Perchance to dream

24 Jul
Movie poster - Ethan Hawke in "Hamlet"

Movie poster - Ethan Hawke in "Hamlet"

The indie movie on last night’s Reel 13 (on Channel Thirteen): Ethan Hawke as Hamlet (2000), set in modern NYC.

I loved it. Glad I hadn’t read the reviews on IMDB first, although I’m gaining more discernment from them. That’s the prelude to a second watching.

Because of my very limited experience of European travel, Denmark has a special place in my heart: I was there for the 2004 annual conference, in Copenhagen, of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.

Elsinor Castle in Denmark

Elsinor Castle in Denmark

Given that this version of Hamlet is set in New York City, the state of Denmark becomes the Denmark Corporation. Much of the action takes place in the Hotel Elsinor. The post-conference event in 2004 was a trip up the coast for the summer solstice / Sankt Hans celebration . We stopped for a few moments at the real Elsinor Castle, which we could see only from the outside. (Shakespeare, reportedly had never been there, or to Denmark).

Witch in effigy, atop a Danish Sankt Hans bonfire

Witch in effigy, atop a Danish Sankt Hans bonfire

Hamlet‘s three-witches scene, sadly, is missing from the Ethan Hawke film. Although Sankt Hans Day refers to the feast day of John the Baptist, the celebration has pagan roots. The Christian contribution, apparently, was to make the bonfire about burning a witch in effigy.

Sankt Hans bonfire, witch in flames

Sankt Hans bonfire, witch in flames

The bonfire on Denmark’s coast reminded me of a custom that delighted me as a child near Boston—a public bonfire on the beach (no witch effigies involved, as far as I recall). I believe it was for the Fourth of July, but I could be wrong…maybe it was the solstice. Given Boston’s high proportion of Irish descendents, I suspect those bonfires traced more to Celtic roots…although midsummer bonfires are culturally widespread: a Wikipedia article on midsummer mentions bonfires in several dozen different countries in both Europe and the Americas. Swedish expats in NYC reportedly celebrate Sankt Hans Day (or eve) in Battery Park. Even the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft celebrates midsummer with bonfires!

One Response to “Perchance to dream”


  1. “Hamlet” and hamlets « - April 14, 2012

    […] I set aside the obvious Shakespearean association for the present (I’d blogged earlier about Hamlet anyway), and thought about lowercase “hamlet.” Could it be a clue to where I should go […]

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