Nicholas Udall?
William Hunnis?


circa 1550–1557

a synoptic, alphabetical character list


Abra is the young female servant who, after the issue of the precedence of Jacob and Esau is raised, argues with Mido, the little boy servant, about the order in which Rebecca should mention their names. She next appears scouring the pots and pans when Rebecca calls her to get ready to cook Jacob's goats for Isaac. Rebecca instructs her on which herbs to prepare. In a scene with Deborra (the nurse) Abra announces she will have no dirt on her cooking utensils, and sings a song while she is sweeping, declaring that the type of person you become is the type of person you were when young. She gives Deborra the broom while she goes into the garden to pick the herbs. She returns commenting on the speed with which she has picked them and the delightful broth and stuffing they will make. When the vengeful Esau, having learnt that he has been supplanted by Jacob, hurls threats at the servants, Abra is very meek until just as she is leaving when she mocks him.


Deborra is the nurse. In a brief scene Abra gives Deborra the broom to continue cleaning while she goes into the garden to pick the herbs Rebecca wants to cook Jacob's goat. Alone, Deborra praises Abra for her looks, her honesty, and her industry, but comments that when Abra marries, her husband may find he has married a shrew if Abra's mother was herself a shrew. When Esau appears after being dispossessed and hurls vengeful threats at the servants, Deborra confirms Esau's belief that when the two brothers were born Jacob was holding Esau's heel.


Esau is the son of Isaac, master of Ragau, and wild older twin brother of Jacob. Obsessed by hunting in the forest, he regularly goes without food or drink for days and rarely sleeps. He constantly wakes his neighbors with the sound of his horns, and when told of the complaints deliberately blows his horn just to antagonize them. He is unconcerned by his mother's poor opinion of him; he knows that his father loves him. He mocks his brother, Jacob, for spending his life under his mother's wing and scorns his servant Ragau for suggesting the two brothers go hunting together. When he next appears after hunting, he has been without food for over a day, and has fainted from hunger several times. He is so hungry he can scarcely prevent himself from eating his own arm, he says. When Ragau appears to explain he has not found food or drink, and that their starving condition is Esau's fault for hunting so long and furiously, Esau threatens to eat Ragau, but then sends Ragau back to Jacob who has already refused them food. While Ragau is away he maligns and threatens both Ragau and Jacob. When Ragau returns with Jacob, the latter offers to buy Esau's birthright in exchange for food and drink, a contract which Esau accepts. He then declares that selling his birthright is unimportant but in any case when he tells his father, his father will disregard the contract. When Isaac laments that Esau rarely visits him, Esau replies that it is because he has not been successful hunting and so has had no food to offer his father. Isaac instructs him to continue hunting and, when he is successful, to prepare the meat for a meal. He blesses Esau as his firstborn and prays that he will multiply his seed as God had promised. While Jacob is gaining Isaac's blessing, an act which will consolidate Jacob's acquisition of Esau's birthright, Esau goes hunting as his father requested. He is successful, and though it has taken a long time to get good venison, what he has just caught is superb, he declares. He also announces that he will act as a tyrant when he succeeds his father. When he offers the meat to Isaac, he is told he is too late, that Jacob has already received Isaac's blessing. Esau laments and tries unsuccessfully to get Isaac to change his mind. Esau explains in detail how he will immediately kill all those who were part of the plot to supplant him. He utters violent insults and threats to Ragau, Abra, Mido, Deborra and to his mother, who is absent. Those present explain that they had nothing to do with Esau's rejection. Deborra confirms Esau's assertion that when the two brothers were born Jacob emerged holding Esau's heel. He announces that with Isaac's death close at hand, he will avenge himself on Jacob, even if he pretends to be meek for the moment. Esau expresses his bitter jealousy to his mother at how Jacob has been treated. When Rebecca persuades him to slake his anger, he acknowledges that all malice must go if she requires it. He joins in the final song of the play, praising the Lord, and acknowledging that God's judgements are difficult to understand.


Hanan is a neighbor of Isaac. He complains of the racket Esau makes early in the morning. He explains that Isaac cannot be blamed for the way his son Esau is behaving since Jacob and Esau were brought up by the same father. The fault is in Esau's disposition, he says.


Isaac is the old blind father of the brothers Esau and Jacob and husband of Rebecca. He first appears led in by Mido as Rebecca is praying for Jacob's success in supplanting Esau's position in the family. He explains to Rebecca that tribulations like his blindness are trials from God for which they should be thankful. When Rebecca wishes Esau were not her son, Isaac states that he is pleased with Esau because he both brings home good food and he is his older son. To her observation about the voice of the Lord which spoke when the boys were conceived, (that the younger would replace the older) he accepts that the Lord can make changes to the normal order of things but that he (Isaac) cannot knowingly commit them. He reminds her it is Nature's law for the older son to have precedence and believes that one day she will be comfortable with this. Isaac later laments that his son Esau rarely visits him, but when Esau, who has been listening, explains it is because his hunting has been unsuccessful, his father tells him to continue hunting and, when he catches something, to prepare him a meal with the meat. He blesses him as his firstborn, praying that he will multiply his seed as God had promised. Rebecca hatches a plan to get Isaac to bless Jacob unknowingly. She arranges for Jacob to provide Isaac with a delicious meal before Esau returns and has him cover his hands and neck with goatskin so that he will seem hairy, like Esau. When Isaac enters, Jacob tells him that he is Esau. Isaac observes that he sounds like Jacob but on feeling Jacob's hands he is satisfied eats the meal and consequently blesses Jacob (believing him to be Esau) with a very elaborate and specific blessing, establishing him as his successor. When Jacob leaves, Mido explains to Isaac that it was Jacob, not Esau, whom he had just blessed. Isaac acknowledges that he cannot take back what he has just done. Isaac addresses God explaining that he accepts God's ways, however strange. He explains to Esau, just returned from a successful hunt, that he is too late for Isaac's blessing--Jacob has received it and nothing can be done to change the situation. At Rebecca's instigation, Isaac instructs Jacob not to marry a Canaanite (where Esau's wives come from) for safety's sake, but to go to his uncle, Laban, marry one of his daughters, and live in Mesopotamia. He blesses Jacob and prays that his seed will multiply. At the end, after Esau explains that his anger is slaked, Isaac asks them all to praise the Lord in song. The play's final twelve lines have Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Esau praying respectively for the clergy, the Queen, the Queen's counselors, and the Queen's subjects.


Jacob is the younger twin son of Isaac and Rebecca and brother of Esau. He is loved by all who meet him (except Esau). He first appears responding to his mother's wish that he try to improve Esau's behavior. He tells her that if he reprimands Esau for bad behavior, Esau turns on him and explains it as God's will that his mother has such a son. Jacob rejects his mother's suggestion that he buy Esau's birthright, until she points out that she knows it is God's will that he will be Esau's lord. When Esau, who is nearly dead from hunting for over a day without food and drink, sends Ragau to ask Jacob to help, Jacob at first refuses and then offers to exchange food and drink for Esau's birthright, an exchange which Esau accepts. Jacob addresses God, explaining that buying Esau's birthright was not done from evil intent and explains to Rebecca what he has done. Under her direction they sing a song to God explaining how they are fulfilling God's will. Rebecca develops a plan because although Jacob has the birthright he needs Isaac's blessing, too. She tells Jacob she will cook Jacob's goats for Isaac so well that Isaac will want to bless him. Jacob sees a problem. He explains that Isaac might touch him and because he has smooth skin while Esau is rough, Isaac will discover the truth. Rebecca tells him to do as she says and let God do His work. Jacob fetches a goat, gives it to Rebecca, and addresses God on the happiness of children who are loved by their parents, on how grateful he is for his mother, and on how he wants God's will to be done for evermore. Rebecca arrives with goatskin gloves and goatskin for Jacob's neck. She also has Esau's best clothes which she insists Jacob wear. Jacob expresses deep embarrassment that anyone would see him dressed like that. He appears before Isaac and tells him he is Esau. Isaac feels Jacob's skin, and though acknowledging the voice is Jacob's, Isaac is satisfied that he is talking to Esau. Isaac explains that the meal was delicious, so Jacob asks for and receives Isaac's blessing. When Esau reacts violently to what Jacob has done, Rebecca warns Jacob to go to her own brother Laban and hide from Esau for a while. Isaac instructs him to marry one of Laban's daughters, and live in Mesopotamia. The final twelve lines have Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Esau praying respectively for the clergy, the Queen, the Queen's counselors, and the Queen's subjects.


Mido is a little boy and Isaac's servant who leads Isaac everywhere. He reacts with alarm at Isaac's gratitude to God for making him blind, but accepts that he already knows how to cope as a blind man and imitates Isaac's groping. Isaac reprimands him for tempting God to act prematurely. He laughs with Ragau about the way the starving Esau scoffs Jacob's red rice pottage after the two brothers have agreed on their contract and Esau has at last got something to eat. He adds comic comments as Jacob explains to Rebecca how Esau ate. When Rebecca announces that Jacob has been appointed the eldest son by God, in a piece of banter with Apra, Mido objects to the order in which Rebecca mentions him and Abra. He leads in the blind Isaac to meet and bless Esau. He goes along with Jacob to carry back the goat Jacob fetches from the fold to give to his father. Mido tells him that Isaac had heard the goat bleat and that Mido, who insists on being truthful, had explained that Jacob had brought it from the fold to serve a particular purpose. When Jacob leaves, Mido explains to Isaac that he has blessed Jacob, not Esau. Mido announces that Jacob is now master of the whole household but that no one is upset because everyone likes him and dislikes Esau. When the vengeful Esau hurls threats at the servants, Mido insults Esau and runs off.


Another name for the Prologue.


The prologue, also described as the Poet, announces that the play will be about why God chose Jacob over Esau. It will support the fact that God's judgements are inevitable and cannot be defeated or avoided. At the end of the play the Poet announces that omnipotent God intended to save mankind by His mercy. He shows mercy to the elect but rejects others. Predestination applies only to those children he adopts. God knew in advance that many would be degenerate but since they were degenerate of their own volition, God cannot be faulted. The poet shares with Paul the Apostle the belief that God's ways are unknowable. The Poet then explains what our duties to God are.


Ragau is Esau's servant. Throughout the play he complains of the dreadful way Esau treats him: he is constantly criticized and gets little sleep and food. When he explains that the neighbors complain about being woken early every morning by the sound of Esau's hunting horns, Esau ignores him. And he scorns him when Ragau suggests taking Jacob hunting with him. Ragau next appears announcing his extreme hunger, having hunted with Esau for over a day without food. When he returns to Esau after looking for food, he explains that Jacob was the only person who had food but that he would not grant them any. Esau sends Ragau back. He returns with Jacob who offers Esau food in exchange for his birthright. Ragau shares Mido's amusement at the way the starving Esau eats Jacob's red rice pottage, but is angry that Esau has selfishly locked him out of the tent where he is eating. He thinks it is Esau's nature to be like that; he cannot be reasoned with. His lament is bitter but he admits that he did manage to get a lick from Jacob's ladle, a better bargain than Esau had. Following Isaac's instructions to Esau to continue his hunting, Ragau, alone, announces that next time he hunts he will take with him a large, secret supply of food and will offer none of it to Esau. After a successful hunt, Ragau announces that Esau must dress the deer for Isaac's meal. When Esau utters his threats after learning he has been supplanted, Ragau comments on his anger. When the vengeful Esau meets the servants and directly threatens them, Ragau stands surety for Abra's good behavior.


Rebecca is Isaac's wife and mother of the twins Jacob (the younger) and Esau the older). She deeply regrets Esau's appalling behavior and suggests that Jacob reprimand his brother for it. She encourages Jacob to buy the rights associated with being the firstborn son from Esau, explaining that she heard a voice from heaven at the boys' conception, announcing it God's will was that he would be Esau's lord, even though he was younger. When she is praying for Jacob's success in her scheme to oust Esau, Isaac arrives. She raises the subject of Esau's dissolute life with him, telling him that the Lord had explained that her younger son would overthrow the older one. Isaac is unconcerned. After Jacob takes advantage of a chance to buy Esau's birthright, he explains to Rebecca what he has done and she suggests that she, Mido, Abra the maid and Jacob sing to the Lord explaining how they are fulfilling God's will. She blesses Jacob, saying he was appointed the eldest son by God and that Isaac is blind and easily beguiled. Rebecca overhears Isaac talking sympathetically with Esau about the loss of his birthright but she trusts God will thwart Isaac's plans. She recognizes that Jacob needs Isaac's blessing, in addition to Esau's birthright. She prays earnestly that Isaac will bless him but nevertheless is determined to act herself to ensure that he does. She tells Jacob to strengthen his resolve and explains her plan. Esau has gone hunting. While he is gone Jacob should go out and fetch two goats which she will cook so well that Isaac will be delighted. As a result Isaac will bless Jacob. When Jacob expresses his doubts, Rebecca tells him to do as she suggests and to leave the rest to God. While her plan is unfolding, she is constantly anxious. She is concerned that Jacob may not have set out in time; then she sends Abra, her maid, to find the herbs for cooking the goats. Next she leaves to ensure that Isaac has no suspicion of what she is planning and to convince him, if he smells the preparations, they are for Esau's venison. When she next appears she is anxious because Jacob has been gone so long and that something might have upset her plans. When Jacob does return she takes the goat from him. Following his objections that his skin is smooth while Esau's is rough, she re-appears with gloves of goatskin and goatskin for his neck. With these Jacob will feel like Esau if Isaac touches him. She also has Esau's best clothes for Jacob to wear. She explains that she has arranged it for no one to talk about the deception. After Isaac has enjoyed the meal she has prepared for him, Rebecca prays that God will help Jacob prosper. And when her plan succeeds and Isaac blesses Jacob, she kneels and offers God thanks for what He has done. Rebecca appears again after the servants have described Esau's violent threats to the household when he discovers Jacob has supplanted him. She tells Jacob to hide from his brother by living with her brother Laban and persuades Isaac to instruct Jacob not to marry a Canaanite (where Esau's wives come from) but to marry one of Laban's daughters. At the end, Rebecca persuades Esau to slake his anger. The final twelve lines have Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Esau praying respectively for the clergy, the Queen, the Queen's counselors, and the Queen's subjects.


Zethar is a neighbor of Isaac who stresses the importance of bringing up children properly, blaming Isaac for failing to get Esau to control himself.