Play 4, ABRAHAM: FOOTNOTES
1 Abraham follows
2 Lines 11–12: Where all our elders have gone / is a matter of great wonder for me
3 Lines 31–32: Thus because they aroused my lord’s anger, / he took vengeance on [their] sin through his power
4 Lines 47–48: For surely I know no better alternative, / and there is no one who may better help [than God]
5 Lines 79–80: Gladly would I have this thing arranged, / since it profits nothing to delay
6 Lines 89–91: If Isaac — wherever he is — / knew what danger he was in, / he would now be afraid
7 Here Isaac will leave his father
8 Lines 210[c]–11: Let [your] love now be seen for my mother’s sake
9 I spoke with God recently, I believe
10 And he kisses him
Play 4, ABRAHAM: EXPLANATORY NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: Chester: The Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. Lumiansky and Mills (1974); CT: The Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson (1987); DSL: Dictionary of the Scots Language; Elliott: The Apocryphal New Testament, ed. Elliott; EP: The Towneley plays, ed. England and Pollard (1897); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (“the Towneley manuscript”); N-Town: The N-Town Plays, ed. Sugano (2007); OED: Oxford English Dictionary; REED: Records of Early English Drama; SC: The Towneley Plays, eds. Stevens and Cawley (1994); s.d.: stage direction; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).
The concluding lines of this play are lost, along with the beginning of the next, due to a pair of missing leaves; given the line count on adjacent pages, the loss could amount to more than 200 lines in total. However, the Abraham play is very nearly complete as it stands, covering all of the narrative of the biblical source (Genesis 22:1–19) other than the actual sacrifice of the ram (which could nonetheless be performed; see note to line 283, below) and a final blessing (voiced by the angel in the biblical text, as in York 10.335–50) before the return home. The bulk of the missing material, then, likely belonged to the Isaac play that follows.
Before 1 Sequitur Abraham. This phrase uniquely repeats the end of the explicit for the previous play, Noah.
1 Adonay. The name of God (the Tetragrammaton based on Exodus 3:14, most often transliterated as Yahweh or “Jehovah” in early translations of the Bible) is not pronounced in Jewish tradition; Adonai, meaning “lord,” served as the primary spoken substitute, finding its way into Christian tradition.
6 oyle of mercy. See note to 3.66.
20 More then thre hundreth yere. According to Genesis 5:5, Adam lived for 930 years. The manuscript has CCC (300), which should read DCCCC (as noted in SC p. 455n20 but otherwise unemended).
29–30 And Loth fro Sodome . . . yit eschapyd he. Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous with unrepentant sin, but were destroyed along with two other cities, not just a third as suggested here; of the five 'cities of the plain' only one — Bela or Zoar (see Genesis 19:20–25) — was spared as a refuge for Lot. “Thre” could be a misreading of a word such as “Thof” (“though” — see lines 123, 125) or “There.” While Lot appears in the Chester play of Abraham, the fall of Sodom is not represented in any extant medieval English plays.
38 An hundreth yeris certys have I seyn. See Genesis 21:5.
68 the land of Visyon. The Vulgate translation of Genesis 22:2 has God tell Abraham to take Isaac “in terram visionis,” for the Hebrew Moriah, the hill that 2 Paralipomenon (Chronicles) 3:1 and subsequent tradition identified with the site of the Temple in Jerusalem.
100 God hold me long youre life in quart. That is, may God long keep you safe for my sake.
107, s.d. Hic transsiet Isaac a patre. The stage direction is written in the margin beside lines 105–06 and 107–08 (the quatrain being written as two lines) but belongs here.
145 Wé. Ye two here with this asse abide. Abraham addresses the two servant boys, who will remain with the ass (see Genesis 22:3–5) while Abraham and Isaac climb the hill, possibly moving from ground level onto a stage of some sort. While this is the first mention of the two boys, they should likely appear along with the ass (whether real or artificial) at line 117. Isaac alone rides the ass toward the expected place of sacrifice (see line 136), providing a typological connection to Jesus at his entry into Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:1–11); the Chester Isaac carries wood (signifying the cross) up the hill, as does their York counterpart, who is also represented as being “Thyrty yere and more sumdele” (York 10.82) — that is, the age of Jesus at the crucifixion.
191 no skill. That is, there is nothing reasonable or right that can be done to avoid the situation.
258 let thee go. The angel is holding Abraham (or his sword) back to prevent him from killing Isaac. Abraham apparently then realizes what is happening, and prostrates himself before the angel — hence the order to stand in the next line.
262 sendys this beest to thyn offerand. In Genesis 22:13, Abraham sees a ram caught in a bush, which he then offers as sacrifice in place of Isaac.
264 And do as he me command. SC emend the original doyng – here emended to do as – to do and, where and is used in the sense of “if,” arguing that the scribe mistook do and for a form of the present participle (p. 456n263–64). However, they gloss the line as here emended, without any conditional sense.
283 put up youre sword agayn. Abraham is presumably still holding his sword in order to sacrifice the ram; if the ram is slaughtered onstage after line 280, perhaps the sole opportunity in the extant portion of the play, the sword could be bloody.
Play 4, ABRAHAM: TEXTUAL NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: EP: The Towneley Plays, ed. England and Pollard (EETS, 1897); Facs: The Towneley Cycle: A Facsimile of Huntington MS HM 1, ed. Cawley and Stevens; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (base text); SC: The Towneley Plays, ed. Stevens and Cawley (EETS, 1994); s.d.: stage direction; Surtees: The Towneley Mysteries, ed. Raine; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).
13 From Adam unto Eve assent. MS: Iohn written in a later hand in the right margin.
17 thou. So SC. MS: thai. Abraham is addressing God, who cast Adam and Eve out of paradise.
20 thre hundreth. MS: CCC.
26 His wife and. So SC. MS: His and.
29 yode. So EP. MS: yede.
36 My. So EP, SC. MS: M.
38 hundreth. So EP. MS: C.
43 And. MS: And and.
80 it. MS: inserted above the line.
107 saif. MS: faif.
107, s.d. Isaac. MS: the last four letters of Isaac are cut off due to the page being trimmed. See also Explanatory Note.
158 kepe you ever. So EP, SC. MS: kepe ever.
169–70 Now son I . . . myne hart went. MS: a red rule, ostensibly a false cue line, has been drawn and largely erased under these two lines (written as one in MS).
186 trespast. MS: trespat.
196 who. MS: inserted above the line.
264 do as. MS: doyng. SC emend to do and. See Explanatory Note.