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Amlet, a Scandinavian Legend

By Isabel Smith-Bernstein

Saxo Grammaticus wrote many books of the “Gesta Danorum” (“Deeds of the Danes”), an extremely patriotic work of Danish history. It is sixteen books long and written in Latin (which Shakespeare would have been able to read) and is not considered mythology but the glorious history of Denmark. It is unclear what Saxo’s sources were for his material. 

Amlet is the harsh tale of two Scandinavian brothers, Hardvendel and Fenge, who are the governors of Jutland under King Rorik. Hardvendel comes back from killing vikings and marries Rorik’s daughter, Gerut (Gertrude). Gerut bares a son, Amleth. Fenge is extremely jealous, which drives him to murder his brother. Once Harvendel is dead, Fenge pursues Gerut and convinces her to marry him. Amleth grows up afraid of being murdered, so he pretends to be a fool and speaks only truth-telling riddles to protect himself. After Amleth slays an eavesdropper dispatched by Fenge, he is sent to Britain with a letter ordering his death. Amleth guesses the plan and changes the wooden tablets to read that the two attendants he is traveling with should be murdered instead. Amleth accumulates wealth in England and then moves back to Denmark just in time for a feast—which turns out to be his own funeral. Amleth enters the feast disguised as a fool and then takes his vengeance. During the feast, he gets the courtiers extremely drunk and fastens them down over the wooden hangings of the hall with sharpened pegs and sets fire to the palace. Amleth is sure to run Fenge through with his own sword. When this is done, Amleth is proclaimed king

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