Arend Evenhuis, Hamlet woont hier niet, en andere luchtkastelen (Baarn: Uitgeverij de Prom, 1999). ISBN 90-6801-613-X.

 Review

 In eight short essays, Arend Evenhuis, arts editor of the Dutch newspaper Trouw, provides a witty account of several journeys made to geographical locations that have become famous through lite­ra­ry fiction. He visits Troy in search of the wooden horse, travels to Emma Bo­vary's boring Yonville, goes in search of Don Quix­ote's La Man­cha, stops at Bodenwerder, the al­leged birth­place of the Baron of Münchhausen in Lower Saxony, searches for the roots of Till Owlglass in Flanders, and, for reasons that should be obvious to Shakespeareans, writes about his sojourn at Verona and Helsingør.

          To Evenhuis, one of the most remarkable sights in Verona is the Via Shakespeare, a run-down alley on the wrong side of the river Adige, be­hind the convent of Francesco al Corso, which houses the tomb of the Capulets. The tomb itself has the appearance of a heavily damaged bathtub because generations of tourists have taken away their own piece of granite to be converted into special jewellery. Evenhuis also reports on the Club di Giulietta which receives and answers thousands of letters addressed to Juliet, who, to people worldwide, seems to combine the roles of the Virgin Mary and the modern agony aunt. It comes as no sur­­­prise that the odd fo­reign correspondent in turn develops a crush on one of the secretaries of the Club, and that, to prevent further disaster, this correspondent must be prudently reminded of the rules of the game. Evenhuis is intrigued by the Casa di Giulietta in the Via Capello, the interior of which cannot be vi­sited, and by the chocolate candy sold in cellophane wrappers as the “kisses of Juliet” and the “sighs of Romeo.” Overlooking the town from the Lamberti tower, the author feels he understands everything about the youngsters' passion “for one another, for their own and for Shake­speare's town.”

          Visiting Castle Kronenburg, Evenhuis is struck by the influence of Dutch architecture on the edifice. He meets the Lord of the Castle, John Zilmer, who turns out to be quite a character. It is Zilmer's sceptical remark to a South-Korean film crew that provided Evenhuis with the title for his book. According to Zilmer, Shakespeare had visited Helsingør and acted there, and then he needed an exotic loca­tion for his tragedy. Shakespeare's choice of Helsingør for the play, he argues, was inspired by the same objective that made him reject options like The Merchant of Liverpool and The Two Gentlemen of Manchester. But what is so exotic about “Helsingør's nye steakhouse Ophelia,” or ”Ophelia's Fiskesuppe” on their menu? With her underwater career in Shake­­speare's play, Ophelia has given her name not just to a brand of fish soup, but also to the marine research vessel of the Biological Laboratory of Helsingør, and to the laboratory's journal. In the face of such prolifer­ation, one might be prepared to read into Hamlet's last words a wish rather than a statement of fact, when he said that “Det Øvrige er Tavshed.”

          This booklet is a series of revised newspaper contributions, put together for the holiday season. It aims to be entertaining, and, with a proper measure of irony, manages to err on the safe side. Arend Evenhuis's journeys were un­der­taken to expose the ways in which literary texts may, and more of­ten than not do, falsify reality, or how, on oc­ca­sion, life imitates art rather awkwardly. Obviously, for a proper appreciation of this process the author should know his Shakespeare, and try not to generalize, as when he states that nearly every play of Shakespeare's begins like Romeo and Juliet, with the exile of the hero. Why not treat the reader to a discussion of the issue of the “sun in russet mantle clad” rising above an “eastern hill” that is invisible from the battlements of the castle at Helsingør? Why suggest that Hamlet (who in the play raves against his uncle's bibulousness) would have liked the local brand of Wiibroe beer?

          Despite the vast potential of the book's topic, there is little or no concern in Hamlet does not live here for those in­stances where the rela­tionship be­tween the fictio­nal text and geographical reality might be of a different kind. One wonders indeed how the author would ex­­pe­rience and dis­cuss Hardy's Dor­set and his Wessex novels, where the cor­respondence be­tween fact and fiction tends to be rather closer than is the case in Shakespeare's plays. Also, one imagines that any­one interested in the after­life of Romeo or Juliet or Ham­let or Ophe­lia might also wish to learn about Shakespeare's own geo­graphical quirks, including the fact that Bohemia has a sea coast in The Winter's Tale. If Shakespeare, as also the choice of the title for this Dutch collection suggests, can be expected to sell, why not take the plays more seriously? Why not explore the topic of topography further?

Ton Hoenselaars

 

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