Did Shakespeare know Rosenkrantz?

Rosenkrantz and his wife

Rosenkrantz and his wife

A college professor said Shakespeare’s characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern objected most to faults in others they had themselves.  For some reason, this observation of a common human characteristic stuck with me.  I don’t remember much Shakespeare, but I remember those names.

So when we found ourselves again in Norway’s second largest city Bergen, I was attracted to the Rosenkrantz Tower that guards the harbor.

Erik Rozenkrantz, governor of Bergen Castle, built the five-storied keep in the 1560’s.   I suppose it is quite possible Shakespeare, born in 1564, knew the name.  It is said he based the play in which they appear, Hamlet, on Kronborg, a castle in Denmark.

dscn3752In any case, we found the old tower very interesting.  It is not a huge place.  Erik incorporated an earlier work, “the Keep by the Sea” built around 1270 and repaired in 1520, to create a tower that both served as his residence and a fortification.  Spiral staircases connect various floors topped by a small octagonal tower and onion cupola.

The tower suffered severe damage when a World War II German munitions ship exploded just below it on Hitler’s birthday, 1944.  When the Norwegians restored the tower, they took it back as much as possible to its original 16th century look.

Guard Room

Guard Room

The entrance is through the 1520s gate.  One goes down a few stairs to see where supplies were once brought in from the water.  Nearby is the dungeon.  A guards’ room also is on the first level. Pieces of armor and weapons were on display.

On the second level is a chapel built by King Magnus in the winter of 1273-1274.  It has a large soapstone altar under the remains of a double window.

The third level is said to be the least altered.  Here, Rozenkrantz expanded



King Magnus’ bedchamber and turned it into “the King’s Hall” to be used by the king when he visited.

The fourth level was added on top and became the “Gentlemen’s Hall.”  Sir Erik’s Chamber and Lady Helvig’s Chamber are also on that level.  In Erik’s chamber, one sees an original fireplace with his coat-of-arms and a copy of their tombstone which is at a church in Denmark.

A two-room cannon-loft from which Erik’s guns could command approaches from all sides is under the roof.


Hǻkon’s Hall

Next to the tower is Hǻkon’s Hall, or more accurately, a reconstruction of the hall built by King Hǻkon Hǻkonson between 1247 and 1261.  It is worth seeing.  Indeed, we were visiting it a second time because we wanted Alie’s sister to see it.  But it too was destroyed by the 1944 explosion.  Unlike the Rozenkrantz Tower, however, not much effort was made to recreate the original structure which was repeatedly remodeled over the years.  It has attractive rooms now used for community, educational and private functions.  The Great Hall, thirty-three meters long, thirteen meters wide and seventeen meters high, is particularly attractive.  Nonetheless, we did not feel the same sense of history when in it.

Click on photos to enlarge

P.S.  We asked.  They don’t believe the munition ship explosion on Hitler’s birthday was caused by sabotage.  There is no evidence of that, and there were about 100 Bergen citizens killed and 5000 injured, including many who were blinded



About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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7 Responses to Did Shakespeare know Rosenkrantz?

  1. JohnRH says:

    I hope you see/saw some stavekirche on your visit to Norway. Just don’t light a cigarette! I saw 7 or 8 as I drove from Oslo through Lillehammer to Geiranger and back through the Jotunheimen Mts. in ’92.


  2. ralietravels says:

    We visited one on a previous trip. There is one outside Bergen, but after Bergen we headed north. I think a driving trip such as yours in ’92 would be great.


  3. Anna Cottage says:

    Absolutely fascinating, thank you so much for that.


  4. Keith &Loraine Beckman says:

    Like you, I am familiar a little with Shakespeare and the others but didn’t know that much history until I read your e-mail. always interesting the things you post and again, thank you so much. Love to you both. LK&W


  5. dunelight says:

    Wow…so..there really was a Rosenkranz? Shakespeare was very much a man of his world. Thanks for sharing!


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