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Shakespeare Exhibition at King's College

By exhibiting at King’s College, as part of The World Shakespeare Congress and the Shakespeare400 Festival, Danish HamletScenen contributes to the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the 200th anniversary of the century-long Shakespeare performance tradition at Hamlet’s Castle in Elsinore.

Foto: Sarah Theil Pedersen

The sun is shining bright on King’s College this Friday afternoon. Students saunter down the hallway, causally chatting while making their way out of the building. However, some of them are determinedly headed towards the elevator and the sixth floor. They turn right and walk through a door into a high-ceilinged room. This is where HamletScenen is displaying archive material including photos, texts and films dated all the way back to the 19th century. The varied material illustrates the tradition of performing Shakespeare at Kronborg Castle in Elsinore in Denmark.

“To be or not to be”

Guests walk quietly around the room. Some whisper as they point out pictures of Jude Law, Thure Lindhart and other great actors who have played the famous Danish prince over time. The exhibition oozes history as it narrates how Denmark has been celebrating Shakespeare with a tradition that goes back 200 years.

The performance tradition was initiated in 1816 when a group of Danish soldiers celebrated the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death by performing the play at Kronborg Castle for the very first time in Denmark. The tradition has been carried out every August ever since.

Dr. Anne Sophie Refskou is a lecturer in Theatre and Performance at the University of Surrey and works with global and intercultural Shakespeare Studies. She has been organising the exhibition and explains that the material used offers an insight into important historic events.

“The exhibition uses some extraordinary material from the archive held by HamletScenen - mainly historical photographs and production programmes - to tell a number of stories about the tradition of performing Hamlet at Kronborg Castle in Elsinore. Several of the visiting theatre productions, especially in the twentieth century, took place in contexts of tense international politics, and also often provided occasions for cultural exchange and diplomacy. So, the many productions of Hamlet which have visited Elsinore do not only represent artistic landmarks, but offer glimpses of significant historical moments.”

A timeless tragedy

It comes as no surprise to CEO and Artistic Director at HamletScenen, Lars Romann Engel, that Hamlet continues to be one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.

“Hamlet is such a complex character and that is also why he is quite modern. Normally, when you make modern plays, the characters are very stereotypical. But not Hamlet. He is a very diverse character”.

Furthermore, Anne Sophie Refskou points out that Hamlet has played a vital part in Danish history and national self-understanding.

“The text material in the programmes, often written by major political and cultural figures in Denmark, also demonstrates how Shakespeare’s play about a Danish prince became an important part of Danish national identity, as well as an opportunity for national self-reflection.”

Celebrating Shakespeare

Several guests stop by the exhibition this afternoon. Among them are students at King’s College, but also well-known delegates from the World Shakespeare Congress. There is no doubt that Shakespeare’s work reaches a broad audience – across generations and social diversities.

Lars Romann Engels explains that it means a lot to HamletScenen to be able to illustrate how the special theatre performance tradition of Kronborg Castle has been carried out over the years.

“It is fantastic to be here today. To make people aware of how Denmark can contribute to this special anniversary. And of course to let them know that Denmark has a very special Hamlet tradition.”

Anne Sophie Refskou shares the same opinion and emphasises that the performance tradition might be Danish, but it belongs to the world.

“It is important to stress that the Hamlet and Shakespeare tradition at Kronborg in Elsinore does not belong to the Danes; it is an ongoing intercultural event shared by all of those theatre companies, who have come - and continue to come - to Elsinore from all over the globe. This dialogue between different cultural understandings of Shakespeare is to my mind an essential part of what makes Kronborg and Elsinore so interesting and important.”

Event details

10.00-20.00, Friday 5 - Tuesday 9

Anatomy Museum, Strand Campus, King's College London

Free entry