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Literary Escapade : Lisbon, Bookstores and other bookish things

August 16, 2017 23 comments

As promised in my billet Literary Escapade : Lisbon and Pessoa, a little tour of the bookstores and bookish things I saw in Lisbon. I don’t speak Portuguese but I quickly picked up that bookstore is livraria, book is livro and it struck me that the word to say free is livre, the way we say book in French. Yes, books make you free.

There seem to be another connection between Portugal and France when it comes to books. The oldest bookshop in the world is the Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon and Bertrand is a very French name. I wondered how this famous Portuguese literary place could have such a French name. The Livraria Bertrand was founded in 1732, before the great earthquake of 1755. (See Candide by Voltaire) It is not located in the same premises as the ones in 1732 but it’s in the Chiado neighborhood, not very far from the café A Brasileira, where Pessoa liked to go. Pedro Faure started his printing house in 1727, which turned into a bookshop. It became the Livraria Bertrand in 1752 after his daughter married a French gentleman named Bertrand and Faure handed his business to the Bertrand brothers. Voilà, the Livraria Bertrand was born. Of course, I had to visit this marvelous place where a lot of writers used to meet and that has been in the book loving business for almost 300 years. Here’s the side of the store, with the mention of its age and the typical ajulezos.

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The entrance looks like this…

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…and it’s full of dark wood shelves.

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Although I don’t speak Portuguese, I still loved browsing through display tables and see what was pushed towards Portuguese readers. I was delighted to see this edition of the whole collection of Mafalda’s comics for her 50th anniversary.

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Here’s what Livraria Bertrand recommends for the holidays

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or

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Hmm. I’m not sure I want to read Primo Levi when I’m on vacation.

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Seems like the Jane Austen anniversary was celebrated here too. Apparently, they also have these horrible covers where women have no face, only skirts and legs. Where does this strange habit stem from? We have the same ones in France and Anglophone publishers like them too.

Not far from this shop is another literary reference. This shop, Au bonheur des dames must have been a women’s clothes store in the past. Indeed, Au Bonheur des dames is the French title of Ladies’ Paradise.

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Sadly, it is now a Nespresso store and they didn’t put George Clooney’s ads on display, which could have been another version of Ladies’ Paradise… I have seen other bookstores, like this one.

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It looks as old and used as the books it sells. And here’s a former bookstore in Bairro Alto.

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I have seen the sign Pura Poesia on several walls…

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Near Lisbon, in Sintra, there’s a stair named after Lord Byron,

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near the Hotel Lawrence, where he used to stay.

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But the loveliest bookish thing I saw in Lisbon is this book box in the tropical greenhouse Estufa Fria.

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It’s in a little grove in this giant greenhouse

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and you can leave books there for anyone to take. I love these book boxes that bloom in our cities and it was such an improbable place to find one. They remind us that books are meant to be shared.

That’s all folks!

I hope you enjoyed my little bookish tour of Lisbon because I sure had a lot of fun taking all these pictures. (Even if I’ve proven again that photographer is not a career for me)

Literary escapade: Lisbon and Pessoa

August 9, 2017 49 comments

After spending a few days in Lisbon, it’s hard to ignore Pessoa. Lisbon celebrates him everywhere and not just by putting him on T-Shirts for tourists. One of his  favourite cafés, Café Restaurante Martinho da Arcada…

has a plaque on it about Pessoa and the whole restaurant room is decorated with pictures of him.

Another of his favorite cafés, A Brasileira has his statue on their terrasse. You can sit near Pessoa and take a picture.

It reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s statue in Galway.

As a major poet of the 20th century, Pessoa’s body has been transferred to the prestigious Mosteiro dos Jerónimos for the 50th anniversary of his death.

His picture is on the shop window of bookstores

His books are well stocked in bookshops. They even have them in English and in French.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to visit his house, which is now a museum. I would have liked to see his library.

In the Alentejo region, there’s a museum about coffee and Pessoa has his own corner because he embodied the culture of cafés, just like his contemporary generation of writers in Budapest.

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In the end, I like this painting of him by José De Almada Negreiros.

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Now that I’ve seen him everywhere, I suppose I should read him. Yes, I must confess that I haven’t read him…yet. I have The Anarchist Banker on my kindle and I’ll come to it sooner or later. I know I should read The Book of Disquiet but it’s on the Daunting Books List, along with Ulysses, Dom QuixoteMoby Dick, Satantango and others. I’m not sure I’m deep enough to read Pessoa and fully understand The Book of Disquiet. I’m not good with poetry either which doesn’t help but the idea of an anarchist banker intrigues me, though, so I’ll start small with this one.

Have you read anything by him? If yes, what would you recommend? In case, you have reviewed one of his books, please leave a link to your review in the comment section.

PS: Sorry for the poor quality of the photos. I’m afraid that my skills as a photographer have not improved.

 

 

Literary escapade: the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris

January 25, 2017 30 comments

Literary escapade: The Père Lachaise Cemetery.

After visiting the Oscar Wilde exhibition, I wanted to see his grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery and thought it would be a great opportunity to do a little literary tour of the place. I had the chance to do it now even if the weather is grey and freezing. Bundled in a warm parka, equipped with a wool hat and gloves, toasty warm feet in my winter boots, I braved the cold to have a long literary walk in the Père Lachaise. Armed with a map of the cemetery, I started hunting down graves of famous writers. I have to confess that I failed at locating Beaumarchais’s and Gertrude Stein’s graves. I walked around and around but never saw them.

This cemetery was founded in 1804, per Napoleon’s order. He was convinced that everybody was entitled to a decent burial, whatever your religion or lack of. Napoleon’s decision meant that people from different religions would be buried in the same cemetery but also that actors and atheists had the same rights as others. But the Parisians didn’t want to be buried at the Père Lachaise as it was too far from Paris. Now it’s in the 18th arrondissement of Paris but at the time, it was the countryside.

Marketing came to the rescue of political decisions. To entice people to get buried in this cemetery, they built fake graves for Molière, Lafontaine and Heloïse and Abélard, the legendary lovers from the Middle Ages. Molière’s remains are not at the Père Lachaise cemetery, despite what’s written on his tombstone. How could they be? He died in 1673 and as an actor, he was considered as an infidel and banned from a Catholic burial in a Catholic cemetery. His corpse was thrown into the catacombs. See why Napoléon’s decision was relevant to actors?

moliere_lafontaineThanks to the new regulations, the famous actress Rachel (1821-1856) was buried at the Père Lachaise.

rachelShe was a role model for Sarah Bernhard and extremely famous for her interpretation of characters from tragedies.

As I was wandering in the alleys, I noticed big bombastic graves and they often belonged to military heroes. There’s just one step from thinking big ego, big tombstone but who knows if the defunct was aware of the look of his grave. They might have not approved of it. Anyway. These people were worshipped enough in their lifetime to deserve a showy tombstone. All these names are now forgotten, unless they have become street names. I mulled over the unpredictability of immortality and fame. While these men were successful and respected in the society they belonged to, their greatness evaporated through the decades and centuries. And ironically, among the most visited graves are Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s. Both died abroad, away from their families who didn’t want them anymore. Both had fame during their life before getting in trouble with the law. Both died alone and in dire conditions.

And yet. Wilde’s a literary genius. His Importance of Being Earnest is a real gem. He was a gifted and eclectic writer.

dsc_3727Morrison is mostly famous for lighting his fans’ fire but considered himself as a poet. Some of his song lyrics are indeed poems and since songwriters can win the Nobel prize for literature, I decided that Jim Morrison belonged to this literary tour. Both yanked society’s chains and their talent was understated.

dsc_3710My tour led me to the graves of several literary giants from the 19th century.

dsc_3740Alfred de Musset is here and his epitaph says:

Mes chers amis quand je mourrai

Plantez un saule au cimetière

J’aime son feuillage éploré

La pâleur m’en est douce et chère

Et son ombre sera légère

A la terre où je dormirai.

My dear friends, when I die

Plant a weeping willow at the cemetery

I love its mournful foliage

Its paleness is sweet and dear to me

And its shadow will be light

To the earth where I’ll rest.

Always a poet, the dear Alfred and his tomb is neat. Musset is buried alone but not Balzac, who rests with his great love, the countess Hanska.

balzacHis grave includes a sculpture of a book and a quill but his famous coffee pot is missing.  Gérard de Nerval rests opposite to Balzac. His grave is less well kept than Balzac’s and its shape is quite different.

nervalProust’s grave is also a hotspot of the cemetery. It’s a bit strange for such a difficult writer. He shares a grave with his parents, his brother Robert and his sister-in-law. His relatives’ names are written on the sides of the grave.

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I continue with the proustian atmosphere and visited Alphonse Daudet’s grave. He was a writer (one I studied in middle school, I think) but he was also Léon Daudet’s father. Léon was one of Proust’s closest friends. Somewhere in the cemetery is the Greffühle mausoleum.

daudet_greffulheThe comtesse Greffülhe (1860-1952) was a French aristocrat and she inspired the Duchesse de Guermantes, one of the most emblematic characters of In Seach of Lost Time.

Different style, Colette. I thought that her tombstone seems a bit tame for such a flamboyant artist and woman.

dsc_3739I walked a bit to see Paul Eluard’s last home. He’s one of my favourite poets. I though his grave was too gray for the poet who wrote that the earth is blue, like an orange.

dsc_3723I made a little detour to Modigliani’s grave as he’s one of my favorite painters.

dsc_3725Of course it’s not a fancy grave since he was dirt poor. I’m glad Jeanne Hébuterne is buried with him. She threw herself through the window when he died in 1920. Her father never liked her relationship with Modigliani and only accepted in 1930 that her remains be with Modigliani’s.

Other times, other country, Richard Wright’s ashes are at the columbarium. At a corner, I saw this grave, for the Bouquin family.

bouquinIn French, a bouquin is an affectionate and colloquial way to call a book. I don’t think there’s an English equivalent to this word or I’d be glad to know it. Isn’t that fantastic to have bouquin as a surname?

I also walked by Tignous’s grave. He was one of the cartoonists who died during the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015.

tignousHe died because he believed that freedom of speech was worth sacrifices, that it is an inalienable right. In these desolate times where a powerful president would rather tweet opinions instead of sticking to facts, journalists and cartoonists are more than ever necessary. Let’s not forget Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and discover their work ethics here, explained in the LA Review of Books by an American journalist. It is truly an excellent article. And as you can see, Charlie Hebdo has not lost their edge.

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Trump. Let’s give him a chance. *Buttons for choices* Espresso Hot chocolate Black coffee Nuclear bomb

To end this billet on a lighter note, here’s the grave of Victor Noir. (1848-1870)

dsc_3721He was a journalist and he was shot by a relative of Napoléon III. His death became a symbol of the opposition to the Second Empire and the fight for a republic. The recumbent effigy on his grave is supposed to represent him the way he died…erection included. A legend was born and touching his family jewels is supposed to help infertile women to conceive. See how shiny the said parts of his anatomy are compared to the rest of the effigy?

Et voilà! I hope you enjoyed my literary tour of the famous Père Lachaise. Have you been there? If yes, who did you visit?

The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde

December 13, 2016 13 comments

The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde (1888)

Before visiting the Oscar Wilde exhibition in Paris I killed two birds in one stone by reading The Happy Prince and Other Tales. I was immersing myself in a side of Wilde’s work I’d never read and I was progressing on my #TBR20 project. It is a collection of short stories composed of

  • The Happy Prince
  • The Nightingale and the Rose
  • The Selfish Giant
  • The Devoted Friend
  • The Remarkable Rocket

wilde_happy_princeThe Happy Prince is my favourite story. The Happy Prince is a statue of someone who was known for his sunny character. The statue is richly decorated and make the mayor and his clique very proud. Arrives a Swallow who’s stayed behind in Europe instead of flying to Egypt with his friends and family. He was in love with a Reed and was reluctant to leave her. The Happy Prince is no longer happy. He’s very sad because he realised that he had spent a happy life only because he was sheltered in his castle and had no idea of the poverty and misfortunes of common people outside his castle. He now feels terrible and convinces the Swallow to stay and help him right his wrongs.

The Nightingale and the Rose is the story of a Nightingale who sacrifices her life to make a red rose bloom so that a Student desperately in love can conquer the girl he fancies.

The Selfish Giant tells the story of a Giant who closed his garden to the neighbouring children who used it as a playground and as soon as he bans them from their paradise, Winter and his friends take possession of the place.

The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came.

The Devoted Friend is about selfish Hans and his so-called definition of friendship that makes him shamelessly take and take from his friend without never giving anything back in return.

The Remarkable Rocket is the story of a delusional and snooty rocket. He’s part of a fireworks team and he thinks he’s the most beautiful and impressive of the lot until he screws things up. But he’s so full of himself …

“I am not going to stop talking to him merely because he pays no attention. I like hearing myself talk.  It is one of my greatest pleasures. I often have long conversations all by myself, and I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

…that he never realises that people around him see him differently.

I really enjoyed these stories and this is a side of Wilde I didn’t know. There’s an immediate and simple story suitable for children and underlying meanings and comments for adults.

“Shall I love you?” said the Swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the Reed made him a low bow. So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings, and making silver ripples. This was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer. “It is a ridiculous attachment,” twittered the other Swallows; “she has no money, and far too many relations”; and indeed the river was quite full of Reeds. Then, when the autumn came they all flew away.

Isn’t it both poetic and ironic? Since a lot of animals are involved in these tales, a lot of personifications happen. And my native language, French, has genders for everything. And in case of personification, I tend to imagine the animal or the object according to its grammatical gender, even when I’m reading in English. So, for me a Reed or a Nightingale is a He, not a She. A Swallow or Hail is a She, not a He. It is strange the first time I hear about a reed referred to as a she and then I get used to it. If you’re a reader fluent in several languages, does it happen to you too?

I had a great time reading these tales. I didn’t know what to expect but I thought that Wilde showed a gentle caring soul in these tales. In the exhibition about him in Paris, they said he used to read stories to his children when he was there.

After this I started The Importance of Being Earnest.

Literary escapade: Born to be Wilde

December 10, 2016 30 comments

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all. (Oscar Wilde)

It totally agree with that. In Paris, there’s currently an exhibition about Oscar Wilde’s life and work. It is at the Petit Palais, a beautiful building near the Champs Elysées. The Petit Palais was built for the 1900 World Fair and incidentally, 1900 is also the year Wilde died in Paris. The title of this exhibition is Oscar Wilde, l’impertinent absolu. (Oscar Wilde, the ultimate impertinent). It is the first time such an exhibition is organized in Paris and it is well worth visiting.

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It explains very well Wilde’s education and role models, his taste for art, his admiration for Ruskin and his work as an art critic. A room is dedicated to the conferences he did in America. It is on the occasion of this tour that he said his famous phrase:

We have really everything in common in America nowadays, except, of course, language.

He was like a rock star and had his picture taken like a supermodel by the famous photographer Napoleon Sarony. You needed someone named Napoleon Sarony to immortalize the emperor of irony. For the anecdote: these pictures were so famous that they were used without Sarony’s authorization by various publicists. Sarony went to court and his case reached the Supreme Court who judged that photographs should be included in the scope of the copyright law. (1884)

The exhibition describes Wilde as an intellectual well introduced in London’s high society.

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This is A Private View at the Royal Academy by William Powell Frith. (1881) The painter is on the painting with Trollope, Gladstone, Browning, Millais and Wilde. Can you see him on the centre-right, near the lady with the pink dress? Wilde was also well introduced into the Parisian beau monde. But the exhibition does not focus to much on his life as a dandy. His affairs with men are mentioned but so is his marriage to Constance Llyod. Wilde as a husband and a father are displayed. Unfortunately, after Constance’s death, her family destroyed all the letters Oscar Wilde had written to her, so we’re missing out information on their relationship.

His personal life takes a good place in the exhibition but his work is celebrated as well, especially The Happy Prince and Other Tales, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Salomé. It was interesting to read about the reception of these works when they were published, see excerpts of their film version or discover the illustrations of the first editions. (*)

Of course, his trial and subsequent conviction to two years’ hard labour took a significant place. I was surprised to read that Wilde was condemned in 1895 for gross indecency and that it was based on a law that was only voted in 1885. I always assumed it was a very old law that had been unearthed for the occasion. I’m shocked to read such a law was passed so late in the 19thC. That’s the Victorian Era for you, I suppose. No wonder that French prostitutes saw so many British customers that some had calling cards in English.

His detention was very hard, at least at the beginning at the Newgate Prison in London. He did hard labour, was not allowed to read anything but the Bible and it was forbidden to talk to fellow prisoners. Eventually, he was transferred to the Reading Gaol, near London. Isn’t that ironic to put a writer in a prison named Reading Gaol? The absolute silence imposed in the Victorian prisons must have been a personal form of torture to the brilliant conversationalist that Wilde was.

This section of the exhibition ends with a videoed interview of Robert Badinter. He’s a famous French attorney and he was the minister of Justice in 1981. He fought for the abolition of death penalty in France in 1981 and he remains well-known for that. 1981 is also the year the French Parliament voted that homosexuality was no longer a crime.

In this interview, Badinter explains that he studied closely the Wilde trial for a series of conference about law and Justice. He used this example and the one of all the women burnt for sorcery to demonstrate that Justice is relative. It depends on the time and place. Wilde was condemned to two years’ hard work for something that is no longer a crime. According to Badinter, since Justice is relative, it mustn’t pronounce death sentences. The State doesn’t have the right to take the life of people for crimes that might not be crimes in the future or somewhere else. Thought provoking, isn’t it?

This fantastic exhibition ended with a video of Wilde’s grand-son. He speaks French very well and had kind words to say about his grand-father and his work, even if he never knew him. Oscar Wilde, l’impertinent absolu gave a moving portrait of Wilde. It went beyond the funny aphorisms and the dandy costumes to show an intelligent and multifaceted man. I liked that his family life was shown as well, a part of him often ignored. (The French Wikipedia page about him doesn’t even mention that he was married) I thought that the different angles helped discovering this fascinating artist.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

You were definitely pointing at the stars, Mr Wilde. Some imbeciles might have stared at your finger pointing the stars instead of stargazing with you.

Night and Sleep by Evelyn de Morgan

Night and Sleep by Evelyn de Morgan

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(*) I read The Picture of Dorian Gray when I when a teenager and read The Happy Prince and Other Tales and The Importance of Being Earnest before attending this exhibition, so more about this in the coming week.

Literary escapade: Verona

August 16, 2015 16 comments

I swear I’m not trying to visit all the locations Shakespeare used in his play but after Elsinore, I’ve had the chance to visit Verona. Shakespeare never set a foot in Verona but, as everyone knows, made the city famous with Romeo and Juliet. I’m not going to review Romeo and Juliet, I haven’t even reread it, it’s not my favourite play by Shakespeare. Too much teenage drama.

The city of Verona, like Elsinore with Hamlet, takes advantage of the ultra-famous lovers. Shakespeare has several statues in the city and they puzzled our children because he wears an earring (“Mom, do you really think Shakespeare had an earring?”).

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I checked afterwards, not all of Shakespeare’s alleged portraits show an earring. Anyway.

Somewhere in the old city center, there’s Juliet’s house with the famous balcony. It can’t be hers, of course, but it always gives you a sense of place. There are a lot of tourists under her balcony

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I didn’t see any Juliet impersonation saying O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? from the said balcony. Inside the house, they’ve recreated Juliet’s home, see what her bed is supposed to have been:

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Of course, there are lots of love-related gift shops around the place and two walls of graffiti of “X loves Y”. Seems like the way to a man’s heart is his stomach, even for a modern Juliet:

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Do I need to say what my feminist self thinks of this?

Near the river Adige, there’s via Shakespeare, lungadige Capuleti and Juliet’s supposed grave.

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Marketing and imagination do marvels. It’s like a bookworm version of Disney when you see the Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It’s unauthentic as possible but still fun to do.

The real literary thing about Verona is Dante’s statue.

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The great author was exiled in Verona and mentioned the city in The Divide Comedy. 

Literary escapade: Elsinore

July 22, 2015 11 comments

I have seen Hamlet on stage once. It was a modern version where Hamlet ended up naked while Rage Against the Machine was blearing to get you in the mood, I guess. Teenagers had come with their teachers and were giggling at the nakedness. I can’t say it’s my best experience in a theatre. I’m French, so I’ve never studied Shakespeare in school, I discovered his plays by myself afterwards. This probably explains why I thought Elsinore was as real as the Sleeping Beauty’s castle. I assumed that Shakespeare had invented a place, outside of his own country, to be sure not to offend his queen with his plays. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Elsinor actually existed and was a mere thirty minutes away from Copenhagen where I was headed for a long weekend.

So I bought a bilingual edition of Hamlet, brought it with me to Denmark and started to read the play on the way to Elsinore. I love those bilingual editions by Folio. On the left page, you’ve got the original text and on the right page, you have the French translation. You can follow the text line by line, it’s very useful and relaxing as you can switch to French when Shakespearian English becomes too difficult.

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I am not going to review Hamlet. Really, what could I say that has not been said?

066_ElseneurLet’s talk about Kronborg castle in Helsingør (Elsinore in Danish). Kronborg castle was improved by King Frederic II at the end of the 16th century. In 1629, a fire destroyed part of the castle and King Christian IV had it renovated. What we see today in the castle mostly pictures King Christian IV’s times. This means it didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s times but older parts are preserved, like the door on this picture.

I understand that Hamlet comes from a Danish old legend, reported by the French writer François de Belleforest in his book Histoires prodigieuses in 1582. Then Thomas Kyd made a play out of Belleforest’s tale and it gave Shakspeare the idea to write Hamlet. This explains why it’s set in Denmark and Kronborg was, in Shakespeare’s times, where the King of Denmark used to live. It is established that Shakespeare never set a foot in Elsinore but Shakespeare has his sculpture engraved in the castle’s wall anyway. And the marketing team at Kronborg castle plays the Shakespeare card as much as possible. They organise Shakesperian tours on the premises.

084_Elseneur_Shakespeare085_Elseneur_ShakespeareAs for me, I like to imagine that Shakespeare had at least seen paintings or drawings of Elsinore or that he had read about it. Here’s the terrace where Hamlet is supposed to have met with his father’s ghost.

082_ElseneurAnd here’s a general view of the castle. Even if Shakespeare never went to Elsinore, it’s still a nice visit to do and a great opportunity to read Hamlet.

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