Edward Henry Gordon Craig, OBE

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Edward Henry Gordon Craig (Godwin), OBE

Birthplace: Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Death: Died in Vence, Département des Alpes-Maritimes, Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward William Godwin and Dame Ellen Terry
Husband of May Craig
Partner of Elena Fortuna Meo and Dorothy Nevile Lees
Father of Rosemary Craig; Robin Craig; Peter Craig; Philip Craig; Ellen Gordon Craig and 3 others
Brother of Edith Ailsa Geraldine Craig

Occupation: stage designer
Managed by: Malka Mysels
Last Updated:

About Edward Henry Gordon Craig, OBE

English scene designer, producer, and actor Edward Henry Gordon Craig was one of the great, if controversial, innovators of the modern theatre movement.

He was born Edward Godwin on January 16, 1872 in Hertfordshire, England, the illegitimate son of the architect Edward Godwin and Ellen Terry, one of the most revered actresses of the English stage. He was 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 8 in 1889 to 1897) backstage at the Lyceum Theatre, where his mother was the leading lady to actor Sir Henry Irving. Craig's own stage career began at the age of 12 when he appeared as a gardener's boy with his mother at Irving's Lyceum Theatre. At 17 he was accepted into the Irving company, and for the next ten years Craig's primary interest was in acting.

Despite Craig's successes as an actor, he ended that career at the age of 25. Part of the reason for this early retirement was Craig's belief that his idol, Henry Irving, personified the best in acting and that he, Craig, could contribute nothing more to the stage than a copy of Irving's style. From his mentor Craig had learned valuable theater lessons such as strict discipline in rehearsal; thorough rehearsal for a production including the actors, the lighting, and the technical elements; and attention to detail. Although these things seem standard today, they were innovations to early 20th-century theater.

Another reason that Craig left acting was his distaste for realism - the imitation of life - which was the predominant style of the period. As early as 1893 Craig had begun to experiment with music and woodcuts retaining only dominant forms and masses. He believed that art was not an imitation of life but rather an expression of the inexpressible.

Surprisingly, Craig's first work as a director, No Trifling with Love (1893), at the Uxbridge Town Hall, was executed in the style of historical realism. However, by 1899 he had developed his own form of theater which he displayed in his first major work, a production of Dido and Aeneas. This innovative production took eight months of rehearsal, included a cast of 80, introduced totally new lighting techniques, and completely broke from the realistic tradition. Designed, directed, and choreographed by Craig, the production evoked atmosphere and emotion rather than simply revealing time and place.

In Craig's next production, The Masque of Love (1901), he continued to develop his style, using three large cloths as the basis of the entire set and sacks stitched together for the costumes - again simplicity and mass created the entire illusion.

Edward Gordon Craig's practical work was not extensive, yet it helped to revolutionize the theater's growth in this century. In 1902 he directed and designed Handel's Acis and Galatea; in 1903 he presented Bethlehem and two productions which his mother acted in and produced, The Vikings and Much Ado about Nothing.

For several years Craig collaborated with other theater innovators, including Otto Brahm, Max Reinhardt, and Eleanora Duse. One of his most famous projects was a co-production with Stanislavsky (perhaps the most influential theater director/actor of the 20th century) of Hamlet (1912). This production, known primarily for its revolutionary setting of large moving panels, perhaps reveals the reasons that Craig left the practical theater world.

Aside from his difficulties with personality conflicts (Craig was known as an eccentric), his ideas were far ahead of his time. He believed in the director as the ultimate creator, one who must initiate all ideas and bring unity to a production. He created the idea of the actor as "ubermarionette," whose movement was not psychologically motivated or naturalistic, but rather symbolic. The actor should be like a mask for the audience to interpret. Finally, he introduced a new stagecraft - one based on the magic of imagination rather than on everyday details.

If Craig's actual work was limited, and sometimes impractical because of technical limitations, his writing was prolific. In 1898 he launched the theater journal The Page; in 1908 The Mask (until 1929); and from 1918 to 1919 he wrote The Marionette. He also published The Art of the Theatre (1905), On the Art of the Stage, Towards a New Theatre, Scene, The Theatre Advancing, and Books and Theatres, as well as biographies of Henry Irving and his mother.

Craig's work in the theater and his writings have influenced many of the 20th century's innovators, including Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, and Brecht. He continued to be a source of inspiration for many years - many of the ideas that he developed in the early part of the 20th century were not realized on the stage until the 1980s. Edward Gordon Craig died at the age of 94 in 1966.

Personal Life

In 1893 Craig married May Gibson, with whom he had four children: Rosemary, Robin, Peter and Philip. With his lover Elena Meo he had two children, Nelly (1904–1975) and Edward Carrick (1905–1998; an art director of British films). With his lover, the dancer Isadora Duncan, Craig had a daughter, Deirdre (1906–13), who drowned at the age of seven. With his lover, the poet Dorothy Nevile Lees, Craig had a son, David Lees (1916–2004), a noted photojournalist.

Craig died at Vence, France, on July 29, 1966, aged 94.

Sources: Women in History, Wikipedia, Answers

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Edward Henry Gordon Craig, OBE's Timeline

January 16, 1872
Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom
January 11, 1904
Age 31
January 3, 1905
Age 32
London, Middlesex, England, United Kingdom
September 24, 1906
Age 34
Age 45
Pisa, Provincia di Pisa, Toscana, Italia
July 29, 1966
Age 94
Vence, Département des Alpes-Maritimes, Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France