On April 23, 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, M.L. Rio won an Airbnb contest to become the first person to spend the night at Kronburg Castle – more famously known as Hamlet’s Castle – in over a century. One year later, she published her first novel, If We Were Villains, a murder mystery inspired by Rio’s own studies and experiences with Shakespeare in the theater.
The action takes place at a fiercely competitive school where the acting students only perform Shakespeare. Oliver and his friends come to realize that they always seem to play the same roles on stage and off: hero, villain, temptress. But when the casting changes, good-natured rivalries take a sinister turn, and real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. Suddenly, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are innocent.
Read an excerpt from the book, published in April by Flatiron Books.
M.L. Rio shares more about her once-in-a-lifetime experience at Kronburg Castle:
How she won the contest
“The application said ‘submissions in iambic pentameter’ were encouraged, and while I’m fairly sure that part was a joke, writing dumb stuff in iambic pentameter is sort of a hobby of mine, so I thought, why not? I wrote this absurd poem about Shakespeare possibly playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father 400 years ago, submitted it and then completely forgot about it. About two weeks later I was in the middle of writing a term paper, and the phone rang, and it was Denmark on the other end.”
Why it’s called Hamlet’s castle
“Kronborg Castle stands in the Danish town of Helsingør—which anybody who remembers reading Hamlet in high school will probably recognize as a cognate of ‘Elsinore’—which is the setting for most of the play. Hamlet is based on the Scandinavian legend of Prince Amleth, and Elsinore is where Shakespeare decided to set it, probably because the castle was politically significant at the time he was writing. (King James I/VI stayed there with his Danish queen Anne after their marriage in 1590.)”
On what it’s like to be at Elsinore
“If you’ve read Hamlet a few times you feel like you’ve been there before. That’s how well Shakespeare captures the essence of the place. The geography of the play matches the layout of the building perfectly, and he makes the drafty, labyrinthine atmosphere uncannily real. It’s especially remarkable when you consider that he probably never actually went there himself. The attention to detail and depth of imagination is astounding—and I think that’s partly why we’re still talking about this play 400 years later.”