Hamlet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Why did Hamlet choose Denmark as the setting of the play? What was the political situation at the time which made Denmark so significant?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It's generally acknowledged by scholars that Shakespeare's main source material for Hamlet was a thirteenth-century Norse legend by Saxo Grammaticus called Gesta Danorum (in English, Deeds of the Danes). The legend recounts the rise and fall of successive Danish rulers. One of these was Amleth, generally thought to be the inspiration for the character of Hamlet. As in Shakespeare's play, Amleth's father is murdered by his brother. And just like Hamlet, Amleth feigns madness and seeks revenge over his wicked uncle.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses the original source material to provide a commentary on contemporary English, rather than Danish, politics. When he wrote the play around 1600, the long, illustrious reign of Queen Elizabeth I was coming to an end. As the Queen's health declined, thoughts inevitably turned to the question of succession. Shakespeare is keen to stress that any future handover of power should be as smooth as possible to protect the stability of the kingdom. His interpretation of Gesta Danorum represents a salutary warning of the dangers of effecting sudden political change through violence, a theme that he would later develop further in Macbeth.

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hi1954 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I assume you mean why did Shakespeare choose Denmark as the setting for Hamlet.  He did so because the historic events the play was based on occured in Denmark. Helsingore, Denmark is about 30 miles north of Copenhagen, surrounded by the Sound (the body of water lying between Denmark and Sweden). This is the site of Kronborg Castle, the setting of the events of Hamlet. The city's history can be traced back to about AD 70, although it was mostly a marketplace and not a city per se until the 12th century.

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