Theatre Designer: Edward Gordon Craig (1872 - 1966)

Theatre Designs, Realised and Unrealised

2.  Hamlet

3. Craig's Ibsen

4.  Hamlet

Hamlet, 1912
Edward Gordon Craig was a pioneer of modern theatre design who produced little on the stage. He became a “hermit visionary” whose belief in the imaginative power of lighting and the beauty of harmonious form greatly influenced Peter Brook. For Stanislavski’s 1912 production of Hamlet at the Moscow Art theatre, he planned to drape Claudius and Gertrude in a cloak that flowed over the entire stage; the sycophants of the court were to poke through the fabric, their golden mantles reflecting on gilt walls; sliding screens would effect scene changes. Brook called him “an inspiration and a warning”

5. Acis

6.   Craig as Hamlet

7.  Cymbeline



Edward Gordon Craig
Edward Gordon Craig (1872 - 1966)

Date: ca 1910
Photographer: Unknown

2.    Edward Gordon Craig's design for Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Moscow Arts Theatre.  Performed 1911 in Moscow.

Date: 1908
Photographer: Unknown

3.     Edward Gordon Craig's design for Act 2 of Ibsen's Vikings at Helgeland, performed in 1907

Date: 1903
Photographer: Unknown.

4.    Edward Gordon Craig's design for Stanislavski's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Moscow Arts Theatre.  Performed 1912 in Moscow.

Date: 1908
Photographer: Unknown

5    Costume design for Acis and Galatea by Edward Gordon Craig.

Date: 1902
Original Publication: Shaw, Martin and Craig, Edward Gordon (1902). Souvenir Acis and Galatea, Masque of Love.

6.    Edward Gordon Craig as Hamlet at the Olympic Theatre..

Date: 1897
Photographer: Unknown

7.    Edward Gordon Craig as Arviragus in Cymbeline, Lyceum Theatre.

Date: 1896
Photographer: Unknown

Edward Gordon Craig (1872 - 1966)

Edward Henry Gordon Craig, sometimes known as Gordon Craig, was an English modernist theatre practitioner; he worked as an actor, director and scenic designer, as well as developing an influential body of theoretical writings. Craig was the son of revered actress Dame Ellen Terry.

The illegitimate son of the architect Edward Godwin, Craig was born Edward Godwin in Stevenage.  Baptised at age 16 as Edward Henry Gordon. He took the surname Craig by deed poll at age 21.

Craig spent much of his childhood (from the age of eight, in 1889 to 1897) backstage at the Lyceum Theatre, where his mother was the leading lady to actor Sir Henry Irving.  Craig later wrote a vivid, book-length tribute to Irving.

In 1893 Craig married Helen Mary (May) Gibson, with whom he had four children: Rosemary, Robin, Peter and Philip. With his lover, the violinist Elena Fortuna Meo (1879–1957) he had two children.

With his lover, the dancer Isadora Duncan, Craig had a daughter, Deirdre (1906–13), with his lover, the poet Dorothy Nevile Lees, Craig had a son, David Lees (1916–2004). Craig lived in straitened circumstances in France for much of his life and was interned by German Occupation forces in 1942. He died at Vence, France, in 1966, aged 94.

Craig asserted that the director was 'the true artist of the theatre' and, controversially, suggested viewing actors as no more important than marionettes. He designed and built elaborately symbolic sets; for instance, a set composed of his patented movable screens for the Moscow Art Theatre production of Hamlet. He was also the editor and chief writer for the first international theatre magazine, The Mask.

He worked as an actor in the company of Sir Henry Irving, but became more interested in art, learning to carve wood under the tutelage of James Pryde and William Nicholson. His acting career ended in 1897, when he went into theatrical design.

Craig's first productions were Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Handel's Acis and Galatea (both inspired and conducted by his lifelong friend Martin Shaw, who founded the Purcell Operatic Society with him to produce them), and Ibsen's The Vikings at Helgeland. The production of Dido and Aeneas was a considerable success and highly influential in reviving interest in the music of Purcell. Craig concentrated on keeping his designs simple, so as to set-off the movements of the actors and of light, and introduced the idea of a 'unified stage picture' that covered all the elements of design.

After finding little financial success in Britain, Craig set out for Germany in 1904. In 1908, Isadora Duncan introduced Craig to Constantin Stanislavski, the founder of the Moscow Art Theatre, who invited him to direct their famous production of Hamlet with the company, which opened in December 1911. After settling in Italy, Craig created a school of theatrical design with support from Lord Howard de Walden, the Arena Goldoni in Florence.

Craig was considered extremely difficult to work with and ultimately refused to direct or design any project over which he did not have complete artistic control. This led to his withdrawal from practical theatre production.   His later career is remarkable for how little he achieved after the age of forty, during a long period of over fifty years.

Craig's three visionary principles

Craig's idea of using neutral, mobile, non-representational screens as a staging device is probably his most famous scenographic concept.

In 1910 Craig filed a patent which described in considerable technical detail a system of hinged and fixed flats that could be quickly arranged to cater for both internal and external scenes. He presented a set to William Butler Yeats for use at the Abbey Theatre in Ireland, who shared his symbolist aesthetic.

Craig’s second innovation was in stage lighting. Doing away with traditional footlights, Craig lit the stage from above, placing lights in the ceiling of the theatre. Colour and light also became central to Craig’s stage conceptualizations.

The third remarkable aspect of Craig’s experiments in theatrical form were his attempts to integrate design elements with his work with actors. His 'mise en scène' sought to articulate the relationships in space between movement, sound, line, and colour. Craig promoted a theatre focused on the craft of the director – a theatre where action, words, colour and rhythm combine in dynamic dramatic form.

All of his life, Craig sought to capture. pure emotion. or 'arrested development' in the plays on which he worked. Even during the years when he was not producing plays, Craig continued to make models, to conceive stage designs and to work on directorial plans that were never to reach performance. He believed that a director should approach a play with no preconceptions.

For further information on Symbolism in the Theatre, in relation to the work of Appia and Craig, please follow this LINK.

[Text based, in part, on Music and the Art of the Theatre and A Revolution in Stage Design: Drawings and Productions of Adolphe Appia by Fosco Lucarelli, with other texts in the public domain.]