Like Britain and France, like Japan and Korea, like Good and Evil, the history between Sverige and Danmark has been amicable, humanitarian, and surprisingly unsanguine. That’s why the copper canons at Kronberg, Helsingør are entirely for decoration.
Helsingør – Elsinore – 4km across the precipitously deep Øresund (“THE sound”) from Helsinbørg: a familiar location to Shakespeare fans, for here is where Hamlet saw a ghost and all manner of meanings topsy-turvied, and two of Tycho’s cousins went from bit part to starring role.
(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were two relatively well-known households in the days of the Brahe ascendancy, and related to King Frederick II.)
But I’m surprised more people don’t know the older story of Elsinore and her cyborg twin, Elsinborg.
A millenia before nation-state boundaries distinguished the two sides of the sound, the talented young Elsinore found herself the target of sundry suitors. Some said the preternatural girl was a demi-offspring of Wodin, some said she was Vanir blood. The trolls sang her praises in the whistling winds through the fir and spruce that swept down the salt seas from the north to the briny Baltic in the south, their moss-coated heads rippling with the deep baritone of the earth.
But Elsinore knew the weaknesses of men, and thought to teach everyone a lesson about respect and authenticity. So with the bracken limbs of dead birch and nets of pampas grass, she waded into the Øresund and captured a time-traveling sea bream, constructed of discarded plastic toys and other unwanted trash.
She entreated the trapped fish to teach her engineering, and she constructed a cyborg in her own likeness. Setting up Helsinbørg in her place, she studied the wooing habits of the love-blind land barons. To her unsurprise, their affections remained constant and undisturbed: she knew this to be their shallow attraction to her comeliness, and that none of them valued her for her essence, for her cooking, for her intellect, for her collection of cicada shells, not even for her time-bending mastery over pear-shaped atomic nuclei.
So in a fit of rage, she flipped the switch and Helsinbørg breathed forth a wicked concoction of liquid nitrogen and froze all of the suitors. Then one by one she shattered them, using a plastic hammer she borrowed from the composition of the Yodogawa-style bream. All but one, who winked at her, despite his frigid condition.
Too late, she realized this one slender youth had been true and sincere in his professions of love. So she spared him, and set him upon the docks near Kronberg where he remains.
In her sorrow, she banished Helsinbørg from her presence for fear that she would be tempted to utilize her power. Helsingør grew around her as a city of culture and canons and castles, while Helsinbørg became much more industrial (as you might imagine would have happened).
Of course I did attend a play inside the castle grounds. I missed the Nordic opera Hamlet: In Absentia by one day, but I did get to see Two Gentlemen of Verona set in the 1960s. Vinyls replaced the letters, and there was a musical shift mirroring the decade’s progression from first to second half. They went with the ambiguous version of the tricky ending.
PSYCO-PATH, I mean PROTEUS
Bear witness, Heaven, I have my wish for ever.
And I mine.
Julia’s final line is delivered not as a sated happy bride, but as a weary, cynical and perhaps guilty Elsinore. The play closes not when the men leave the stage, but when they huddle together, and Julia picks up the nearly ravaged Sylvia, and the two share a powerful rendition of All Around is Sorrow.
Now, perhaps more people will recall that Ophelia didn’t jump in the Øresund. She instead went with a net of woven twigs and grass in hopes of catching that still-floundering unfound fish.
Good night, sweet protector of Danmark.