Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Abraham, the willing servant of God. In spite of internal conflict, on the angel’s command he prepares to sacrifice his beloved young son. His long speeches and prayers disclose his misery over losing his favorite child, but no complaint against God’s command passes his lips. He is tender and frank in his explanation to Isaac about the necessity for the sacrifice.
Isaac, an appealing human child. He is terrified at the prospect of a violent death and asks if beating would not be sufficient punishment for any unwitting misdemeanor he has committed. Finding that God has ordered the sacrifice, he accepts the situation meekly, but he does say that God might have given him a better fate if it had been His will. He asks that his mother not be told about his death, for he hates to see her grieve. First pleading for delay, he changes his mind and requests prompt relief from the terrible suspense. After his reprieve by the angel, he blesses the sheep that is substituted for him and prays thankfully to the Holy Trinity. During the preparations for the sacrifice of the ram, he still fears Abraham’s sword and asks if he is not to be struck while his eyes are averted.
Deus, God, who commands the testing of Abraham and the saving of Isaac.
An angel, the messenger of God. He brings the order to Abraham for the sacrifice of Isaac and later furnishes the ram for the substitute sacrifice.
The doctor, who appears at the end to elaborate on the text and explain its meaning.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Collier, Richard. “Poetry and Instruction.” In Poetry and Drama in the York Corpus Christi Play. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978. Collier shows that the moral is explicitly drawn in the Abraham and Isaac plays by the Brome play’s Doctor, the Chester play’s Expositor, and in the dialogue of the York play.
Mills, David. “Religious Drama and Civic Ceremonial.” In Medieval Drama. Vol. 1 in The Revels History of Drama in English. New York: Methuen, 1983. Discusses the way in which the verisimilitude of the Brome Abraham and Isaac threatens the exemplary quality of the drama. He also notes that the play was probably not part of a cycle.
Rendall, Thomas. “Visual Typology in the Abraham and Isaac Plays.” Modern Philology 81, no. 3 (February, 1984): 221-232. Focuses on the way in which medieval staging underlined the typological overtones in the plays. Rendall points out the parallel staging between the Old Testament and New Testament plays.
Williams, Arnold. “The Literary Art of the Cycles.” The Drama of Medieval England. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1961. Shows how scriptural exegesis is needed to understand the mystery plays’ use of biblical material. As an example of this, Williams notes that the Abraham and Isaac play is one of the types of the sacrifice of the cross.
Woolf, Rosemary. “Types and Prophecies of the Redemption.” In The English Mystery Plays. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Compares the Abraham and Isaac plays with the Noah and Moses plays of the mystery cycles. She considers the Brome, Chester, and Ludus Conventriae Abraham and Isaac plays the most accomplished among the cycles.