This promptbook of Macbeth, annotated inconstantly over more than a half-century by actor, producer, and scene designer Edward Gordon Craig, charts the departure of Craig's exacting and idiosyncratic vision from the normative stagecraft of his day. The volume is, in Craig's own description, 'a waste paper basket' heavily marked and interleaved, often with pieces of scrap paper, full of the innumerable questions, guessings, even contradictions which accrued over the course of his career. His dramatic methods, which favored poetic, symbolic abstractions over the careful imitation of reality, were intended to raise theatre to the level of a visual art, with the stage manager as its overruling genius.
But Craig's insistence on artistic supremacy won him few allies, especially among less tractable actors who were unwilling to subordinate their own inspiration to his. And his innovative set designs, in straining after “apparent impossibility,” often proved impractical to realize. Craig turned increasingly to drawings and print to expound his ideas, as is evident in these pages. In the scene exhibited here, Craig exaggerates the witches’ cavern into a fantastic volcanic crater where as many as sixty witches labor around a cauldron. Characteristic of his experiments with light and color, a shaft of rose-tinted limelight shines upward through the smoke and steam billowing from beneath the stage. At the bottom of page 331, his commentary on “boil and bake” includes a stab at the realism of George Bernard Shaw, whose plays Craig claimed “cared not to be as unreasonable” as these words suggest.
Each of Craig’s additions or revisions is scrupulously dated, offering a chronology of his evolving interpretation of the scene. In 1938, he appears to have abandoned this elaborate scenario altogether, preferring instead to “play the whole scene not to the ‘scale of dragon’ but to the scale of the ‘eye of newt’.” Through all this “toil and trouble,” these marginalia—and promptbooks in general—enable scholars to reconstruct the development of Craig’s influential ideas as well as discern some of the critical debates that raged in his time.