Play 26, The Conspiracy
Play 26, THE CONSPIRACY: FOOTNOTES
2 Unless he soon is condemned, he will cause us to be destroyed
Play 26, THE CONSPIRACY: 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.
Attention to Judas’ conspiracy and betrayal begins early, and the focus remains on this rather than on other events such as the episode of the moneychangers in the Temple in the period following Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. The events will of course move quickly enough to the Passion, which was obviously considered the core of the cycle of plays as also in narrative accounts such as Love’s Mirror. In the treatment of the role of Judas, there is considerable elaboration of the historical material as found in the gospels. The Northern Passion, for example, is typical in following the biblical linking of Judas’ betrayal to the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary Magdalen in the house of Simon, shown only in a missing play that was never entered in the Register containing the pageants in the York cycle. The Conspiracy as it appears in the Register shows signs of considerable rewriting of what would have been a simpler and shorter play in 1415 when the Ordo paginarum was compiled. An indication of this is the appearance of the alliterative line, which is evident throughout and which argues for a later date consistent with other pageants that use this verse form. In this edition, the verse is presented as in the manuscript, where, after a part of the opening speech, each alliterative half-line appears as a separate line on the page. As is the custom in this edition, the second part of each alliterative line is indented here with the first word uncapitalized. Stanzas are of fourteen lines, and, in contrast to Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse, contain rhyme.
2 regent of rewle. Pilate, the Roman governor of the region, has the task of preventing civil unrest — a common worry too of the authorities in late medieval England. Typically, he is concerned with his dignity, his wisdom, and the loyalty of others, the latter an important quality when viewed in light of Judas’ action in the pageant. His bragging may be compared to Herod’s in the Nativity plays.
14 wyscus. Perhaps an error for “vicious,” or made up, in which case it probably means “firm, sure of himself.”
20–21 Pilate’s claim to be of countenance “as bright / as blossome on brere” may be ironic if he was fitted with a mask or provided with a painted face to make him appear ugly, as was usual with evil characters.
25–28 Not an offer to discuss, but a threat that all resistance will be handled severely since “all of youre helpe hanges in my hande” (line 28). Like other tyrants, his great fault is pride.
29ff. The appearance of Caiphas and Anna in Pilate’s court at this point is odd, since in the gospels Judas goes to the chief priests in the Temple. In the pageant the meeting serves to link secular authority with the ecclesiastics, who are presented as unstable and vindictive, worse than Pilate. They are fixed in their interpretation of the law, which they have internalized to the point where to question it would be to “argue with themselves.”
43a in oure warde. Within Pilate’s jurisdiction. York was divided into wards for purposes of governance.
45–46 But and his sawe be lawfull . . . to lende. Pilate insists that the allegations against Jesus must be legitimate, though in the end the trial will be a charade and a demonstration of the abuse of power. Pilate makes the point concerning the necessity of a fair trial below at lines 105–07.
72–74 Reference to the overturning of the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple and Jesus’ act of forcibly expelling them along with the animals to be purchased for sacrifices. This was Jesus’ attack on the practices of the Second Temple that was understood as essential to his program of instituting a new law not based on the ritual practices introduced after the Babylonian captivity.
76 appostita. Caiphas accuses Jesus of committing perjury (line 75) and now of being an apostate, one who has rejected the truths of his religion in favor of allegedly false opinions. Caiphas wants him to be forced to submit as heretics were made to reject their heretical views in late medieval England. He will ask for the death penalty.
92b–93 that makeles . . . full rawe. Pilate’s terminology identifies Jesus as the one who is matchless, which would have been seen as the correct designation. This is part of the author’s strategy to maintain the audience’s sympathy with Jesus. The high priests are guilty of allowing their imagination to be detached from reality. They are governed by their anger, which allows their reasoning faculties to wander idly and maliciously.
99 uppon oure Sabbott day / the seke makes he saffe. Jesus works and heals the sick on the Sabbath, and this is not permitted under a strict interpretation of Jewish law. It is a constant complaint during the trial, along with the charge that his sayings are untrue and inconsistent with Second Temple orthodoxy.
110 than may we prophite oure pele. Anna claims to have certified the accuracy of the allegations, and here Pilate agrees to advance the charges against Jesus.
127–54 Judas arrives on the scene and explains the connection with the meal at Simon’s house when Mary Magdalen (actually an unnamed woman in the biblical account, but absorbed into the character of Mary Magdalen in late medieval tradition) was allowed to waste expensive ointment on Jesus when it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. But that is not his concern; as the treasurer of the apostles, he would have embezzled his tenth, which he has now lost. In his greed and general attitude as well as his ultimate despair he is related to Cain. Judas has come to make a bargain and thus to have his revenge.
155 Do open, porter, the porte. Embedded stage direction. There must be a gate and a porter on hand to guard it.
157–58 thou glorand gedlyng . . . growe. The porter (Janitor) provides a description of Judas, who, as in the visual arts, has a face that fails to hide his hostility. The reference to “fals face” (line 161) suggests a mask. The porter is clearly taken aback at the sight of this visitor, and in his next speech accuses him of treason, which of course is accurate. Further descriptive remarks will refer to his appearance as a sign of his disposition. What the audience sees must indeed be “uncomely to kys” (line 200).
163 Mars he hath morteysed his mark. Mars, as the god of war, was associated with wrath by the medieval mythographers, and his red color seems be an indicator also of the hue of Judas’ face. Traditionally Judas may have red hair and a beard of the same color, though Mellinkoff reports that the only firm evidence from dramatic records she has found is from Lucerne (Outcasts, 1:150–53). The reference to the “mark” may suggest Cain’s mark, directly opposed to the seal ceremonially given to the children of God as part of the rite of baptism. The point would have been made clearer if, as one must suspect, the character of Judas was presented as an ugly caricature.
188 I schall buske to the benke / wher baneres are bright. Embedded stage direction. The bench is the seat of judgment from which Pilate will be expected to issue a verdict. Banners are present during the Trial plays, where they are held by the soldiers; see Pageant 33, lines 160–83, below.
211 be noght abayst to byde at the bar. Literally at the bar of justice before Pilate.
215 marchaundyse. Jesus becomes a marketable item to be bought and sold. The Meditations had called Judas a “most evil merchant” (p. 325).
229b thirti pens and plete, no more than. The Harleian manuscript of the Northern Passion explains: “oure lord Jhesu was salde / for threty penis plainly talde, / And nowther for les ne for mare” (p. 19).
247 fales fende. The manuscript has frende, but Smith (York Plays, p. 227), followed by Beadle, plausibly emends to fende. This line and the ones that follow seem confused.
254a of lande. In context it is hard to see what is meant unless, though questionable, the “lurdayne” is to slip away to another “lande.”
276 take ther thi silvere. Embedded stage direction. Oddly, it seems to be Pilate who hands over the money, but he may simply be observing the transaction.
280 jocounde and joly I am. So is Judas now, in contrast with his despair later.
287–91 Pilate still insists that the “sotte” Jesus might be “sakles,” and hence he advises restraint in the torment to which he will be put. Nevertheless, this is insufficient to make Pilate a sympathetic character.
Play 26, THE CONSPIRACY: 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).
1 PILATUS. Speech identification by LH in Reg.
13 grone. So RB; Reg, LTS: grume.
34a thurgh. So LTS, RB; Reg: thurgh thurgh.
85b tales. So LTS, RB; Reg: tales tales.
89b deland. So RB; Reg, LTS: derand.
117 PILATUS. So Reg in LH, correcting ascription to CAYPHAS by JC.
128 Unjust. So RB; LTS: Un-just; Reg: Uncust.
133b that. So LTS, RB; Reg: Tat.
183b drawen. So LTS, RB; Reg: drawe.
191 Assignment to Judas deleted in Reg.
211 bar. So LTS, RB; Reg: bay.
226a justified. So LTS, RB; Reg: justified b.
232 hym. So LTS, RB; Reg: hm.
247 fende. So LTS, RB; Reg: frende.
250 hastely hang. So LTS, RB; Reg: hastely hym hang.
252–54 Reg: lines initially ascribed to Pilatus (deleted).
268 faythe. So RB; LTS: [?faythe]; Reg omits.
280 Reg: at right, by LH: Caret hic; JC has added Janitor and Judas.
284 In LH in right margin in Reg: Caret hic.
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