Play 27, The Last Supper
Play 27, THE LAST SUPPER: 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 Bakers were an obvious choice for the Last Supper since bread was an essential requirement for the institution of the Eucharist. No event in biblical history could be of greater significance in relation to the feast of Corpus Christi, which was a celebration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist in liturgical rite and procession as well as, at York, the plays. It is thus all the more unfortunate that, due to the loss of a leaf between lines 89 and 90, the central portion of the narrative with its representation of the blessing of the bread and wine is missing. The actions performed by Jesus at the table very likely were modeled on the gestures of the priest in consecrating the elements at Mass. This is supported by the stage direction that has Jesus perform the lavabo rite by washing his hands after the foot washing and in preparation for the main rite of the Passover meal. King points out that the lesson for Maundy Thursday described the foot washing, and that at vespers the York Missal quite remarkably specifies a mimed representation of the ritual meal: “table-cloths and wafers, with wine, are to be placed before the bishop and the others sitting together by the ministers of the church, as if to dine.”1 It is hard to know how the actors were arranged for the scenes involved in the Bakers’ pageant, but suggestions may be gained from entirely conventional mid-fourteenth-century painted glass in the choir of York Minster. In the Last Supper panel, Jesus is centrally placed and blessing with his right hand, while with the left he reaches out toward a dish on the cloth-covered table. The apostles are located on each side, except for Judas, who is in front of the table, as typically is the case so that he will be turned away from the viewer’s gaze. A chalice and a ciborium, with hosts, stand on the table.2 At Great Malvern, a panel shows Judas receiving the Host and simultaneously stealing a fish, which he is hiding under the table cloth.3 The classic article on the play is by Mill, “York Bakers’ Play of the Last Supper.” The pageant is written in twelve-line stanzas.
4 feeste of Paas. The Pascal feast, Passover, which is to be hereafter rejected in favor of the new Easter feast and the regular celebration of the Mass. The Eucharist was presented by Love and others in terms of a sacramental mysticism (see Mirror, pp. 153–56).
7–8 Oure lambe is roste . . . / As Moyses lawe will lely lere. Prescriptions for the roast lamb are found in Exodus 12:3–10.
9–10 ilke man that has / Pepill in his awne posté. Implying the authoritarian family, with the patriarch as head of the family responsible for organizing the feast.
19 array you all on rawe. Perhaps the disciples took places standing by the table, but the foot washing will intervene before they actually are allowed to eat.
25–26 Of Moyses lawes here make I an ende / In som party. The extensive rules specified in the Old Testament are abrogated, and the new law of Christ will be substituted. For example, the lamb will no longer be required, nor the ritualistic way of eating it. But not all the old rules will be declared obsolete.
36 wasshed clene. The new law will declare that persons taking communion must be cleansed through penance and absolution.
40 Do us have watir. Embedded stage direction. In Mark14:13–14 and Luke 22:10 two disciples are sent into the town to meet Marcellus for the pitcher of water, but there is no time for anything so time-consuming. Marcellus will also bring a towel for the foot-washing.
47–50 Peter objects to having his feet washed by Jesus, as in John 13:6–9.
60 s.d. Tunc lavat manus. The foot washing is completed, and it seems that among the disciples only Peter took part in it in the pageant. Now is the preparation for the meal, which is to be an example for all future generations.
79 To whilke of you such fare schulde fall. The disciples have been talking inappropriately about precedence among themselves.
after 89 The missing leaf contained the Last Supper up to the moment when Jesus gives the sop to Judas. This is the detail depicted in the Great Malvern glass and very commonly in other works of visual art. In the popular Biblia Pauperum block books the event is aligned with Melchisedech’s offering of bread and wine and with Moses in the desert who feeds himself with manna (pp. 81 and 83). In play production, as in depictions in the visual arts, it would probably have been the case that Judas was turned away from the audience so as not to make eye contact.
96 thou sittist nexte his kne. Spoken by James to John.
104–05 Now is tyme to me to gang . . . of newe. Embedded stage direction. Judas’ exit is covered by the disciples seeming to be talking quietly among themselves.
116–23 Jesus’ warning to the disciples. He especially has prayed for Peter, who will need to fend off the assaults of the devil — and, as indicated below in lines 132–37, will deny Jesus three times before the night is over.
142–43 All that in worlde is wretyn of me / Shall be fulfilled. All the ancient prophecies will be fulfilled and proven true.
144–47 I am the herde, the schepe are ye . . . to save. The brief parable of the shepherd and the sheep, told to the disciples by Jesus in Matthew 26:31–34 and Mark 14:27–31.
159 on twelffe seeges sitte schall ye. In heaven, the apostles are promised twelve thrones to sit beside Jesus at Judgment Day.
168–70 swerdis . . . Shall selle his cote and bye hym one. A rather confused adaptation of Luke 22:36 and 38. Andrew will report that they have two swords at line 176.
173–75 And stones to stynte all striffe. They are to carry stones for protection? The editor is indebted to a suggestion by Russell Peck, who wonders if this might not be an echo of the Temptation pageant in which the Fiend would tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread; here Jesus will turn bread into the body of Christ “Yoursellfe for to save” (line 174).
Play 27, THE LAST SUPPER: 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 JESUS. So LTS, RB; Reg: Deus in JC’s hand.
Above, top right of page in Reg: caret hic principio.
Pees. Reg: Large P sketched in.
2 Reg has all interlined; and here added by later scribe (replacing ?theryn).
60, s.d. Tunc lavat manus. Supplied by JC in right margin in Reg.
61 Reg has ascription by JC: Deus. This edition omits.
After 89 Missing leaf follows in Reg.
96 I hope. So Reg, LTS; RB: Jhon.
100 is. So LTS, RB; Reg: is is.
148 slayne. So RB; Reg, LTS: allone.
151 mende. So LTS, RB; Reg: mened.
173 stones. So Reg, LTS, RB; Kölbing: swordes.
177 Us. So LTS, RB; Reg: Vis.
187 At left in margin in Reg: Hic caret, in LH; JC has added novo loquela.
Play 27, THE LAST SUPPER: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 King, York Mystery Cycle, p. 173, quoting the York Missal, 1:97, 101 (in translation).
Footnote 2 See YA, p. 71.
Footnote 3 See Rushforth, Medieval Christian Imagery, pp. 57–63, fig. 13.
Go To Play 28, The Agony and Betrayal