about 10 years ago or so I read an essay online that said that the reason why Hamlet talks so badly about the Danish drinking habits is that the Danish king and entourage had recently visited the English court and caused a big scandal by being drunk all the time, and chasing the chambermaids and so forth.

Since Hamlet was written from 1599-1601 by most accounts, it should be in that range or probably a few years before (few enough that people would remember it to make commentary on the stage make sense)

The closest thing to this I could find was Christian IV visiting England in 1614 so not useful https://www.jstor.org/stable/24442725

Can anyone find me such a visit and sources where I can read about it?

Since this question has both literary applicability and historical I am not sure if it would be better here or on the literary stackexchange community - hope I made the right choice.


1 Answer 1


TL;DR: probably there for literary effect.

Wikipedia indicates that Christian IV (regnant 1588-1648) visited England in 1606 and even mentions the drinking. This is later than the first publications of Hamlet.

The visit is chronicled in a text titled:

The most Royall and Hounarable entertainment of the famous and renowned King, Christian the Fourth, King of Denmarke & C. who with a fleet of gallant ships, arrived on Thursday the 16. Day of July 1606 in Tylbery Hope neere Gravesend

You can view a transcribed text at University of Michigan Library, with passages such as on p. 10:

The time of dinner being come, the Garde of our King appointed to giue their attendance, on the Gentleman Sewer, carryed vp his King∣ly vvands, where wanted not any thing, that could possibly be gotten, with Wine and Beere, plentifull, all serued vp in most honourable man∣ner, with the noyse and excellent Musicke of Drummes and Trumpets, which mooued his Highnesse to much delight.

This myrror of esteemed grace and honor, King IAMES, the glory of all Christendome, for receiuing forraine estates, so entertained this pu•sant King his brother, in person accompa∣ning him, in all royall pleasures delighting him, and most plentifully feasting him, as shall neuer be rased out of memory, so long as the world shall haue any being.

Which I take to mean a pretty big party with as much to drink as possible, however, it doesn't mention the drunkeness. I have been unable to find original sources, as this sort of thing wouldn't have been officially chronicled for fear of offending the King (James VI and I of England and Scotland; Christian's brother-in-law). There are a number of sources listed at St. Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research about Christian's 1606 and 1614 visits to England, but I have been unable to find the originals for most.

Now, as this happened after the time of the apparent writing of Hamlet as indicated in the question. From the quartos that are known to exist, there are several versions of Hamlet that exist, with the only complete one (as far as I can tell) being from the 1623 version. The Second Quarto seems to have been editorialized, and lacks the parts on drunkenness according to Griggs and Furnival (1880; see pages IV and V in the foreword, page n15 in link above). The first quarto seems to include the passages (Google digitized scan book at Archive.org, p n19), on drunkenness, so they were there prior to Christian's visit in 1606.

This would probably indicate that they are there for literary effect (though you would need a Shakespearean scholar to confirm; I am certainly not one). Shakespeare-online seems to confirm this view, with the dissipation being an indication of the weakness of Denmark (as the king is the personification of the country), rather than a dig at Denmark and drunken antics. The removal in the second Quarto would seem to confirm this - it would have been offensive to Queen Anne, who was Danish and Christian's sister, at least according to Griggs and Furnival mentioned above. Anne died in 1619, so was gone by the time the 3rd Quarto was published. Though James died in 1625, and I would have thought he might still have found such references offensive as he seemed to love his Anne (had 7 children with her); though by some accounts he was more interested in men than women.

TL;DR: probably there for literary effect.

  • 1
    I think this is probably actually the event that the remembered text was referencing, I seem to remember comments regarding King James, which means I guess that they were wrong that Hamlet's dig at drunkenness actually had anything to do with the Danish king's misbehavior given the date incongruity.
    – user254694
    May 13 at 15:27
  • 1
    @user254694 see added information
    – bob1
    May 13 at 23:22
  • Shouldn't the TL;DR part be at the beginning of the answer?
    – OldPadawan
    May 14 at 2:45
  • @OldPadawan As is traditional on the internet, it generally gets put at the end, but I'll change it just for you.
    – bob1
    May 14 at 4:01
  • @bob1: TL;DR: up & down :D I like that one from our sister stack, didn't even know it could be used at the end; seems appropriate sometimes though :)
    – OldPadawan
    May 14 at 6:27

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