Weimar: Cranach Presse, 1928. Folio. 204 pp. First edition. From an edition of 255 copies, this is one of 230 printed in red and black on Maillol handmade paper. The text was translated by playwright Gerhart Hauptmann. Printed two years before the English edition, this book is the product of four remarkably talented men. The title was cut by Eric Gill, the seventy-four woodcuts were designed and cut by Edward Gordon Craig, the black letter type was designed by Edward Johnston, and the unusual page layout was designed by the publisher, Count Harry Kessler. The pages are wonderfully complex, with the sources of the play printed in a smaller type in Latin, French, English, and German and wrapped around the text of the play, which is printed in German.
The story of the Cranach Hamlet has as much to do with the unique relationship Edward Gordon Craig had with the play as it does with the vision of Cranach founder Harry Kessler. Craig was the son of actress Ellen Terry, who had played Ophelia opposite Henry Irving in 1878, beginning what is regarded as one of the most significant partnerships in English theater. Irving would later direct Craig himself in the part. The twin trajectories that brought Craig to Kessler's project, however, can be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century. The first was the formation of his concept of the ideal stage. In Fond of Printing, Colin Franklin writes that in 1905 Craig "became absorbed by a concept of drama without script or voice; the elements would be form, light, movement, and perhaps music." At the time, he was working on a staging of Hamlet that he would later co-direct with Konstantin Stanislavsky in 1912, and to aid in the process he constructed figures in plywood that he could move around his model stage, allowing him to explain his directions to the Russian-speaking crew. It was from these plywood models that Craig's "black figures" had their genesis.
It was as a direct consequence of this work on the Moscow Art Theater production that Craig got the idea to create an illustrated edition of the play. He announced plans for his edition in the July 1908 issue of The Mask, the theatrical journal he published for two decades. Craig surmised that Kessler saw the announceement, and following Craig's return from Moscow in 1912, the edition of Hamlet that he had envisioned would take shape under Kessler's guiding hand. It appears that Kessler's ambition was to provide Craig with his ideal stage in the single dimension of the printed page, and so "in order to give [the black figures] an architecturally suitable typographic background a special type was designed by Johnston" (EGC: Designs for the Theatre, 25). According to Franklin, the resulting balance of words and images allows one to see nothing but "black figures, screens, light, and juxtaposition, without the distraction of an actor's voice." Craig the actor had been supplanted by Craig the designer and illustrator; as Franklin notes, "his ideal stage became the Cranach Presse book."
This is a fine copy in an unsigned binding of crimson morocco lettered in gilt on the spine, and with single filet rules on both covers and turn-ins. Housed in a leather-trimmed board slipcase, and housed in a watered silk folding case. Item #30464
(EGC: Designs for the Theater 25; Franklin, pp. 16, 21; Müller-Krumbach 48).