Abraham Lincoln


Broadcast on:
August 15, 1938
Based on:
"Abraham Lincoln" by John Drinkwater
Abraham Lincoln

"Slavery is going. We have been resolved always to confine it. Now it shall be abolished."

Based on John Drinkwater's play, one of only three Mercury Theatre productions taken directly from the theatre, this play rushes through Lincoln's presidency at a rattling pace. The original play can be read and downloaded here as well as a number of Drinkwater's other works.

The presidential speech to which Welles refers at the opening of the play seems to be a radio broadcast Roosvelt made on the third anniversary of the Social Security Act. His words might easily have been spoken yesterday: "We must face the fact that in this country we have a rich man's security and a poor man's security and that the Government owes equal obligations to both."


The Play

John Drinkwater was an English poet and playwright remembered, if he is remembered at all, for several historical plays, of which this was his first. Although successful - Arnold Bennett wrote that "Nobody can dine out in London to-day and admit without a blush that he has not seen Abraham Lincoln." - the play is rarely performed these days. A dramatic rather than historic account (the character of Burnet Hook is entirely fictional), the play manages to compress an awful lot of action into an hour's play, the opening minute covering nearly 25 years of Lincoln's life.

Full Cast

Cast: Orson Welles, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Karl Swenson

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Mercury Theatre

All eighteen surviving broadcasts from the Mercury Theatre on the Air, free to listen to and download.

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Les Miserables

Welles's interpretation of Hugo's epic tale, which inspired CBS to commission the Mercury Theatre.

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Original scripts, other Welles recordings, further reading and lots more besides.

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"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

Orson Welles