Play 42, The Ascension
Play 42, THE ASCENSION: FOOTNOTE
Play 42, THE ASCENSION: 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.
In addition to Mary and Jesus, only four apostles — John, Peter, Andrew, and James — have speaking roles in the Tailors’ pageant, but the Ordo paginarum indicates an early fifteenth-century cast of John the Evangelist and eleven apostles. Six angels were included — a plausible number, even if only two had speaking roles, since having four of them operate the cloud machine might have made good sense and yet have been quite consistent with traditional iconography. Jesus’ ascension would have been one of the high points of the drama, and was accompanied by music, noted by John Clerke as Ascendo ad patrem meum, replacing the clearly erroneous stage direction calling for Gloria in excelsys deo, which was canceled, presumably by Clerke, in the manuscript. We might imagine the cloud machine to have some affinity with the mechanism still used in the Assumption performed on August 14–15 each year at Elche in Spain,1 but it must have been more modest since it would have required technology that was manageable on a pageant wagon. The Virgin Mary also has a central role. It is usual for her to appear in the most prominent location in the grouping of apostles. The pageant is written in octaves.
1–24 The apostles remain very perplexed about Jesus’ resurrection, especially since he comes and goes mysteriously. Mary then reminds Peter (lines 25–32) about his doubts immediately following the Crucifixion, though now he should have “knowyng clere.” But she too would like to achieve greater understanding.
33–80 Almyghty God . . . schall ay. Jesus’ long prayer to his Father. He has died for humankind, and now will be reunited with the Father since he has accomplished what he was sent to earth to do.
81ff. Jesus will turn to the apostles to explain their predicament and to stress the urgency of maintaining their faith since thus the human body, subject to decay and dissolution, can transcend physicality. To do otherwise is to retain the bondage of the soul to the evil one, the devil of hell, who will supervise the “endles peyne” (line 120) to which the damned will be subjected. Finally, Jesus will return to judge those who will receive salvation and those who do not at Doomsday. The direct connection between the tree of the Garden of Eden and the cross will have been noted (lines 114–16). The speech, in which Jesus also reminds the disciples of their difficulties and martyrdoms to come, affirms the great strength that they will receive to do their work, whether it be exorcizing demons, healing the sick, speaking in tongues, handling serpents, or drinking “venym wik, withouten wene” (line 143).
93–98 but sithen I have / Ben walkand fourty daies aboute. King notes that the source of Jesus’ argument here is a sermon by Gregory the Great which was read on Ascension Day (York Mystery Cycle, p. 165, citing York Breviary, 1:478). As seen in the two previous pageants, Jesus has appeared with the disciples and shared food with them in order to demonstrate the physicality of the Resurrection.
105–06 Howe man by cours of kynde schall ryse / Allthogh he be roten. Affirming the resurrection of the physical body at the Last Day.
175–76 The Fadir blissing moste myghty / Giffe I you all that leffe here. The Stanzaic Life says that Jesus “blesset hom all whit mild steven, / and befor hom alle tho / Stegh uppe into the blisse of heven” (p. 294).
176 s.d. Ascendo ad patrem meum. An antiphon for Ascension Day; see York Breviary, 1:480. Dutka translates: “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. Alleluia” (Music, p. 113). Rastall also cites a short responsory on this text and references modern editions of the chants in the Liber usualis and other sources (Minstrels Playing, p. 37).
179–80 My Sone thus to be ravisshed right / In a clowde wendande uppe fro me. Tradition says that Jesus rose triumphantly. Iconographic evidence suggests that he probably stepped into the cloud and, with the bottom of his robe and bare feet visible, was raised up, disappearing entirely into the cloud. The Stanzaic Life explains that Jesus’ footprint remained on the “hard marbul stone” on which he was standing at the Ascension (p. 294), and this may indicate that in the play he was positioned higher than the apostles before his ascent so that his figure would stand out for the audience. While images such as a wooden roof boss (now replaced by a replica) in the nave of York Minster show the imprint of Jesus’ feet after he is lifted up (J. Browne, History of the Metropolitan Church, pl. CXVI), this sort of detail would not have been practical in a pageant wagon production.
218 What wondir ye to hevene lokand? The angel’s question embeds a stage direction. The apostles are all to look upward at the disappearing Jesus, as in illustrations in the visual arts such as the lost glass in the Bedern Chapel that was described by Torre, who also noted the Virgin “with hands conjoined on her breast” (O’Connor, “Bedern Stained Glass,” pp. 564 and 566).
221–32 Right so agayne come doune schall he . . . encresand ay. Jesus will return “with woundes bledand” to judge humankind, the first angel informs them. The choice for humans will ultimately be binary, to heaven or hell. This, as the second angel says, the apostles are to preach to the world.
233–52 The speeches of James, Andrew, and Peter focus mainly on the Jews’ malice and envy; they are described as false and “full of prompe and pride” so as to be impervious to Jesus’ teachings even though they should be stirred to “aske mercy.” This is typical of late medieval stereotyping of Jews as blind and headstrong at a time when their law was allegedly superseded by the new law of Jesus.
Play 42, THE ASCENSION: 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).
Supplementary ascription to Potters (canceled); indecipherable text under erasure at left.
7–8 And lele. Reg: deleted at end of line 7, added to beginning of next line by LH.
14 yit any. So RB; Reg, LTS: it anly.
29 Some. So RB; Reg, LTS: Come.
schulde come is. So RB; Reg: schulde is.
92 clowte. So RB; Reg, LTS: lowte.
107 same. So LTS, RB; Reg: sane.
115 One. This edition, for roman numeral I in Reg; RB: Ane.
129 wendand. So RB; Reg, LTS: weldand.
133 He schall. Deletion in Reg is reinstated by LH; at left, in LH: I am (deleted).
176, s.d. Tunc cantat angelus. Stage direction in right margin, in LH; Reg: gloria in excelsys deo deleted, and JC thereafter entered Ascendo ad patrem meum.
212 on. So LTS, RB; Reg: no.
261 to fordo. So RB; Reg, LTS: for to do.
263–64 Lineation follows LTS.
Play 42, THE ASCENSION: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTE
Footnote 1 Massip, “Cloud”; C. Davidson, Technology, Guilds, 91–100.
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