Did Shakespeare meet Christian IV of Denmark?
From mid-July to mid-August 1606 Christian IV of Denmark made a state visit to England. In August 1606 a masque titled The Two Kings’ Entertainment was performed at court for two kings: James I and his brother-in-law Christian IV of Denmark. The Danish king was entertained by plays and banquets during his visit to England in 1606. Christian IV was the brother of James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, and his state visit lasted for four weeks. In addition to masques at court, plays by Shakespeare were performed by the King’s Men and sermons were given by Lancelot Andrewes at Hampton Court Palace. In July 1606, the King’s Men had performed twice before the two kings, James I of England and his brother-in-law Christian IV, at Placentia Palace in Greenwich.
A range of other festivities were devised for the Danish king, who was known to employ several English musicians at his court and to enjoy banquets and lavish entertainments. He was also known for his ability to consume copious amounts of alcohol which scandalised even the most enthusiastic drinkers in the English court. The Earl of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, entertained the two kings at Theobalds House in Hertfordshire and rumours soon spread about the alcohol-fuelled events. A masque of Solomon and Sheba was attempted but, according to Sir John Harrington, ‘the entertainment and show went forward, and most of the players went backward, or fell down, wine did so occupy their upper chambers’.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare refers to similarly excessive festivities in the court of the new Danish king, Claudius. There the ‘heavy-headed revel’ was a custom which, according to Hamlet, was ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance’:
[A flourish of trumpets, and ordnance shot off, within]
What does this mean, my lord?
The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.
Is it a custom?
Ay, marry, is’t:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honoured in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and taxed of other nations.
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition. And indeed it takes
From our achievements, though performed at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth (wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin)
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion
(Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason),
Or by some habit that too much o’er-leavens
The form of plausive manners—that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star,
His virtues else, be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo,
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. The dram of evil
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.
(Act 1 Scene 4)
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