at some of this plays. While some were set in England to be historically accurate, many of the plays are set in exotic cities through Europe and the Mediterannean to capture the imagination of the audience.  Here are just a few of my favorite locales.

HAMLET - Kronborg Castle, Elsinore, Denmark

Will you find the ghost of the King walking the ramparts of Kronborg Castle? (Photo: Kronborg Castle, Agency for Palaces & Cultural Properties, Denmark)

As Marcellus points out in Act 1, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”  Hamlet and his troubled family lived in the city of Elsinore on the northeastern tip of the easternmost Danish Island of Zealand.  The events of the play were likely set in Kronborg Castle which overlooks the coast.  Originally built in the early 15th century (so probably too late for Hamlet’s story), the castle was enlarged in the Renaissance and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today.  The Kronborg embraces its Shakespearean heritage hosting a festival of plays every August.  No word though if traveling bands of actors are allowed to participate in the festival or not.

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL – Southern France & Florence

View of Perpignan, one of the largest cities in the Roussillon region of Southern France (Photo: Martin Addison, Flickr)

All’s Well That Ends Well is a bizarre comedy.  Helena, the smart commoner, cures the King’s illness and is granted whatever she wants in return.  She chooses a hot nobleman who protests throughout the wedding, declares he will not be with her until she has his child (impossible task at that point) and then runs away on a war campaign.  Helena weeps with her mother-in law but then decides to spy on her nobleman, I mean, go on a pilgrimage exactly where he is waging war.  Helena disguises herself as a maiden the nobleman has fallen for and well, gets pregnant.  Finally everything is revealed, the marriage is reconciled and they all live happily ever after.

This comedy could really have been set anywhere, but Shakespeare chooses two beautiful, romantic locales.  Helena and the nobleman are from the Roussillon, a Catalan region of Southern France in the Eastern Pyrenees.  The area became part of Aragon after 1344 but is treated as an independent kingdom in the play.  The nobleman runs off to battle in Florence, Italy which turns out to be an excellent place for a romantic interlude.

THE TEMPEST – Bermuda

Prospero may have wandered along Bermuda's Pink Beach (Photo: simsbury119, Flickr)

Prospero, his daughter, the comic relief and two evil brothers with entourage are all shipwrecked on a magical island.  The audience is never explicitly told where this fantastic island is located, but it may have been in North America.  The Tempest was written within a year after news of a sensational Caribbean shipwreck reached London (1).  It is very likely that Shakespeare set this tragic play of betrayal and forgiveness on the exotic and well-publicized island of Bermuda which must have seemed very magical indeed in 17th century England.

(1) Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Company, 1909. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2010.

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