Why does Shakespeare choose Denmark as the setting for Hamlet?



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While references are made in Hamlet to several other lands, including France, Germany, Norway, Poland, and England itself, all of the action in the play occurs in and around Elsinore Castle in Denmark. In Shakespeare’s day (and to this day), there was (and is) an Elsinore in Denmark and a castle in Elsinore, the Kronberg Castle, which houses a Shakespeare museum. Some scholars have speculated that Shakespeare himself had visited Elsinore before he wrote Hamlet, either in his pre-theater youth or as a member of a traveling troupe of actors. The text of the play, however, contains several false statements about Denmark, such as the statements that Denmark has a ‘‘flat’’ terrain and is connected directly by land to Norway, and that Elsinore has no cliffs. Leaving the issue of whether the playwright actually visited Denmark aside, like his fellow Elizabethans, Shakespeare was certainly aware of the Danes, for in the early seventeenth century, Denmark was a commercial rival to England in the lucrative Baltic trade. That being so, Shakespeare’s audiences appreciated the notion that something was ‘‘rotten’’ in Denmark, as well as the disparaging remarks about the Danes and their disposition toward drunken consumption of Rhine wine.

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