The Hour-Glass & Evidence for our Visualisation

Yeats was so heavily influenced by Craig’s screens, he rewrote three of his plays to accommodate them. The rewritten version of The Hour-Glass was staged in The Abbey Theatre in 1912. The language was altered considerably from prose to poetic drama; the screens were the catalyst for its transformation from prose to poetic drama (see Dorn p.117). A one act play which originally had the subtitle “A Morality”, this play is a parable based on a story called “The Priest’s Soul” by Lady Wilde. The characters in the play represent the struggle between reason and intuition, logic and naturalism. A Wise Man is visited by an Angel who makes him confront his rational take on the world and contemplate a different belief system; a fool who believes in the supernatural is juxtaposed with the wise man, and over the course of the play the fool acts as a foil to the measured scientific realism of the wise man. The allegorical nature of the play, and the dichotomy represented by the two main characters is something which could be represented in the stage design.

There is a limited amount of evidence which survives from the 1912 production to help us with our visualisation:

  1. A sketch from Yeats of the original stage plan survives, as well as a detailed description (see Dorn p.125). The stage design described by Yeats himself is minimalist, with a large desk in the centre of the stage, dominating the stage. Two sets of screens were described – creating an almost funnel-like corridor structure, with the front of the stage in the shade, and the corridor curving around toward the light. The dichotomy between darkness and light is striking, and is reflected in our model. Situating the main protagonist in the dark is a highly symbolic gesture; perhaps through his learning and teaching he is trying to reach the light, but it evades him, almost teases him, from around the curved corridor.
  2. A description from Yeats explains: “[…] I have simplified the scenery, having The Hour Glass, for instance, played now before green curtain, now among those admirable ivory-coloured screens invented by Gordon Craig[…]”(see Seskine p.138)
  3. Another reference which corroborates this reference to colour is cited in Taylor who describes the play as having a “symbolic and harmonious colour scheme of olive-green, purple and red-brown against the ivory screens designed by Edward Gordon Craig”(Taylor p.18).
  4. Lighting effects were of seminal importance to both Craig and Yeats; Flannery describes how they both “experimented with light and shade as an active agent in the dramatic action” (Flannery, James W. Visual Arts of the Theatre p.91). Craig’s approach to lighting was revolutionary in that he rejected the rejection of traditional lighting techniques. When he staged Dido and Aeneas in 1900, he “eliminated the traditional footlights of the period, and the effect of that, coupled with his other lighting innovations, created a mystical environment” (Fisher, James) This inspired us to make an effort to incorporate a strong lighting component into the visualisation. It’s especially important given the thematic nature of this play – mysticism and the supernatural are central, and could be represented effectively through lighting.


  • Dorn, Karen. ‘Dialogue Into Movement: W.B. Yeats’s Theatre Collaboration with Gordon Craig’. Yeats and the Theatre. Ed. O’Driscoll, Robert and Reynolds, Lorna. London [etc.]: Macmillan, 1975. 109–137. Print.
  • Fisher, James. ‘“An Idealist”: The Legacy of Edward Gordon Craig’s Formative Productions, 1900-1903’. The Arts Journal: Studies in Scenography and Performance n. page. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.
  • Flannery, James W. ‘W.B Yeats, Gordon Craig and the Visual Arts of the Theatre’. Yeats and the Theatre. Ed. O’Driscoll, Robert and Reynolds, Lorna. London [etc.]: Macmillan, 1975. 82–108. Print.
  • Seskine, Masaru. ‘Noh and Yeats: A Theoretical Analysis’. Ariel 26.4 (1995): n. pag. Print.
  • Taylor, Richard. The Drama of W.B. Yeats: Irish Myth and the Japanese Nó. New Haven ; London: Yale U.P, 1977. Print.


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