Back to top

Play 5, Abraham and Isaac


Abbreviations: Da: Corpus Christi Play, ed. Davies (1972); MED: Middle English Dictionary; S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991).

The story of Abraham and Isaac is found in Genesis 22:1–18. The other English versions — York's Play 10 (Parchemyners and Bokebynders), Chester's last half of Play 4 (the Bar­bers' Play), Towneley's Play 4, and the Brome Play — all accentuate the anguish of Isaac's impending sacrifice. What sets this N-Town play apart from the other English versions is its lack of pathos. Even though the dramatic tension in this N-Town version is more muted than in the other versions, it comes across as the most pietistic and typo­logically evocative. In other words, in this play neither Abraham nor Isaac doubt God's word or the necessity of the sacrifice. In this way, the play clearly foreshadows Christ's willing sacrifice in the Passion Plays.

The play is written entirely in octaves. The biblical source is Genesis 22:1–19.

14 My swete sone that stondyth me by. Here, as in the Noah Play with its lineup of char­acters, the play begins with an exemplary display, as if casting an emblem that reveals meaning through its typology.

72 save thi serwaunt. A common appeal for salvation. E.g., compare Vulgate Psalm 21:21, cited in Da, p. 103n2.

73 Abraham! How, Abraham. In Genesis 22:1 it is God, not an angel, who summons Abraham. Spector notes the same practice of God speaking through angels rather than in person in the N-Town Noah Play, and also in York, Northamp­ton, and Brome Abraham plays. As precedent see the Viel Testament (S 2:428).

78 Ysaac, thi sone, anon thu take. See Genesis 22:2.

125–30 See Genesis 22:7–8.

137–84 Woolf notes that this version is the only English one in which Isaac is unafraid to die (English Mystery Plays, p. 150). Martin Stevens agrees, stating that this play "is the first developed illustration of standard typology in the cycle, and consequently it conditions the expectations of the reader/spectator to apply ‘typological think­ing' to the text and to the performance. . . . The playwright makes every effort to bind his dramatic action together and to show us that no single part of his drama can be separated from the whole" (Mystery Cycles, pp. 234, 236).

179 As Spector observes, covering Isaac's face is not in the Genesis account. But it is part of the York, Chester, Brome, and the French plays. See Rendall, "Visual Typology," pp. 227–28 (cited in S 2:428). Typologically, the kerchief fore­shadows Veron­i­ca's action in Passion 2 (32.41–48).

185–92 See Genesis 22:11–12.

199–202 Spector raises the dispute whether the shepe is a lamb, prefigurative of Christ, or the Old Testament sacrificial ram (S 2:428). Rendall, "Visual Typology," is part of the discussion. The generic term shepe can refer either to a male or a female (MED).

205–08 See Genesis 22:14.

209–24 See Genesis 22:15–18.

240 With hert . . . thought . . . mayn . . . myght. Isaac acknowledges God in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:5. This statement, which Christ calls "the greatest and the first commandment" in Matthew 22:36–38, is biblically from the mouth of Moses: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4–5). Augustine famously concluded that "the end of the commandment is love (caritas)" (On Christian Doctrine 1.26). Together with the next two verses (see note to 6.47–50), this passage is a primary liturgical reading for the compline service on Maundy Thursday. Isaac's testament as a sacrifice saved by God's "shepe" (line 200) is thus juxtaposed directly with the Maundy Thursday revelations of the coming sacrifice of God's lamb (i.e., Christ).


Abbreviations: Bl: Ludus Coventriae, ed. Block (1922); S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction; s.n.: stage name

Before 1, s.d. This play continues immediately after the Noah Play. The first stage direc­tion is on the same line as the final stage direction of the Noah Play.

1, s.n. ABRAHAM. MS: omitted.

4–11 MS: large play number 5 in right margin.

20 solace. MS: s smudged. S suggests written over another letter; Bl suggests ss.

41 yonge. Bl: notes yongthe.

57 childe. MS: letter erased before c.

68 thee. So S. MS, Bl: þi. Since displesaunte is an adjective, Thee makes more sense.

90 his. MS: h partly covered by stain.

94 childe. MS: letter erased before c.

106 This line is repeated at the top of the next page, and crossed out.

115 For. MS: o or loop (?) written above existing o.

116 wyll. MS: w written over another letter (?).

131 derere. So Bl, S. MS: double r corrected.

132 derlyng. MS: del derlyng.

143 shalt. So Bl, S. MS: a corrected from u.

153 it. MS: written above the line.

155 Agens. MS: Aʒeg Aʒens.

158 rod. So S. MS, Bl: reed. MS is an unlikely reading. Spector ren­ders it rod so that it rhymes with God in line 160 and so that there is a typological reference to the Rood, or Cross (2:428). I have accepted his emendations.

163 yit. So Bl, S. MS: e written above i.

to sle. MS: to sch sle.

185, s.n. ANGELUS. The speech marker is here Anglus.

193 in hevyn. MS: in me hevyn, where me is altered from in.

206 of. MS: written above the line.

221 MS: In left margin mistakenly marked fol. 30; should be 29v.

228 blyssed. MS by blyssed.

244 halle. MS: corrected from aalle.

247 thralle. MS: r corrected over another letter with another letter written above.

264 The remainder of fol. 30r (84mm) and the following folio, 30v, are left blank.





















































[Introitus Abrahe et cetera.

ABRAHAM Most myghty makere of sunne and of mone,
Kyng of Kyngys and Lord over all,
Allmyghty God in hevyn trone,
I thee honowre and evyrmore shal.
My Lord, my God to thee I kall:
With herty wyll, Lord, I thee pray —
In synfyll lyff lete me nevyr fall,
But lete me leve evyr to thi pay.

Abraham, my name is kydde
And patryarke of age ful olde,
And yit be the grace of God is bredde
In myn olde age a chylde full bolde —
Ysaac, lo, here his name is tolde.
My swete sone that stondyth me by,
Amongys all chylderyn that walkyn on wolde,
A lovelyer chylde is non trewly.

I thanke God with hert well mylde
Of his gret mercy and of his hey grace
And pryncepaly for my suete chylde
That shal to me do gret solace.
Now, suete sone, fayre fare thi face,
Ful hertyly do I love thee;
For trewe herty love, now in this place,
My swete childe, com kysse now me.

YSAAC At youre byddynge youre mouthe I kys,
With lowly hert I yow pray.
Youre fadyrly love, lete me nevyr mysse,
But blysse me, youre chylde, both nyght and day.
ABRAHAM Almyghty God, that best may,
His dere blyssyng he graunt thee.
And my blyssyng thu have allway
In what place that evyr thu be.

Now, Isaac my sone so suete,
Almyghty God loke thu honoure,
Wich that made both drye and wete,
Shynyng sunne and scharpe schoure.
Thu art my suete childe and paramoure.
Ful wele in herte do I thee love.
Loke that thin herte in hevyn toure
Be sett to serve oure Lord God above.

In thi yonge lerne God to plese,
And God shal quyte thee weyl thi mede.
Now suete sone, of wordys these
With all thin hert thu take good hede!
Now fareweyl, sone, God be thin spede.
Evyn here at hom thu me abyde.
I must go walkyn, for I have nede.
I come agen withinne a tyde.

YSAAC I pray to God, Fadyr of Myght,
That he yow spede in all youre waye.
From shame and shenshipp, day and nyght,
God mote yow kepe in youre jornay.
ABRAHAM Now fareweyll, sone, I thee pray:
Evyr in thin hert loke God thu wynde,
Hym to serve bothe nyght and day.
I pray to God send thee good mynde.

Ther may no man love bettyr his childe
Than Isaac is lovyd of me.
Almyghty God, mercyful and mylde:
For my swete sone I wurchyp thee.
I thank thee, Lord, with hert ful fre
For this fayr frute thu hast me sent.
Now, gracyous God, wherso he be
To save my sone evyrmore be bent.

Dere Lord, I pray to thee also,
Me to save for thi servvaunte
And sende me grace nevyr for to do
Thyng that shulde be to thee displesaunte.
Bothe for me and for myn infaunte,
I pray thee, Lord God, us to help.
Thy gracyous goodnes thu us grawnt
And save thi serwaunt from helle qwelp.

ANGELUS Abraham! How, Abraham!
Lyst and herke weyll onto me.
ABRAHAM Alredy, sere, here I am —
Tell me youre wyll what that it be.
ANGELUS Almyghty God thus dothe bydde thee:
Ysaac, thi sone, anon thu take
And loke hym thu slee anoon, lete se,
And sacrafice to God hym make.

Thy welbelovyd childe thu must now kylle,
To God thu offyr hym as I say.
Evyn upon yon hey hylle
That I thee shewe here in the way.
Tarye not be nyght nor day,
But smertly thi gate thu goo.
Upon yon hille thu knele and pray
To God and kylle the childe ther and scloo.

ABRAHAM Now Goddys comaundement must nedys be done.
All his wyl is wourthy to be wrought —
But yitt the fadyr to scle the sone?
Grett care it causyth in my thought.
In byttyr bale now am I brought,
My swete childe with knyf to kylle,
But yit my sorwe avaylith ryght nowth,
For nedys I must werke Goddys wylle.

With evy hert I walke and wende,
My childys deth now for to be.
Now must the fadyr his suete son schende!
Alas, for ruthe, it is peté!
My swete sone, come hedyr to me!
How, Isaac, my sone dere.
Com to thi fadyr, my childe so fre,
For we must wende togedyr in fere.

YSAAC All redy, fadyr, evyn at youre wyll,
And at youre byddyng I am yow by,
With yow to walk ovyr dale and hill.
At youre callyng I am redy!
To thee fadyr, evyr most comly,
It ouyth the childe evyr buxom to be.
I wyl obey ful hertyly
To allthyng that ye bydde me.

ABRAHAM Now, son, in thi necke this fagot thu take,
And this fyre bere in thinne honde;
For we must now sacrefyse go make,
Evyn aftyr the wyll of Goddys sonde.
Take this brennyng bronde,
My swete childe, and lete us go.
Ther may no man that levyth in londe
Have more sorwe than I have wo

YSAAC Fayre fadyr, ye go ryght stylle —
I pray yow, fadyr, speke onto me.
ABRAHAM Mi gode childe, what is thi wylle?
Telle me thyn hert, I pray to thee.
YSAAC Fadyr, fyre and wood here is plenté,
But I kan se no sacryfice.
What ye shulde offre, fayn wold I se
That it were don at the best avyse.

ABRAHAM God shal that ordeyn, that sytt in hevynne,
My swete sone, for this offryng.
A derere sacryfice may no man nempne
Than this shal be, my dere derlyng.
YSAAC Lat be, good fadyr, youre sad wepynge!
Your hevy cher agrevyth me sore!
Tell me, fadyr, youre grett mornyng,
And I shal seke sum help therfore.

ABRAHAM Alas, dere sone, for nedys must me
Evyn here thee kylle as God hath sent.
Thyn owyn fadyr thi deth must be!
Alas, that evyr this bowe was bent!
With this fyre bryght thu must be brent!
An aungelle seyd to me ryght so.
Alas, my chylde, thu shalt be shent —
Thi careful fadyr must be thi fo.

YSAAC Almyghty God of his grett mercye,
Ful hertyly I thanke thee, sertayne.
At Goddys byddyng here for to dye,
I obeye me here for to be sclayne.
I pray yow, fadyr, be glad and fayne
Trewly to werke Goddys wyll.
Take good comforte to yow agayne,
And have no dowte youre childe to kyll.

For Godys byddyng, forsothe, it is
That I, of yow, my deth schulde take.
Agens God ye don amys,
His byddyng yf ye shuld forsake.
Yowre owyn dampnacyon shulde ye bake
If ye me kepe from this rod.
With youre swerd my deth ye make
And werk evyrmore the wyll of God.

ABRAHAM The wyll of God must nedys be done,
To werke his wyll I seyd nevyr nay,
But yit the fadyr to sle the sone —
My hert doth clynge and cleve as clay.
YSAAC Yitt werk Goddys wyll, fadyr, I yow pray,
And sle me here anoon forthryght,
And turne fro me youre face away
Myne heed whan that ye shul of smyght.

ABRAHAM Alas, dere childe, I may not chese.
I must nedys my swete sone kylle!
My dere derlyng, now must me lese,
Myn owyn sybb blood now shal I spylle!
Yitt this dede, or I fulfylle,
My swete sone, this mouth I kys.
YSAAC Al redy, fadyr, evyn at youre wyll.
I do youre byddyng as reson is.

ABRAHAM Alas, dere sone, here is no grace,
But nedis ded now must thu be.
With this kerchere I kure thi face —
In the tyme that I sle thee,
Thy lovely vesage wold I not se —
Not for all this werdlys good,
With this swerd that sore grevyht me
My childe I sle and spylle his blood.

ANGELUS Abraham, Abraham, thu fadyr fre!
ABRAHAM I am here redy — what is youre wylle?
ANGELUS Extende thin hand in no degré!
I bydde thu hym not kylle!
Here do I se by ryght good skylle
Allmyghty God that thu dost drede,
For thu sparyst nat thi sone to spylle.
God wyll aqwhyte thee well thi mede.

ABRAHAM I thank my God in hevyn above,
And hym honowre for this grett grace,
And that my Lord me thus doth prove
I wyll hym wurchep in every place.
My childys lyff is my solace;
I thank myn God evyr for his lyff!
In sacrifice here or I hens pace,
I sle this shepe with same knyff.

Now this shepe is deed and slayn;
With this fyre it shal be brent.
Of Isaac, my sone, I am ful fayn
That my swete childe shal not be shent.
This place I name with good entent
“The Hill of Godys Vesytacyon,”
For hedyr God hath to us sent
His comforte after grett trybulacyon.

ANGELUS Herke, Abraham, and take good heyd:
By hymself God hath thus sworn
For that thu woldyst a done this dede,
He wyll thee blysse both evyn and morn.
For thi dere childe thu woldyst have lorn
At Goddys byddyng, as I thee telle.
God hath sent thee word beforn:
Thi seed shal multyplye wherso thu duelle.

So shal thi seed encrese and growe.
Thu shalt ovyrcome in welth and wele
All thi fomen reknyd be rowe.
As sond in the se doth ebbe and flowe
Hath cheselys many unnumerabyll,
So shal thi sede — thu mayst me trowe —
Encres and be evyr prophytabyll.

For to my spech thu dedyst obeye,
Thyn enmyes portys thu shalt possede.
And all men on erthe — as I thee seye —
Thei shal be blyssed in thi sede.
Almyghty God thus thee wyll mede
For that good wyll that thu ast done.
Therfore, thank God in word and dede
Both thu thiself and Ysaac, thi sone.

ABRAHAM A, my Lord God to wurchep on kne now I fall.
I thank thee, Lord, of thi mercy.
Now, my swete childe, to God thu kall
And thank we that Lord now hertyly.
YSAAC With lowly hert to God I crye.
I am his servvant both day and nyght.
I thank thee, Lord, in hevyn so hyghe
With hert, with thought, with mayn, with myght.

ABRAHAM Gramercy, Lord and Kyng of Grace;
Gramercy, Lord ovyr lordys all!
Now my joye returnyth his trace!
I thank thee, Lorde in hevyn, thin halle.
YSAAC Ovyr all kyngys crownyd, Kyng I thee kalle!
At thi byddyng to dye with knyff,
I was ful buxum, evyn as thi thralle.
Lord, now I thank thee — thu grauntyst me lyff.

ABRAHAM Now we have wurchepyd oure blyssyd Lorde
On grounde knelyng upon oure kne.
Now lete us tweyn, sone, ben of on acorde
And goo walke hom into oure countré.
YSAAC Fadyr, as ye wyll, so shal it be.
I am redy with yow to gon.
I shal yow folwe with hert full fre.
All that ye bydde me sone shal be don.

ABRAHAM Now God, allthyng of nowth that made,
Evyr wurcheppyd he be on watyr and londe.
His grett honowre may nevyr more fade
In feld nor town, se nor on sonde.
As althyng, Lord, thu hast in honde
So save us all wherso we be
Whethyr we syttyn, walk, or stonde.
Evyr on thin handwerke thu have pyté.

Enter Abraham, etc. (t-note)

moon; (t-note)


live; pleasure


yet by; bred

(see note)
on earth

sweet; may you have good fortune



your; heaven’s

youth; (t-note)
reward you well

prosper you
wait for me

a while



you keep





offensive; (t-note)

servant; the spawn of hell; (see note)

I.e., Ho! (see note)

(see note)
slay now, let’s see

Tarry; by
quickly your way

slay [him]

done; (t-note)
yet; father to slay
yet; nothing

heavy; go
sweet; destroy
remorse; a pity

father; excellent
go; the both of us


father; most fittingly
The child must be obedient


on your neck; bundle of sticks
God’s command; (t-note)
burning torch

lives on earth

father, you walk in silence


Father; (see note)

Whatever; I would like to see
in the best way


dearer; name; (t-note)
Stop; father
mournful; grieves
father; mourning

(see note)
process began

destroyed; (t-note)
sorrowful father; foe

father; eager

God’s; truly; (t-note)

Against; wrong; (t-note)

damnation; prepare
punishment; (t-note)

yet; father; slay; (t-note)
harden; break
Yet; God’s; father
slay; right now
away from
head; will strike off


Yet; before I do it

as is reasonable

needs be dead
kerchief I cover; (see note)

world’s goods

noble father; (see note); (t-note)


say; understanding

not; destroy
reward you well


child’s life

before I leave here; (see note)


(see note)
God’s Visitation; (t-note)

heed; (see note)

Since; have done



stars; be countless

surpass; prosperity
foes that can be accounted for
sand; sea; (t-note)
seed; believe me

enemies’ gates; possess

you have done


strength; (see note)

Many thanks

its way
your; (t-note)

obedient; servant; (t-note)

both; one accord



never lessen
field; sea; shore
everything; hand

your handiwork

The end; (t-note)

Go To Play 6, Moses