Abraham and Lot

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Anon. (1593)

Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 8v (Greg, I. 16)

Res at abrame & lotte the 9 of Jenewarye 1593 lijs
Res at abram & lotte the 17 of Jenewarye 1593 xxxs
Res at abrame & lotte the 31 of Jenewarye 1593 xijs

Theatrical Provenance

"Abraham and Lot" was one of twelve plays performed by the earl of Sussex's players at the Rose playhouse in mid-winter, 1594. Ten of the twelve plays, including "Abraham and Lot," were not marked with Henslowe's enigmatic "ne"; thus it and the other nine plays similarly unmarked were likely to have been in Sussex's repertory prior to their appearance at the Rose (hence the date assignment of 1593). "Abraham and Lot" disappears from theatrical records in England following its performance at the Rose on 31 January 1594.

See For What It's Worth for evidence that a play named "Abraham and Lot" traveled to Germany with English players. The coincidence of timing and the link among players opens the possibility that the English and German playbooks were closely related.

Probable Genre(s)

Biblical History (Harbage); Wiggins concurs (#795)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The narratives of Abraham and Lot are linked from the beginning in that the men were kin (StudyLight). Their intertwined narrative is told in Genesis 11:27-22:19. It begins with the family connection to Tarah, who had three sons: one was Abraham; another was Haron, Lot's father (Lot was thus Abraham's nephew): "These are the generations of Tarah: Tarah begat Abram, Nachor, and Haran: Haron begat Lot" (11:27). In the aftermath of Sodom and Gomorrah, the story of Lot ends rather sordidly with the bed tricks played on him by his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). Abraham's story continues with a child-bearing theme also: Sarah barren, yet Isaac born. It culminates in Abraham's test of faith that risked the sacrifice of Isaac (22:1-19), an episode well known to playgoers from the Corpus Christi plays.

Plausibly dramatic episodes:

• Canaan and Sichem (Genesis 11:31 - 12:10): When Tarah took Abraham and his wife, Sarah, from Ur to Haran in Canaan, he took Lot also: "And Tarah toke Abram his sonne, and Lot the sonne of Haran his sonnes sonne, and Sarai his daughter in lawe his sonne Abrams wyfe, and they departed together from Ur of the Chaldees, that they myght go into the land of Chanaan: and they came vnto Haran, and dwelt there" (11:31). After some time (Abraham was by now seventy-five), God told Abraham to leave Haran to establish a great nation in a new land; he took not only Sarah and their household but also Lot and their collective following (12:5). In this new place (Sichem), Abraham built an altar where God had appeared to him: "And the Lorde appearyng vnto Abram, sayd, Unto thy seede wyl I geue this lande: And there buylded he an aulter vnto the Lorde whiche appeared vnto hym" (12:7). However, famine came. To find relief, Abraham traveled to Egypt with Sarah and perhaps also Lot (the biblical narrator isn't clear on this): " … therfore went Abram downe into Egypt, that he myght soiourne there, for there was a greeuons famine in the lande" (12:10).
• Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20): In Egypt, Abraham misrepresented Sarah as his sister, not his wife. He did so because he feared the the Egyptians, seeing her beauty, would kill him in order to take her for themselves if they knew she was his wife. The Pharaoh did take her into his household, and he rewarded Abraham handsomely for the pleasure: "[The Pharaoh] entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheepe and oxen, and he asses, menseruauntes, & maydeseruauntes, she asses and camels (12:16). When he uncovered the deceit, the Pharaoh threw Abraham and Sarah out of the kingdom with "all that he had" (12:20).
• Abraham and Lot go their separate ways (Genesis 13:1-13) : Abraham and Sarah, with Lot, went southward from Egypt to the site where Abraham had built the altar (13:1). Lot too had prospered in Egypt: "Lot also whiche went with Abram, had sheepe, cattell, and tents" (12:5). Soon, though, there was strife between the two estates, and Abraham suggested that they separate before there was trouble (13:8-9). Lot chose a site near Sodom, in Jordan; Abraham moved to Hebron in Canaan.
• Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14:1-24; Genesis 19:1-38): After Lot had moved near Sodom, war broke out among neighboring kings, and Lot and his family was taken prisoner (14:12); Abraham came to his rescue, refusing the king of Sodom's offer to exchange the captives for bounty (14:14-24). God confided his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham (18:20-33), and Lot was at the gate of Sodom when two angels arrived, and he invited them in for a feast (19:1-3). This caused a stir among the men of Sodom, who surrounded Lot's house and demanded that the guests be exposed; Lot refused (offering his daughters instead), and the angels struck the Sodomites blind "so that they were weryed in sekyng the doore" (19:11). In the morning, the angels led Lot, his wife, and his daughters out of danger, telling him "Saue thy selfe, and loke not behynde thee, neither tary thou in all this playne" (19:17). Lot protested, and the angels permitted him to flee to a nearby city (later named Soar); but, fatally, Lot's wife looked behind her as they departed and "was turned into a piller of salt" (19:26). After a brief refuge in Soar, Lot moved with his daughters to the mountains where they lived in a cave; given their solitary situation, the daughters tricked Lot with wine and lay with him so that they might bear sons (19:30-36). One daughter had Moab, father of the Moabites; the other had Benammi, father of the Ammonites.
•Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael, Sarah and Isaac (Genesis 15—18; Genesis 20—22): The story of God's promise to give Abraham an heir by Sarah is so familiar that it need not be repeated in detail here. Suffice it to mark the major episodes. (1) Abraham sealed the covenant with God for a son with the sacrifice of three-year-old animals (heifer,she-goad, ram) plus a turtledove and young pigeon; he then fell into a deep sleep, during which God revealed to him the future (15:1-21). (2) Sarah, barren and impatient, sent her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to lie with Abraham, and they conceived a son. Hagar, now facing Sarah's wrath, fled, but an angel appeared to her with news that her son would be "a wylde man" and she should return to Abraham's house (16:1-16). (3) God renewed his promise that Sarah would bear a son, and He orders further that all males in the household be circumcised; Abraham "was ninetie yere olde and nine when the fleshe of his foreskynne was circumcised" (17:24). (4) Following a period when Abraham denied that Sarah was his wife, God renewed his promise for her conception and Isaac was born (21:2-3); Hagar and Ismael were cast out, but God protected them (21:14-20); God tested Abraham by leading him to believe he had to sacrifice his young son, but at the last minute God showed Abraham a ram to substitute for the boy (22:1-18).
• Abraham's story concludes (Genesis 23:1—25:10) After Sarah died, Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, and the biblical narrative moves forward by way of Isaac's marriage to Rebecca and their sons, Esau and Jacob. In his old age, Abraham married again, Keturah, who bore him more sons. He died at "hundred threscore and fifteen yeres" (25:7). His sons, Isaac and Ismael, "buryed hym in the double caue in the fielde of Ephron sonne of Soar the Hethite, before Mamre" (25:9).

References to the Play

None certain, but see For What It's Worth, below.

Critical Commentary

Greg II says, "Nothing is known of this piece" (II. 159, Item 34).

Cerasano discusses biblical plays as a popular feature of the repertory of the Admiral's players, though she does not mention "Abraham and Lot" specifically (49).

Connolly places "Abraham and Lot" in the context generally of biblical plays in the 1590s, specifically Peele's David and Bethsabe. Taking a cue from Cerasano, she implies that the play might have contained one of the large roles for which Edward Alleyn was noted.

Knutson attempts to rehabilitate the company of Sussex's players who performed "Abraham and Lot" at the Rose in January 1594. She argues that it has been misjudged as "commercially unstable" and thus marginal to the narrative of theater history both because so little is known of its players and because most of the repertory is lost (462). Countering this perception, she argues that its run at the Rose suggests a troupe with "ingenuity and enterprise" as well as "professional expertise" (462, 463). Taking a cue from McMillin, she too implies that Alleyn might have been the connection through which Sussex's players acquired the lease at the Rose for the mid-winter run in Henslowe's Diary (463).

Wiggins, Catalogue (#795) leans toward an identification of Sussex's "Abraham and Lot" with the play performed in Frankfort in August 1593.

For What It's Worth

A number of familiar titles of English plays show up in the repertory of the English actors who were in Germany from the late sixteenth century through the late seventeenth century. In one such record, dated August 28, 1593, Robert Browne seeks permission to perform plays, in English, at the Frankfurt fair. An entry from August 30, 1593, identifies the players—“Robert Braun, Thomas Sachsweil und Johan Bradenstreit et Consorten”—and the play[s]—“die Comödia von Abraham und Loth und vom Untergang von Sodom und Gomora”—as well as others (Mentzel, p. 25). (It is not clear whether the title represents one play or two: 1. Abraham and Lot, 2. The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.) The play was also presented in Kassel (date unknown) (Hartleb, pp. 70-71, 79), where English actors, including Browne, were hosted by the Landgrave Moritz from 1594 or 1595 to at least 1613.

There were also sixteenth-century versions of the Abraham story in Germany. These include Immolatio Isaac by Hieronymus Ziegler, a Catholic school teacher in Augsburg, published in Latin in 1543, German in 1544; Ein Andächtig, Biblisch, schön, und lustig spiel, Wie Abraham Isaac seinen sun auffopffern solte, unnd von austreibung Agar der macht, sampt Ismaheln irem sun, Auch von der verderbung Sodoms und Gomorre by Jacob Frey, published in Strasburg c. 1560; Historia Abrahae by Georg Rollenhagen, performed in 1569 at Magdeburger Gymnasium (Bolte, Quellenstudien, pp. 3-9); and Abraham by Hemmann Haberer, performed in Lenzburg in Aargau, Switzerland, May 19 and published 1592 (Bolte, Unbekannte, pp. 18-19). Each of the plays encompasses most of the events in Genesis 12-24.

Works Cited

Bishops' Bible, 1568. (StudyLight)
Berry, Herbert. The Boar's Head Playhouse. Illustrations by C. Walter Hodges. Washington: Folger Books (Folger Shakespeare Library), 1986.
Bolte, Johannes. Quellenstudien zu Georg Rollenhagen. Berlin: Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Kommission bei Walter de Gruyter, 1929.
— — — Unbekannte Schauspiele des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Kommission bei Walter de Gruyter, 1933.
Cerasano, S. P. "Edward Alleyn, the New Model Actor, and the Rose of the Celebrity in the 1590s," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 18 (2005):47-57).
Connolly, Annaliese. "Peele's David and Bethsabe: Reconsidering Biblical Drama of the Long 1590s." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 16: October 2007): 9.1-20. EMLS
Hartleb, Hans. Deutschlands erster Theaterbau: Eine Geschichte des Theaterlebens und der englische Komödianten unter Landgraf Moritz dem Gelehrten von Hessen-Kassel. Berlin and Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1936.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "What's So Special About 1594?" Shakespeare Quarterly 61.4 (2010): 449-467.
McMillin, Scott. "Sussex's Men in 1594: The Evidence of Titus Andronicus and The Jew of Malta." Theatre Survey 32 (1991): 214-23.
Mentzel, E[lisabeth]. Geschichte der Schauspielkunst in Frankfurt a.M. von ihren Anfängen bis zur Eröffnung des städischen Komödienhauses. Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Kultur- und Theatergeschichte. In Archiv für Frankfurts Geschichte und Kunst, Neue Folge. Ed. Vereine für Geschichte und Alterthumskunde zu Frankfurt am Main, vol. 9. Frankfurt: K. Th. Völcker’s Verlag, 1882, p. 25 (Internet Archive). Mentzel cites Raths-Protokolle and Bürgermeisterbuch, 28 August 1593 and 30 August 1593.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor of English, Emerita; University of Arkansas at Little Rock; created 20 April 2012; updated byJune Schlueter, Professor of English, Emerita, Lafayette College, 3 June 2012; further updated by Roslyn L. Knutson, 5 November 2018.