Hamlet takes place at Elsinore, the home of the royal family of Denmark. The castle is an important part of the play’s overall atmosphere. Because it is dark and full of secret, hidden places, the more sinister aspects of the play—when characters spy on and maim each other—seem as though they remain concealed by the castle itself. In this way, as a location and as an atmospheric actor, Elsinore is an important part of the play’s plot development. The castle is also a dark and dour place, and its physical characteristics seem, in some ways, to reflect the people who live there.
Hamlet is set during the late middle ages, most likely during the 14th or 15th centuries. During this time period, Elsinore was a military stronghold and cultural center. The many visitors who stream in and out of the castle are a clear indication of its relevance to the rest of the nation of Denmark. Perhaps because of this, Elsinore is constantly threatened by enemy forces, especially those of Fortinbras, prince of Norway. The castle is therefore frequently a site of tension and violence. Additionally, because the play is set in a castle and revolves around the royal family, there is a social hierarchy inherent to the setting. The power of respective characters is dependent on their status and relationship to the royal family. The castle setting exacerbates this sense of hierarchy because almost every scene takes place within the physical and social context of the king and queen.