All that glistens is not gold. Merchant of Venice Act 2. Scene 7.
Hamlet’s world is no sunny Italy. It is nary the world of color and flowers and sun. Nor is it the lands of comedy and romance and song and spring, glorious spring. Hamlet’s world is the world of snow and ice. It is the north. A north that calls to mind the bleakness of the films of Ingmar Bergman. It is the dark, brooding landscape of Elsinore, home to the Danish King.
It’s a castle, this Elsinore. A great stone castle. Three of its walls face the sea, guarding against an invasion by sea. Across the Oresund Strait faces Sweden. Just down the way Norway threatens.
It is a castle, this Elsinore. Not a palace but a castle. If it were a palace, it would be luxurious and designed for comfort and showing off. No, it is a castle which makes it a fort that can be easily defended against the young Fortinbras, better known as Norway.
It is a castle, this Elsinore where six murders are executed. A great stone castle. The home of a king of Denmark. Though it must be a medieval fortress, it is also a home.
Think about your home. How comfortable you are there, comfortable to be yourself. If you were a king lodged in a fortress-like castle, you would have tapestries hung on the cold stone walls. Tapestries of the history of your family’s battles, a history of the great kings of the past. Maybe a tapestry of the latest defeat of a Fortinbras some years back.
In each room of this great stone castle is a large fireplace, the fires roaring to keep the cold winters at bay. In every room, there are bear hides laid out on the floor for warmth. Just to let the folks know what a badass the king is, there are spears, swords and armor everywhere.
In the great hall sits the throne of the king. Not a throne of stone with jewels carved into it to prove how wealthy the kingdom. It is a large wooden seat of governance where the ruler sits to do the kingdom’s business.
Though this Elsinore is a castle, it is comfortable enough for a king. But no one, not even a king, can be himself here. For this is a place where everything is political. Here Machiavellian things occur. This is a castle where kings and princes, queens and daughters, fathers and sons become corpses.