Play 17, The Purification of the Virgin
Play 17, THE PURIFICATION OF THE VIRGIN: EXPLANATORY NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: AV: Authorized (“King James”) Version; Meditations: Meditations on the Life of Christ, trans. Ragusa and Green; MED: Middle English Dictionary; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; RB: Richard Beadle, ed., York Plays; REED: Records of Early English Drama; YA: Davidson and O’Connor, York Art; York Breviary: Breviarium ad usum insignis ecclesie Eboracensis; York Missal: Missale ad usum insignis ecclesiae Eboracensis.
References to the Ordo paginarum are to REED: York, 1:16–27.
The Purification pageant is misplaced in the Register, from which it was initially omitted, very likely, according to Beadle, because it was not being played when the manuscript was assembled,1 though it was to be taken up by the Masons, with financial assistance from the Laborers, in 1477.2 The Ordo paginarum supplies proof that it was being produced by the religious guild associated with St. Leonard’s Hospital in 1415, and at that time its dramatis personae included a midwife and two of Simeon’s sons not present in the pageant text as we have it. At some time roles for the Presbyter and an angel were added. The pageant was not to be entered until John Clerke was assigned to do so in 1567, when it was given to the Laborers.3 Then it was copied into the Register out of order, immediately following the Emmaus pageant. There is a reference to it, partly erased, at the location in the Register where it should have appeared.4 The inconsistency in the stanza forms may be attributed to changes as the play changed hands and was passed down, finally being subjected to some modernization by John Clerke as well. The Masons seem to have remained the principal guild producing the pageant in the sixteenth century until when, after the 1530s, their fortunes declined on account of the halt in ecclesiastical construction and the poverty of the city. As noted, the Laborers had been drawn in to give support, but what role the Hatmakers played is unclear, as Beadle observes.5 The Purification was commemorated on Candlemas (February 2), one of the major feasts of the late medieval Church, but it is also important to remember that the “churching” of women following childbirth was a practice that was maintained as late as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which retained most features of the medieval English Sarum rite. The woman was expected to wear a white veil, as likely was done by the actor playing Mary in the pageant. The play essentially follows the account in Luke 2:22–38 and other sources. It conflates the Purification ritual with that of the Presentation, which in Jewish tradition was a different ceremony.6
1–56 The long speech by the Presbyter returns to the Creation and to the giving of the law to lapsarian humanity, and then proceeds to cite the rule on the purification of women required by Leviticus 12. Conception “having received seed” and subsequent childbearing result in a state of defilement for the woman. She will remain impure for forty days (longer for girl children), after which the purification ritual is specified. The “beistes good” (line 26) required for the ceremony were a dove and a lamb for sacrifice, or, if on account of poverty she is not able to provide the lamb, two doves may be brought to the priest of the law. Lines 53–56 indicate that the Presbyter is the one who will receive Mary and the Child at the Temple in Jerusalem. His initial speech shows signs of being patched onto the beginning of the play to identify the location at the Temple and to provide context.
5 In nomber, weight, and mesure. See Wisdom 11:21.
57–86 The widow and prophetess Anna, now in her eighties, has been living in the Temple and predicting the coming of the one who will be “the redempcion of Israel” (Luke 2:38, quoted in line 184). Her appearance in the story normally would come after the introduction of Simeon. Here she is the one to introduce him.
76 The well of mekeness. Mary is represented as a fountain, filled with grace and a conduit of grace to believers (see Gray, Themes and Images, p. 89). Pseudo-Matthew had placed Mary’s first encounter with the angel of the Annunciation at a well (James, ed., Apocryphal New Testament, p. 74).
91 I ame wayke and all unwelde. Simeon’s lament lays great stress on his age, presumably as a centenarian, and his weakness; he is only holding onto life in the hope of seeing the Messiah, as the prophets have predicted (see lines 107–18). The Holy Spirit has promised him that he will live to see the Child, a promise repeated by the angel (lines 167–70), and in the pageant he will be greatly strengthened as he performs the Temple ritual — a sign that the writer was thinking in terms of dramatic effect. In Love’s Mirror Simeon is described as a “rightwisman,” who will come to the Temple at the opportune time since he is led there by the Holy Spirit (p. 47).
113–14 That he shulde comme with us to dwell . . . of light. King notes that this is a paraphrase of the Candlemas antiphon Lumen ad revelationem gentium (York Mystery Cycle, p. 125, citing York Missal, 2:18).
119–22 he shulde comme and harro hell . . . all on syde. Prophetic, predicting the Harrowing, when Jesus will come like “a gyant” to break down the gates of hell, release the captives in limbo, and put down the “feyndes.” In conventional iconography, Jesus at the Harrowing is depicted as much larger than the other figures, indeed like a giant.
130 Knytt in oure kynde. The “babb” (line 129) is of two natures, joining God and man inseparably.
137–64 Nowe Lorde, thowe grant to me . . . owte of dowte. These lines are mainly a prayer by Simeon asking that he might be allowed to have a sight of the holy one whom he craves to see.
166–67 Bodworde to thee I bryng . . . of myght. The messenger of the Holy Ghost is an angel, an intermediary who reinforces the promise that Simeon will see the Messiah.
195–222 Here in this Temple . . . I wolde. Mary, who has rehearsed the forty-day rule for purification, locates the holy family in Jerusalem, near the Temple to which they will proceed. In the lines which follow, they will discuss the need for the ritual, though Mary has not “conceyved with syn fleshely” (line 203). Mary will insist on fulfilling the law.
246–53 To riche to offer bothe . . . Reddy at hand. Their poverty is again stressed; thus they do not need to provide the lamb. The doves are ready in a basket, the conventional container that appears in iconography, as in the full-page woodcut in the Book of Hours printed at Rouen for York use in 1517 (Hore beatissime virginis Marie, fol. xviii; YA, p. 56).
263–64 Because Jesus is “the lame of God . . . / That all our syns shall take away,” they have the required lamb for the ritual. These words are adapted in translation from the Agnus Dei in the Ordinary of the Mass.
274 Lo, here is the Tempyll on this hyll. The Temple must be on the pageant wagon, Mary and Joseph in the street. Their approach to it should be a short procession, perhaps holding candles as in the Candlemas ceremony; see C. Davidson, Festivals and Plays, pp. 20–21. Processions have been documented as early as the fourth century in commemorations of the Purification (Duchesne, Christian Worship, pp. 499 and 548). The Stanzaic Life describes the approach of Jesus and his mother to the Temple as a procession, with candles (pp. 99–100).
281–99 The holy family has arrived at the Temple, and Mary prays that their offering may be accepted. In the following lines (299–323) the priest will focus entirely on the Child, the Savior of the world, since the mother is undefiled. As the Mirour of Mans Saluacioune says, Mary “ne had nothing nede of purificacioune” (line 1209, p. 79), confirming the pageant’s focus on the Presentation. Glass in Great Malvern Priory, perhaps by the York school of glass painters, shows Mary holding out the Child to be blessed; behind her is Anna, wearing a wimple and with a lighted taper (Rushforth, Medieval Christian Imagery, p. 106, fig. 38). In mid-fourteenth-century glass in York Minster, Anna has a candle in her left hand, and where there is now a patched area, her right hand had held the basket with the doves (YA, p. 57, fig. 14).
326 Welcome bright starne that shyneth bright as day. The central image of Anna’s welcome in lines 324–31. The emphasis on light is appropriate to Candlemas. Jesus is the Light of the World.
338–39 welcomme with all honour / Here in this hall. Joseph and Mary, with the Child, are prepared to come into the Temple, though in actual Jewish rites the woman would not have been allowed to enter. The English rites of Purification were done at the church door, and only thereafter the woman was allowed to come inside (see Rastall, Heaven Singing, p. 260). What follows seems dramatically unworkable without a time gap for the action that Simeon is directed to do.
341–42 Dresse thee furth in thyne array, / Come to the Temple. Simeon must put on his vestments, which, as in the Speculum humanae salvationis, may have involved garments and perhaps a miter reminiscent of those worn by contemporary bishops or abbots (Wilson and Wilson, Medieval Mirror, p. 160).
350 Nowe wyll I to yon Temple goo. The Temple must be nearby, but at least on account of his newly found youthful gait he can move quickly to where he will greet Mary and the “babb.” He clearly stands before her by line 358 if not before.
366 Haill floscampy and flower vyrgynall. Terminology applying to the Virgin Mary. She is a flower of the field, a “ryall roose” and “unfadyng” (lines 370–71). The well-known carol states: “There is no rose of suche virtue / As is the rose that bare Jesu” (J. Stevens, ed., Mediaeval Carols, pp. 10–11).
374 mekly I beseke thee here where I kneyll. Simeon has been kneeling, probably from about line 354. Compare Love’s Mirror: “he kneled done and devoutly honourede and wirchiped him as he was in his modere armes born” (p. 47).
376 in my narmes for to heve thee. Simeon takes the Child in his arms (see Luke 2:28) and begins a long speech (lines 378–414) in which he asks the child to embrace him. There is no stage direction to indicate when Simeon will place the Child on the altar where he will be adored. Iconographic models suggest a freestanding square altar, with Simeon behind it and facing Mary.
415–23 In peace, Lorde, nowe leyf thy servand, / For myne eys haith seyn that is ordand . . . For evermore. Paraphrase of the Nunc dimittis. Simeon is now accomplishing that for which he has so long waited, and he can die in peace. The canticle is spoken in a paraphrase, not sung, while Simeon is still holding the Child. The Nunc dimittis would have been a very familiar canticle since it was sung daily for Compline, later absorbed into the service of Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. The text is from Luke 2:29–32. The Stanzaic Life explains that in this canticle Simeon specified three qualities of Jesus in order: “hele, light, joy of Israele” (line 2719, p. 92).
425–27 That with thee in thy kyngdome shall dwell . . . great care. An addition to the Nunc dimittis; at the Last Day, those destined for the heaven will be separated from those who will be “drevyn to hell.”
441 the sworde of sorro thy hart shal thryll. Luke 2:35. A reference to the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin which will pierce her heart, sometimes depicted literally in Dominican iconography.
459 God Son, thowe grant us thy blyssyng. The baby is asked for his blessing. The infant Jesus performing a blessing at his Presentation is quite common and has been observed by Shorr as early as an illumination in the ninth-century Drogo Sacramentary (“Iconographic Development of the Presentation,” p. 25, fig. 13).
Play 17, THE PURIFICATION OF THE VIRGIN: TEXTUAL NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: Bevington: David Bevington, ed., Medieval Drama (1975); Köbling: E. Köbling, “Beiträge zur Erklärung und Textkritik der York Plays”; LTS: Lucy Toulmin Smith, ed., The York Plays (1885); RB: Richard Beadle, ed., The York Plays (1972) (incorporating numerous emendations from other sources); RB2: Richard Beadle, “Corrections to The York Plays,” in Gerald Byron Kinneavy, A Concordance to the York Plays (1986), pp. xxxi–xxxii; s.d.: stage direction; Sykes: A. C. Cawley, ed., “The Sykes MS of the York Scriveners’ Play”; Towneley: Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley, eds., The Towneley Plays.
The base text for this edition is London, British Library, MS. Add. 35290, called the “Register” in the York civic records and here identified by the abbreviation Reg. Some variations in lineation from the manuscript are not noted here; see RB and Beadle and Meredith’s The York Play: A Facsimile. In most cases the line numbering in the present text is consistent with RB. Lineation of alliterative verse throughout is based on Reg, with line numbering adjusted accordingly to account for half lines. Scribes are identified as follows: Scribe A; Scribe B: main scribe; JC: John Clerke; LH: later scribal hand (unidentified).
In JC’s hand, out of order in Reg. It is, however, noted by JC in Reg at fol. 74, where the pageant, identified as Purificacio Marie, should have appeared: It is entryd in the latter end of this booke next after the Sledmen, Palmers, and it begynnyth by the pr . . . “Allmyghty God in heven.” This is written over text that had been erased.
15 he. Reg: interlined by scribe.
30 Unto. So LTS, RB; Un- deleted in Reg.
as I yow tell. Corrected in Reg from full yell.
33 after. So RB; Reg, LTS: after that.
149 relesse. So RB; Reg, LTS: reverse.
166 Bodworde. So RB; Reg, LTS: Bolde worde.
180 in. So Köbling; Reg, LTS, RB: that.
247 poore. So RB, following Köbling; Reg, LTS omit.
268 pay. So LTS, RB; Reg: pray.
389 telles. So LTS, RB; Reg: tell.
407 Line added in left margin by scribe in Reg.
433–60 The remainder of the pageant is entered on a sheet (a singleton) pasted into Reg.
438 wo. So RB; Reg, LTS omit.
449 gyant. So LTS, RB; Reg: gyane.
460 fyne. So RB; Reg, LTS: fynd.
Play 17, THE PURIFICATION OF THE VIRGIN: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 See RB, p. 435.
Footnote 2 REED: York, 1:115.
Footnote 3 REED: York, 1:351.
Footnote 4 RB, p. 436.
Footnote 5 RB, p. 437.
Footnote 6 See Shorr, “Iconographic Development of the Presentation,” p. 17.
The Hatmakers, Masons, and Laborers
Go To Play 18, The Flight to Egypt