Dives and Lazarus

Anon. (1570?)

Historical Records

Correspondence of Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria

A performance of the play is mentioned in a letter, dated 20/22 February 1608, written by the Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria to her brother the Archduke Ferdinand (later Emperor Ferdinand II). The letter describes the English players visiting Graz during Fasching celebrations. The performance in question would have taken place on 18 February 1608:

umb 5 sein mir nacher wider zu dem essen gangen und haben die Engellender wider ein Comedi gehalten von dem reichen mann und von dem Lazaruß: ich khon E.L. nit schreiben, wie schön sy gewest ist, dann khein pissen von puellerey darin gewest ist, sy hat eines recht bewegt, so woll haben sy aggiert; sy sein gewiß woll zu passieren für guete Comedianten.
After the performance we again had dinner at five o'clock and the English players gave another play about the Rich Man and Lazarus: I cannot tell you, my dear, how pleasurable that was, not the least little bit of love-making in it, and we were all deeply moved they had acted it so well. There is no doubt about it, they really are good actors.
(Morris, 14, 19; cf. Murad 7)

The original letter is preserved at the Austrian State Archives in Vienna: Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Hausarchiv, Familienkorrespondenz A, box 6 (AT-OeStA/HHStA HausA Familienkorrespondenz A 6), fols. 312–15. A facsimile of the letter was presented to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (DR191).

Lists of Performances in Dresden

4 December 1626

The title appears in a list of plays performed by English actors at Dresden from May to December 1626:

Decemb. 4    [Dresten]     Ist eine Tragoedia vom reichen Mann gespielt worden. (Tragedy of the rich man.)
(Cohn, cxvi)

Cohn's authority was a "catalogue" recorded by "an officer of the Dresden Court." His footnote reads: "I am indebted for this valuable communication to Mr. Moritz Fürstenau of Dresden. The catalogue, which is written by the above-mentioned officer, is in an Almanac, published by Mag[ister] Johannes Kretzschmer, 8vo" (Cohn, cxiv). (See "For What It's Worth" below.)

17 October 1646

The title appears again in a record of court performances in Dresden "Hofkalendern" or court calendars (Fürstenau 106):

Den 17. October gegen Abends haben die Erfurter Springer in der Riesenstube eine Tragödie vom reichen Manne und armen Lazaro agirt und hernach eine Mascarade von 2 Personen und ein Bauerntanz von 6 Peronen getanzt.
(Fürstenau 108)

Theatrical Provenance

Performance records indicate that a play (or plays) on the biblical narrative of the rich man and Lazarus was performed by English actors at Graz on 18 February 1608 and at Dresden on 4 December 1626 and 17 October 1646. On the speculative date of 1570, see "Critical Commentary" below.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The play was almost certainly based on Luke 16:19-31, the biblical story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man (dives in Latin). In the story, the rich man lives luxuriously while Lazarus starves at his gate. When they both die, Lazarus ascends to heaven to the side of Abraham and the rich man goes to hell. Abraham rejects the rich man's pleas for succor: "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented" (16:25). Abraham also denies the rich man's request that someone be sent from the dead to inform his sons: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (16:31).

The story was well known in the early modern period and several ballads on the subject are recorded in Stationers' Register entrances.

  • 1557-58: "a ballett […] of the Ryche man and poore lazarus" (Liber A, fol. 22v; cf. Arber 1:76)
  • 1570-71: "a ballett dyves & lazerus" (Liber A, fol. 202v; cf. Arber 1:436)
  • 1580: "A godly newe ballad taken out of ye .16. chapter of St Lukes gospell of ye Riche man yt Demanded a Reckoninge of his Steward, & also of ye Riche dives & poore Lazarus" (Liber B, fol. 171v; cf. Arber 2.376)
  • 1583: "A ballad intituled A message of Newes sent from the highe courte of heaven sent latelie by Lazalus [sic] prince of povertie vnto all his lovinge freindes the poore distressed people here on earth" (Liber B, fol. 197r; cf. Arber 2:427)

It is worth noting that numerous German dramatic treatments of the story survive. Stephen L. Wailes in his study The Rich Man and Lazarus on the Reformation Stage discusses ten different sixteenth-century versions and further examples can be found on USTC.

References to the Play

The Manuscript of Sir Thomas More

In the Original Text of Sir Thomas More, written in the hand of Anthony Munday, a play titled "Dives and Lazarus" is mentioned as being in the repertory of the fictional Lord Cardinal's Players, among several other titles either extant or attested elsewhere:

      Moore. I pre thee tell me, what playes haue ye?
Player. diuers my Lord: the Cradle of Securitie,
hit nayle o'th head, impacient pouertie
the play of foure Pees, diues and Lazarus,
Lustie Iuuentus, and the mariage of witt and wisedome.

(British Library, Harley MS 7368, fol. 14v; qtd. Greg, 31 [lines †918–22])

Wiggins includes this evidence, along with the performance records listed above, in a single entry for "Dives and Lazarus."

Critical Commentary

Chambers (1.345), commenting on the practices of touring English companies, writes: "Sometimes variety was obtained by using the experiments of a German dramatist, or one of those scriptural comedies, Susanna and the Elders, The Prodigal Son, Dives and Lazarus, which had been the delight of the German, even more than the English, Renaissance." (See "Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues" above.)

Murad comments on the 1608 performance that the play would have been "most fitting as a drama closing the Fasching entertainments and ushering in the sobriety of the forty days of Lent" (70). Murad also suggests, given the popularity of the subject in Germany, that one of the German plays "may have been the play, or the model for the play 'about the rich man and Lazarus'" performed in 1608. (While Murad does not say so explicitly, the same may equally be true of the 1626 and 1646 performances as well.)

Wiggins (#487) identifies the German records as performances of the play "Dives and Lazarus" referred to in Sir Thomas More. Wiggins assigns this play a wide date range of 1520 to 1575 on the basis of the other titles mentioned in the same scene, placing the play under 1570 since the "commercial interest of the subject matter" is suggested by the so-named ballad entered in the Stationers' Register at that time. Assuming that the German performance records all refer to the same play, Wiggins finds it "striking that two European observers reached opposite conclusions as to its genre."

Additions to this section are welcome.

For What It's Worth

1626 List of Performances in Dresden

The list has attracted attention for its numerous Shakespearean titles: "Tragoedia von Romeo vnd Julietta," "Tragoedia von Julio Cesare," "Tragoedia von Hamlet einen printzen in Dennemarck," and "Tragoedia von Lear, König in Engelandt" (Cohn cxv–cxvi). However, the evidentiary basis for this list is somewhat unclear. Cohn's source was Moritz Fürstenau, the Dresdner historian of music and theatre, who had summarized the 1626 entries in an earlier publication and apparently provided the source to Cohn (Fürstenau 96-97). It's unclear from Cohn's footnote whether he saw the text of the 1626 list for himself or whether he was reliant on a transcription provided by Fürstenau. Either way, it would be desirable to locate the actual document that was used as the source for Cohn's list. The almanac-maker referred to by Cohn seems to have been Johann Kretschmar (1558–1624), a Belgian who received his doctorate from the University of Wittenberg and who served from 1603 until his death as the pastor of Weßnig ("Kretzschmar"). Cohn's description is likely misleading because Kretschmar was apparently the compiler of almanacs rather than the publisher: Kretschmar's almanacs were produced by the Leipzig-based Nerlich family. The earliest of Kretzschmar's known almanacs was the Alter und Newer Schreib Calender Dieses Jahrs … 1617 (library record). A late example is Alter und newer Schreib-Calender dieses Jahrs … M.DC.XXXII, printed in 1631 (library record). Presumably the copy that served as Fürstenau/Cohn's source was one of Kretzschmar's Schreib-Calender editions for the year 1626, which the user of the volume annotated as a diary. Unfortunately, no copies of such an edition seem to be traced today: USTC lists only the two above-mentioned editions and Klaus-Dieter Herbst's census of extant German almanacs lists only two more, one for 1621 held at the Bibliothek des Germanischen Nationalmuseums in Nürnberg, and one for 1637 held at the Bibliothek des Gymnasiums zum Grauen Kloster in der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek in Berlin (Herbst, 117). Assuming that Fürstenau located his copy in Dresden, it's possible that it did not survive the bombing raids of World War II (asserted by Schlueter 624n1 on undeclared evidence). However, the Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (Saxon State and University Library Dresden), the rare holdings of which were relocated during the war, currently contains one of the richest collections of early modern Germany almanacs, including the only copy of Kretschmar's 1632 almanac mentioned above. Perhaps the almanac found by Fürstenau awaits rediscovery.

Works Cited

Cohn, Albert. Shakespeare in Germany in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. London, 1865.
Fürstenau, Moritz. Zur Geschichte der Musik und des Theaters am Hofe zu Dresden. Dresden, 1861.
Greg, W.W., ed. The Book of Sir Thomas More. Oxford: Malone Society, 1911.
Herbst, Klaus-Dieter. Verzeichnis der Schreibkalender des 17. Jahrhunderts. Jena: Verlag HKD, 2008.
"Kretzschmar, Johann." In Klaus-Dieter Herbst. Biobibliographisches Handbuch der Kalendermacher von 1550 bis 1750. Online: https://www.presseforschung.uni-bremen.de/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=kretzschmar_johann. Consulted 10 August 2018.
Morris, Irene. "A Hapsburg Letter." Modern Language Review 69 (1974): 12–22.
Murad, Orlene. The English Comedians at the Habsburg Court in Graz 1607–1608. Salzburg: Institut für englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1978.
Schlueter, June. "No Puppets Dallying: Green's 1626 Production of Hamlet." Shakespeare Bulletin 32 (2014): 613–28.
Wailes, Stephen L. The Rich Man and Lazarus on the Reformation Stage: A Contribution to the Social History of German Drama. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1997.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 10 August 2018.