Abe Lincoln in Illinois (play)

Abe Lincoln in Illinois is a play written by the American playwright Robert E. Sherwood in 1938. The play, in three acts, covers the life of President Abraham Lincoln from his childhood through his final speech in Illinois before he left for Washington. The play also covers his romance with Mary Todd and his debates with Stephen A. Douglas, and uses Lincoln's own words in some scenes. Sherwood received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1939 for his work.


The play premiered on Broadway on October 15, 1938 at the Plymouth Theatre and closed in December 1939 after 472 performances. Directed by Elmer Rice, it starred Raymond Massey as Lincoln, Muriel Kirkland (Mary Todd), Adele Longmire (Ann Rutledge), and Albert Phillips (Stephen A. Douglas).[1]

The play was revived on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, with Sam Waterston as Lincoln, and direction by Gerald Gutierrez. The cast included Marissa Chibas (Ann Rutledge), David Huddleston (Judge Bowling Green), Robert Joy (Joshua Speed), Lizbeth MacKay (Mary Todd) and Brian Reddy (Stephen A. Douglas).[2] The revival ran from November 29, 1993 to January 2, 1994.[3]


The play takes place in and around New Salem, Illinois in the 1830s, then in Springfield, Illinois in the 1840s, and in Act III in Springfield in 1858 to 1861.


In addition to the 1940 film, directed by John Cromwell and for which Massey was nominated for an Oscar, there were five television adaptations: in 1945, 1950, 1951, 1957, and 1964. Massey repeated his stage role in the 1950 and 1951 adaptations. The 1964 production in the Hallmark Hall of Fame series featured Jason Robards in the title role, and Kate Reid as Mary Todd.[4]

Critical response

David Richards, in his review of the 1993 revival for The New York Times wrote: "'Abe Lincoln in Illinois' is an endeavor of daunting dimensions....for all its loftiness of purpose and the generosity of Lincoln's own words, some of which are incorporated into the script, Sherwood's dramaturgy seems dismayingly earthbound today. When the dialogue is not clumsy... it smacks of simple-mindedness... When Lincoln finds his life's purpose and steels himself for the ordeals to come, Mr. Waterston is able to suggest great stature simply by standing tall and motionless.[5]

Awards and nominations


  1. "'Abe Lincoln in Illinois' 1938" playbillvault.com, accessed December 22, 2015
  2. "'Abe Lincoln in Illinois' 1993" Archived December 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. playbillvault.com, accessed December 22, 2015
  3. "Abe Lincoln in Illinois 1993" Internet Broadway Database, accessed September 5, 2011
  4. Reinhart, Mark S. Abraham Lincoln on Screen: Fictional and Documentary Portrayals on Film and Television McFarland, 2009, ISBN 0786452617, pp. 24 - 27
  5. Richards, David. "Review/Theater: Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Lincoln as Metaphor For a Big Job Ahead, In 1939 and Today" New York Times, November 30, 1993
  6. "Pulitzer Prize for Drama" pulitzer.org, accessed December 22, 2015

External links

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