Alfred W. (Alfred William) Pollard.

English miracle plays, moralities, and interludes : specimens of the pre-Elizabethan drama online

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207. Novue. A and E unite in reading Noe in preference to
this (' Els rowe forth Noe whether the liste ').

220. There without: substituted, to save rime and sense,
on the authority of A and E, for the ' their all daye ' of B.

225. Fleetinge : i.e. floating, AE ; 'flitting,' B.

226. Spreadesfullfarre. The transcriber of E, or his authority,
not recognising at first that the metre of the Gossippes Song
is different from that of the rest of the play, has altered these
words to ' it breadeth (broadens) in haste,' in order to preserve
the triple rime with ' faste ' and ' agaste.' Again in line 228 he
reads : ' Good gossip, let me come in.'

233. Heare is a pottill, &c. This and the three following
lines are omitted by E. It will be noted that they are metrically
an excrescence.

238. Childer : retained by A for the 'children' of the other

246. Have thou that for thy note! We are to understand that
Shem has carried his mother by force into the boat, and that
she is replying to her husband's sarcastic welcome with a blow.
The reading ' note ' (head) makes good sense, and contains a
possible pun : it is supported by A and B. But there is much
to be said for the 'mote' (argument, speech) which is found in E.

249. Remeves : i.e. removes, moves away, AE. ' Renewes'
of B is plainly a scribes error.

257. Shutte, AB ; steake, E.


259. So great e one, AE ; so greate wone, B.

[26i*-398*.] The following forty-eight lines are given only
by E. As they closely follow the Bible narrative [Gen. viii.
6 sqq.], and supply what in the other texts is an obvious lacuna,
while the naivete of the stage directions is an additional
argument for their genuineness, I have no hesitation in printing

275*. Stage direction: 'Then shall he let loose a dove and
there shall be in the ship another dove bearing an olive in her
mouth, which some one shall let down [the verb should plainly
be demittet\ by a string into the hands of Noah.'

305*. Comes in all wise. 'Comes,' the northern imperative
plural ; cp. does Y. 156. 'All wise ' : by all means.

263. Wher all was \lorne~\ salfe to be. I have ventured thus
to emend, despite the agreement of the MSS. in favour of
' borne.' The letters b and / are very similar in Elizabethan
MSS., and the improvement in the sense is great. If we retain
'borne' we must construe the line 'whereas everything has
been carried into safety.' For ' salfe,' A ; safe, E; MS. B reads
'false,' making the line unintelligible.

268. And full devotion : so AB, but in E the line appears as
' I offer here right sone.'

270. Thy, AE ; to my, B.

276. Has, AE ; halfe, B.

278. And, AE ; on, B.

296. Mankinds : the rime in 1. 300 shows that the original
reading was probably ' mankynne.'

311. Verey, AE ; every, B.

313, 4. That man ne woman, AE; in B the line limps haltingly
as, ' man shall never more.' To make up for this the next line
is much too long, ' Be wasted with watter, as he hath been
before.' I follow A in omitting ' he ' and ' bene,' elliptical
expressions being common in these plays. E reads : ' as is

318. like, AE ; same, B.


SUBJECT. Five other English miracle-plays on this subject
have been handed down to us. Of these the least interesting
is that of the Coventry series, in which Isaac bows at once to


his fate, and the story is told as baldly as possible. Better than
this, but still with the omission of much of the small incident
and by-play of our text, is the short Towneley version. In
the York Play the charm of the story is marred by the unhappy
freak of making Isaac thirty years of age, apparently that
in this also he should be a type of Christ. In a Dublin
play (i$th century), printed by J. P. Collier in 1836 from a
manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin, the distinguishing
features are the introduction of Rebecca and the longer speeches
assigned to Deus. The fifth version is that first printed by
Miss Toulmin Smith in Anglia, Band vii. pp. 323-337, from a
1 5th century MS. found at Brome in Suffolk. This play has
especial interest for us, not only on account of its intrinsic
merit, but from the strong resemblance of its lines 164-314 to
the corresponding 134 lines in the Chester version. This resem-
blance, sometimes of phrase, sometimes only of meaning, is
interrupted by occasional passages in the Brome MS., which
have no equivalents in the Chester. Apparently both editors
worked upon a common original, but the Chester poet com-
pressed the more freely, and in so doing greatly heightened the
effect of the dialogue. But he shewed poor taste in omitting the
charming scene between the Father and the Son after their agony
is over, and I give this in full in an Appendix. It is possible,
however, that the Chester Play has come down to us mutilated.
It was plainly at one time a separate play, and when amal-
gamated with that of Abraham and Lot may well have been cut
down for greater convenience of performance.

230. Doe a littill thinge : i.e. 'go about a little piece of
business,' but the phrase seems to have had some liturgical
associations ; cp. Chaucer's Knightes Tale, 1435, of Emily's
sacrifice to Diana

Two fyres on the auter gan sche beete,
And dide hire thinges, as men may biholde ;

and in the same way ' said her thinges ' is used for ' said her

265. [Affearde] . . . [swerde]. For the rime's sake I thus
emend 'afrayde' . . . 'sworde' of the MSS.

268. You will not slaye your childe. The fine scene which
follows, perhaps the most pathetic in our older literature, was
doubtless suggested to the dramatist by the consideration that


Isaac, as a type of Christ, must have been a willing sacrifice.
The author of the Cursor Mundi had no such inspiration.

Sir,' he said, 'quer sal we take

The beist of sacrifice to make,

Sin we wit us now broght has nan.'

He said, 'drightin sal send us an.'

Wit this he stod the child nerhand

And dernlike [privily] he drou the brand

That the child was not parceveid

Ar the suerd him hade deceveid.

Cotton, 3165-72.

271. [Steade]; fyelde, A; feilde, B; stydd, E.

281. I prate thee . . . even in three. Here A and E give us
the true reading for the unmetrical

Isaake, sonne, peace I thee praie
Thou breakes my harte in sunder

299. If it maye be : after ' she woulde kneele downe ' the
regular construction here requires 'might,' which is actually
the reading of E. But the present tense is full of dramatic
vividness, and should certainly be retained, though such changes
of construction are less common in English than in Greek.

314. Will not quite me in my nede, B ; quite me my meede,
AE ; the latter reading is perhaps slightly the better. Neither,
it may be remarked, takes a very high view of Abraham's

319. Onste. Wright misread this as ' ouste,' a word probably
not in use at this time. A and E read ' once.'

333. My blesstnge, <&. These four lines are printed from
A and E. In B, and consequently in Wright's edition, they do
not appear.

335. The blessing of the Trinitie, Allusion to the Holy
Trinity are frequent in plays on Old Testament subjects.

369. \Yinge\\ yonge, MSS.

378. Thou greves me ever ones, B ; thou greeves me every
ones, A; thou greved me but ones, E. The reading of B is
probably right. We may construe it : ' thou grievest me once
for all and always,' i. e. the remembrance of Isaac's meek sub-
mission will always cut Abraham to the heart. The scribe of
E clearly connected the speech with Isaac's prayer for forgive-
ness, but apparently wrongly.

388. And sone that I were speede : a wish, cp. C. L. 155.


391. A litill while, while you have space. B omits the first
' while,' rather to the improvement of the sense. But the word
is more likely to have dropped out in B than to have been
repeated in A and E, and is needed for the sake of the metre.

397. / woulde fayne . . . Full loth were me : the subtle
indication by the tenses that Abraham's resolution is faltering
is worth noting.

411. I pray e God rydd me. This reading (from E) is more
forcible than the ' I pray you rydd me ' of A. The disputed
word is omitted altogether in B, with the result of a halting line.

435. Into this place as thou se may. Only given in E. Not
a good line, but needed for the metre.

446. ever : pronounced as ' e'er.'

447. To teare, AB ; E weakly reads 'so deare.'

454. And thy bloode, AE ; and of thy bloode, B ; but the
reference is plainly to Gen. xxii. 17, 'and thy seed shall possess
the gate of his enemies.'

456. To do, AE ; And do, B.

457. And of all nations, &*c. I leave the text of this and the
three following lines as it stands in B because it makes good
sense, without any emendation, viz. that Abraham is to be
blessed of all nations and himself to be saved by his descendant,
Christ. But the text followed is plainly Gen. xxii. 18 : 'And in
thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.' Now in
1. 458 AE omit thou, in 1. 459 they read The for Through, and in
the 1. 460 omit be.

And of all nations, leve thou me,
Blessed evermore shall be
The fruite that shall come of thee,
And saved through thy seede.

The stanza is thus much closer to Gen. xxii. 18, but contains a
most awkward change of construction in the last line.

466. In example, AE ; An example, B.

473. Understands I male, AE ; I maie understande, B.

476. And death for to confounde, AB ; his death to under-
fonge, E. Neither reading, it will be observed, supplies a rime
to L 472.

477. Suche obedience, &r*c. The remaining stanzas are not
given in E.

485. Make rombe, lordinges, Sr'c. Spoken by the herald of
the next play, probably on horseback.




SUBJECT. We have in all six plays treating of the Adoration
of the Holy Child by the Shepherds ; two in the Towneley Cycle,
which must have been used as alternatives ; one each in those
of York, Chester and Coventry ; and a single play acted by the
Shearmen and Taylors of Coventry, probably a part of the lost
Cycle of the Trade Gilds of that town. The Shepherds of the
Coventry (Grey Friars ?) Cycle are distinguished from their
fellows by their superior learning, by their dulness and their
abstinence from gifts. In the other plays the Shepherds are all
genuine rustics, rough in their talk and manners, but full of real
devotion. They talk of their sheep, eat their poor meals, wrestle
(as in the Chester Play) with their lad and are ignominiously
beaten, try to imitate the angels' song, and then betake them to
Bethlehem, there to offer their humble gifts. All these features
appear in the Towneley Play, but inwoven with them is a genuine
farce, which makes it of a great importance in the history of the
development of the English drama.

DIALECT. In the main that of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

METRE. A very vivacious stanza of thirteen, with two and
three accents to a line, riming ababababcdddc. This metre
runs through five of the Towneley Plays and appears in four
others. Couplets, alternates, and other metres appear in the
rest of the plays. There is much alliteration.

TEXT. The MS. of the Towneley Plays (now in the posses-
sion of Mr. Quaritch) was carefully copied and collated in 1836
for the Surtees Society, and the extracts here given are taken
from the Society's edition (edited by the Rev. Joseph Hunter)
of that year.

1 1. Nere handes outt of the doore : near begging.

13. Lyysfalow : i. e. because they could not afford to cultivate

20. Fest thay cause the ploghe tary : they make the plough
stick fast a contrast to the old toast ' Speed the Plough.'

28. May he gett a paynt slefe, &>c. In the days of Sumptuary
Laws an embroidered sleeve would presumably betoken a man
of rank.


32. He can make purveance. Purveyance was the right of
purchasing provisions and necessaries for the royal household
at an arbitrary price in preference to any other buyer. The
first of forty statutes against it was made by Canute, but the
right was not finally surrendered till 1660. On a smaller scale
it would be practised by every feudal lord.

289. Bot abowte you a serkylle. Mak (a character who is
probably adapted from the favourite comic character, the con-
jurer and buffoon Maugis of the Romance of the Four Sons of
Aymon), like a rustic magician, draws an imaginary circle round
the Shepherds, in which they are to sleep until his theft is done
and his protestations of innocence ready prepared.

294. Over your heydes, Qr'c. He to see if they are asleep.

309. / hope not I myght ryse a penny to ivyn : I have no
expectation of making anything by getting up.

314. There may no note be sene, &*c. : such small jobs prevent
my having any work to show.

317. A, com in, my swetyng : she recognizes her husband.

341. Then myght I by far alle the pak, &>c. : then might I
fare much the worse at the hands of all the pack.

587. Foivlle has thou fame : a scoff at the Shepherds' un-
successful search of the house.

598. We vuate ill abowte : we are waiting about to no purpose.
Primus Pastor has not yet discovered Mak's trick.

602. Kynde wille crepe, Gr>c. A proverb ; cp. Everyman, 1. 315.

614. I am he that hym gait. Mak now pretends that the
sheep is a changeling put in place of his child.

634. With you wille I be left : I will stand by your judgment.

639. And cast hym in canvas : i. e. they toss Mak in a blanket.

642. A shepe of-vii skore : i.e. of seven score pounds.

655. Ther lyges thatfre. For the use of ' free ' as a substantive
(=noble fellow), cp. York Play of the Entry into Jerusalem,


And than we will go mete that free ;

also 'To that bright ' in 1. 716 of the present play. In the York
Play of the Shepherds, the Holy Child is called ' that frely foode.'
667. How he crakyd it: 'crakyd,' sang out loud (M. E.
craken, to cry out : cp. ' corn-crake '), occurs in the York Play,
where one of the Shepherds, after imitating the angels' song, says
I have so craked in my throte
That my lippes are nere drye.


671. I can: so Pastor Primus in the York Play, says
I can synge itt alls wele as hee
And on a-saie itt sail be sone

proved or we passe.
Yf we will helpe, halde on ! late see,

for thus it was.

And the Shepherds all sing together. In the Chester Play, on
the other hand, Pastor Primus modestly remarks,

He hade a moche better voyce than I have,

As in heaven all other have so.

685. By the prophecy of David and Isay. In the Processus
Prophetarum in the Towneley Plays the prophets who appear
are Moses, David, the Sibyl and Daniel, but the play has some
signs of being imperfect. In the Coventry Play no less than
twenty-seven prophets are made to bear their witness.

691. Cite virgo, &*.: Isaiah vii. 14 (in the Vulgate: 'Ecce
virgo concipiet et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen ejus

703. Patriarkes, &~"c. : cp. Luke x. 24.

729. A bob of cherys. Only the Shepherds of the Coventry
Cycle bring no gifts ; in the other plays some imagination is
shewn in the choice of rustic presents. Thus in the first
Towneley Play the gifts are a ' lytyll spruse cofer,' a ball and
a bottle ; in the York, a brooch with a tin bell, ' two cobill notis
uppon a band ' (cob-nuts on a riband), and a horn spoon that
will hold forty peas. In the Chester Play double gifts are
offered, a bottle, hood and shepherd's pipe by the ' Boys,' and
a bell, spoon and cap by the Shepherds. In the Coventry Play
of the Shearmen and Taylors, the gifts are a pair of mittens, a
hat, and a stick for hooking down nuts or plums.

735~36. Hay lie lytyll tyne mop, Of oure crede thou art crop.
These phrases are repeated from the corresponding scene in
the Prima Pastorum.

747. The tenys. Tennis was a fashionable game in France at
the end of the I4th century (cp. the Dauphin's gift of tennis
balls to our Henry V.), and was well known in England and
Scotland about the same time. In the romance of The Turke
and Gawin it is alluded to as having been played by Arthur's
Knights! Tnou shalt see a tenn i sse ball,

That never knight in Arthur's hall
Is able to give it a lout.


749. That sett alle on seven: that put all things in order.
The phrase is repeated from the Prima Pastorum, in an
earlier part of which it occurs slightly altered as ' to cast the
world in seven.' In the play of Magnus Herodes the King
threatens to ' sett alle on sex and seven.'

765. Let take on loft: let us deliver on high, let us sing out



SUBJECT. There is no counterpart to this play in any of the
other cycles, and it is to this fact rather than to any special
merit, whether literary or dramatic, that its selection is due.
We have here a personification of the heavenly virtues of Truth,
Mercy, Justice and Peace, and we thus advance a step towards
the dramatic allegory of the earliest Morality Plays, such as the
Castell of Perseverance, which ends with a precisely similar scene.

METRE. This play is written throughout * in stanzas of eight
lines, riming ababbcbc, with the occasional substitution of two
more A-rimes for the Cs in the second quatrain. This very
undramatic metre runs through eleven of the Coventry Plays
and appears also in twelve others. The chief variation from it
is a still longer stanza, riming ababababcdddc.

DIALECT. The chief scribal peculiarity is the appearance
of x in such words as xal, xulde, etc. According to Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps this is in harmony with the traditional
attribution of the Cycle to Coventry, or its neighbourhood, but
xal, xulde, etc. are usually associated with the East-Midland
dialect, and I have elsewhere stated my belief in the East-
Midland origin of this Cycle.

TEXT. The text of this extract is taken from Mr. Halliwell-
Phillipps' edition for the Shakespeare Society, the title of which
runs as follows :

' Ludus Coventriae. A collection of mysteries formerly repre-
sented at Coventry on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Edited by
James Orchard Halliwell. London : printed for the Shakespeare
Society, 1841.'

1 There are three half-stanzas of four lines each.


The proofs have been read with the unique Manuscript in the
Cottonian Collection at the British Museum, dated 1468.

I. Ffonvre thaw sand sex undryd foure yere. As there are
upwards of two hundred different computations of the number
of years between the Creation of Man and Birth of Christ it is
hardly worth enquiring to whom this particular calculation
should be credited. It is six hundred years longer than the
reckoning of Archbishop Usher (4004 years), now usually in-
serted in Bibles. According to Jewish chronologists the length
of the period is 3992 years, according to the Samaritan 4293,
while other calculations vary between 3483 and 6984.

7. Seyd by Ysaie : Isaiah Ixiii. 15.

10. Into erthe : a rime is wanted to 'fede.' We should
rather read ' this stede,' and explain ' erthe ' as a gloss.

13. Thi thryste : for ' thi ' we should have expected ' their.'

21. Balys. Mr. Halliwell suggested this as an emendation and
in deference to his authority I have so marked it. But the word
in the MS. looks to me far more like ' balys ' than ' babys.'

25. Quod Jeremy e : Jerem. ix. i.

38. That ben in thefyrst ierarchie : see note to York, 1. 23.

48. Of ' Locyfere to restore the place : see note to York, 1. 23.

49. Propter miseriam, &*c. : Ps. xii. 5.
71. Thou hast lovyd trewthe : Heb. i. 9.
85. Veritas mea, &*c. : Ps. Ixxxv. 10.

87. Byddyth : imperative, ' Cry " Ho " to that hell-hound who
hates thee.' Cp. Chaucer, Knightes Tale, 1796-98.

And when that Thesens hadde seen his sighte,
Unto the folk that foughten thus echon
He cryde, ' Hoo ! no more, for it is doon.'

93. Therefore his endles punchement. The argument is that
because God is eternal, i.e. with an existence not conditioned
by time, therefore any offence against Him partakes of His
eternity, and provokes an eternal punishment.

95. The devyl to his mayster he ches. For the use of 'to ' cp.
Skelton's Magnificence, 1. 1961

I sende ofte times a fole to his sone.

107. Above : i.e. in a greater degree than.

108. He: i.e. man.

Be feyth he forsook hym never the more : i. e. though man fell
into sin and so forsook God and presumed on His mercy (1. 109),
none the less he retained his faith in God.


114. In vertuys : i. e. among angels of the order of Virtues to
which Mercy and Justice belong.

134. Tyl wysdam : the heavenly Wisdom, or Christ.


SUBJECT. The importance of this play consists chiefly in its
union of all the essentials of every kind of religious and didactic
drama. It is a miracle play, according to the current definition,
as treating of the life and death of St. Mary Magdalene. It is
a mystery play, by virtue of the introduction of scenes from the
life of Christ. It is a morality play, as exhibiting the contest
between good and evil, and as introducing upon the stage such
abstract personages as the King of the Flesh.

Dr. Furnivall has divided the play, which has the least possible
dramatic unity, into two parts, with twenty scenes in the first,
and thirty-one in the second.' The play must have been an
expensive one to produce, as there are upwards of forty different
characters in Part I. and twenty-six in Part II. Probably only
two pageants were used for its representation, for several of the
scenes appear to be inserted only to give time for a ' shift ' on
the other pageant. But if any attempt were made to depict the
burning temple or the incidents of the voyage of the King and
Queen of Marcylle, realistically, the resources at the command of
the stage manager must have been extensive.

The story of the play is adapted, with very few variations,
from the account of St. Mary Magdalene in the Legenda Aurea
of Jacobus de Voragine, of which an English edition was pub-
lished by Caxton in 1483. The identification of Mary Magdalene
with Mary the sister of Lazarus was accepted by Gregory the
Great, and being supported by his authority was hardly questioned
until the 1 6th century.

DIALECT. According to Dr. Furnivall the dialect of the play
is East-Midland, probably from the neighbourhood of Lynn in
Norfolk, or from Lincolnshire. The most notable dialectal
and scribal forms are xal (shall) and qwat (what).

METRE. The metre is very irregular. It seems to have
originally been written in 8- or 9-line stanzas, and to have re-
mained so now and then. Other stanzas, alternates and couplets,
also occur. The line numbers which are taken from Dr.


Furnivall's edition, show them to some extent. Pt. II. is
mainly in alternates.

TEXT. The text here given is from Dr. Furnivall's edition of
the Digby Mysteries (see Introduction) for the New Shakspere
Society. The Bodleian manuscript in which these plays are
preserved was the work of three different hands, but the greater
part was probably written between 1480 and 1490.

54. Besyn of all other men : for the use of ' of after ' besyn '
(beseen) cp. I Cor. xv. 5, 'And that He was seen of Cephas,
then of the twelve.'

55. Cyrus is my name. The following is the account of the
Magdalene's parentage in the Legenda Aurea:

' Mary Magdalene had her surname of magdalo a castell |
and was borne of right noble lygnage and parentes | whiche
were descended of the lygnage of kynges | And her fader was
named Sirus & her moder eucharye | She wyth her broder
lazare & her suster martha possessed the castel of magdalo :
whiche is two myles fro nazareth | & bethanye the castel
whiche is nygh to Iherusalenr and also a grete parte of Iheru-
salem. whiche al thise thynges they departed ainonge theym in
suche wyse that marye had the castelle magdalo. whereof she
had her name magdaiene | And lazare had the parte of the cytee
of Iherusalem : and martha had to her parte bethanye.'

Legenda Aurea. Second Edition (1493), f. 184, ver. 80.

55. Be cleffys so cold : a meaningless tag ; cp. ' in contree and
cost,' 1. 12 1 2.

60. Bothe lesse and more : \. e. the whole of it ; cp. 1. 1202.

84. Why II that I am in good mynd : i. e. in my right senses, in
full possession of my faculties. It is still common to insert
words to this effect in wills.

89-91. Hys wyll . . . a-gens hem. There is here a confusion
of pronouns past any certain unravelling. 'Agens hem' (i.e.

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