Play 47, Doomsday
Play 47, DOOMSDAY: FOOTNOTES
2 Lines 381–82: And thus he makes an ending, with the melody / of angels passing from place to place.
Play 47, DOOMSDAY: 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 final play of the cycle, the Mercers’ Doomsday, is also the one about which the most is known with regard to production. This is so because of the discovery of a 1433 indenture between the guild and the pageant master, Richard Louth, that provides a list of stage properties used for the pageant at that time.1 It is clear that the Mercers, who dominated the city’s government, spared no expense to see that their show was a spectacle that would stand out as exemplary among the pageants in the cycle. There was a wagon with four wheels and a hellmouth, costumes for God, apostles, and devils, who were fitted with masks. Jesus wore a “Sirke [shirt] Wounded a diademe With a veserne [mask] gilted,” and equipment was provided to lower him from heaven to where he would be seated as a judge on a “Rainbow of tymber” and to raise him back to heaven. The good and bad souls were differentiated, probably by color coding like those in Coventry’s Corpus Christi Doomsday play.2 Angels had trumpets for the announcement of the End Time, the required “last trumpet,” as mentioned by St. Paul, which “shall sound, and the dead shall rise” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Seven large and four small puppet angels held the Instruments of the Passion — including the crown of thorns, lance, and whips mentioned in the Ordo paginarum as belonging to the Passion as well as other executioners’ items. A set of nine smaller puppet angels, “payntid rede,” were designed “to renne aboute in the heven,” which was fitted with clouds and stars. In the early sixteenth century the pageant wagon was “substancialie” rebuilt by the prominent sculptor John Drawswerd, and again an inventory (from 1526) is available, though much less detailed and seemingly indicative of staging less elaborate than in 1433.3
The Last Judgment story as presented here does not follow the elaborate account in the Apocalypse that was drawn upon for the design of the Great East Window in York Minster, but rather the dramatization derives from Matthew 25, specifically from the verses following the parable of the talents in which the “unprofitable servant” is cast “out into the exterior darkness” where there “shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30). The test of one’s worthiness to enter into bliss in the pageant is whether one has performed the Corporal Acts of Mercy, the charitable acts specified in Matthew 25:35–46. Charity was an important value for the Mercers and other mercantile guilds that were in the main in control of the city government.
There is evidence that the people of York lived in expectation of Doomsday, the final day of history, which was believed to be at least potentially at hand, as proclaimed in 2 Peter 3:10: “But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief,” unexpectedly and violently. This would be the Second Advent, or Coming, of Jesus, the Son of God, into time, which then would have a stop. The early Church had hoped for the parousia as an event that was imminent, not just in some distant future, and this had been translated into the eschatology that pertained in the late Middle Ages when many appear to have kept alert to possible signs of the end.4 It would not have been thought unusual for a person at York to leave a bequest to a parish church to fund a Mass that was to be continued “as long as the world shall endure.” The Pricke of Conscience, formerly attributed to Richard Rolle and imbued with end-time theology as well as specific reciting of the Fifteen Signs of Doomsday, was one of the most widely-read books of Northern origin of the time, but see also the ever-popular Golden Legend and, for an example of a homily collection which emphasizes the Signs in a sermon for the first Sunday in Advent, John Mirk’s Festial.5 A recital of these signs appears in Play 22, lines 216–340, in the Chester Whitsun cycle. Though these signs foreshadowing the Last Judgment do not appear in the York pageant, they were known locally, for they were depicted in the Fifteen Signs window in the York church of All Saints, North Street.6 These signs possibly figure in the additions to the York text when it was adapted and added to the Towneley collection, formerly believed to be a Wakefield Corpus Christi cycle.7 The versification in the York play maintains an eight-line stanza.
1 DEUS. Here God the Father. Subsequently Deus will signify the Son who comes back to earth as Judge.
34 thois wrecchis that ware thareinne. Adam, Eve, the patriarchs, prophets, those who were worthy but not able to receive the benefits of God’s grace until the Crucifixion, when they would be ransomed and released from limbo through the effects of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
65 Aungellis, blawes youre bemys belyve. All people, learned and “lewd” or unlettered, will be called up by the trumpet call of the angels, traditionally one at each corner of the world. These instruments may have been props only, with actual minstrels supplying the trumpet sounds. Trumpets are noted in the 1433 indenture and again in the Mercers’ records as being mended in 1461 and 1462 (REED: York, 1:55, 91–92, and 95; see also Remnant, “Musical Instruments,” pp. 176–77).
90 I bidde you that ye ryse. Embedded stage direction.
91 Body and sawle with you ye bring. The resurrection of the body is promised, though for shorthand those who rise at the Last Judgment are designated simply as “souls.” Body and soul together are again mentioned in line 99, which stresses the complete reunion of the two. Job 19:26 was regarded as prophetic: “And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God.” It was an idea that already was circulating in some Jewish circles in Jesus’ time, but in St. Paul the concept was given a new twist in that it was to be a new and spiritual body, no longer subject to corruption, that was to be given life and returned to the soul (see 1 Corinthians 15:32–44). Additional accretions, including those resulting from Greek and Oriental influences, were the cause of further ambiguity in medieval thought about the expected event, and this was to be reflected in the York play, which to be sure is not a theological treatise.
95 rise uppe and geve rekenyng. Souls are being called to come up from their graves. Iconographic evidence shows that they were imagined to be rising with their grave clothes around them or in the nude, in order to be judged. Thereafter an exact accounting of sins and good deeds was expected, in some depictions of the Last Judgment including the psychostatis or weighing in a set of scales to achieve exactitude. The weighing of souls, however, does not appear in the Mercers’ pageant.
101 Of oure ill dedis, Lorde, thou not mene. The expectation is that only the saints could live pure lives, and that one’s ill deeds required forgiveness and expiation through the sacrament of Penance, which in turn was made effective only because of the act of sacrifice on the cross required to ransom humankind. But all one’s sins, even the smallest, would be a source of anxiety. See also line 109 for the second Soul’s statement “Ofte have we greved thee, grette and small.” The good souls express humility, the evil ones do not.
115 this hydous horne. Reference to the angel trumpeters, feared by the bad souls.
129 Oure wikkid werkis thei will us wreye. The traditional notion that a person’s evil deeds will testify against him or her at the Last Day, for all is written in God’s book of Creation, good and ill.
135 Nowe mon nevere saule ne body dye. Punishment will be eternal, unending, and cruel, dwelling with “feendes blake” (line 143) without hope of ever receiving redemption.
146 Sore may we wringe oure handis and wepe. Traditional gestures of utter despair. Tearing one’s hair was also a sign of hopelessness. Their condition is in fact utterly without hope, since the time of grace has passed. In contrast, the good souls would logically have held their hands in gestures of supplication; see C. Davidson, “Gesture,” pp. 81–86.
151–52 made we sacrafise / To Satanas when othir slepe. Invoking witchcraft with specific reference to the witches’ sabbath. Witches were reputed to worship the Devil in midnight ceremonies in which he celebrates the black mass, part of the ritual being “blessing” his followers with his left hand. Their crime is infidelity, considered by authors of the Malleus Malificarum to be an enormous sin and the most serious kind of apostasy.
169 Standis noght togedir, parte you in two. Embedded stage direction. The dead have been raised from their graves and now will be separated into those on God’s left (the bad souls) and those on his right (the good). In depictions of the Last Judgment, this orientation is maintained, as in the well-known wall painting over the chancel arch at St. Thomas of Canterbury in Salisbury; for a pre-restoration illustration, see C. Davidson, Deliver Us from Evil, p. 135, fig. 19.
177–84 DEUS. Now the Son rather than the Father is speaking. He announces that this world, this vale of tears, “is brought till ende” and prepares to descend to earth to sit in majesty to judge all humankind. God the Father is a separate character who would stay behind in heaven; Jesus refers to him in lines 233–34 as the one who sent him down a second time to earth.
185 Mi postelis and my darlyngis. The apostles will be seated on seats, six to each side of Jesus (see line 215). However, they will have no active part in the judgments in the York play that will admit some to bliss and others “to fyre with fendis blake” (line 198). There is no role specified in the playtext for the Virgin Mary, although she had been noticed as a character in the Ordo paginarum.
216 s.d. Hic ad sedem judicii cum cantu angelorum. Stage direction and rubric designating music. It signals the lowering of the seat of judgment along with angelic singing, which would be quite a logical staging effect. The song sung by the angels is not indicated, but it likely was a polyphonic piece, as would be appropriate for heavenly music, perhaps adding organ or regals. Following this the devils come onto stage with the hope of obtaining their prey. The third devil mistakenly believes they will be permitted to have all the souls in their power (lines 227–28).
241–44 The day of drede to more and lesse, / Of ire . . . is sene. Compare the sequence for the dead, Dies ire, dies illa: “Day of wrath that will dissolve this world to ash. . . . Great will be the fear when the Judge comes to examine all strictly. . . .”
245–76 Here may ye see my woundes wide . . . what suffered thou for me? Spoken directly to the audience as well as to the souls. It is a central moment and reminiscent of a devotional tableau. See, for example, the Last Judgment miniature in the Bolton Hours, fol. 208, in which Jesus’ wounds in hands, feet, and side are streaming blood (YA, pp. 115–16, fig. 33). Mirk tells how Jesus, “veray God and man,” shall “come to the dome, and all seyntys with hym, and schow all his wondys all fresch, and newe, and bledyng, as that day that he deyet on the crosse.” The cross also will be shown “all blody, and all other ynstrumentys of his passyon” (Festial, p. 3). In the pageant, Jesus is rehearsing the details of the Passion, the shedding of his blood for the salvation of humankind, many of whom have rejected him, and concluding with the request to know what humans have done for him (line 276) as a lead-in to his address to those who are to be welcomed into bliss.
285–300 Whenne I was hungery . . . In joie and blisse to be me by. Paraphrase of Matthew 25:34–45. Jesus gives assurance to those on his “right hande” (line 277) since they have performed the Corporal Acts of Mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the “clothles,” succoring the sick and those in prison, giving shelter to the shelterless, but omitting the burial of the dead which is not noted in St. Matthew’s gospel. As these are done to others, it is as if they are done to the Lord Jesus. See the listing of the Corporal Acts in the influential Lay Folks’ Catechism, p. 70.
301–08 As in Matthew 25:44, the good souls are modest and claim no credit for such deeds.
317–48 Now Jesus turns to the “cursid caytiffis of Kaymes kynne / That nevere me comforte in my care.” Like Cain, they have failed utterly to do the good works expected of them. Their deeds are characterized by selfishness, pride, greed, and disregard for others. Because they kept the stranger standing in the cold and wet outside their gates, now they will be denied entrance to the gate of heaven. Their response takes a very different tone from that of the good souls as they deny Jesus’ charges (lines 349–56).
365–72 Against the invitation to the “chosen childir,” Jesus will turn to those on his left to consign them to “sitte be Satanas the fende” — the final disposition of the trial, which to be sure has been different from any legal proceeding in contemporary England but which, we are implicitly assured, is entirely just.
379–80 thei that mendid thame whils thei moght / Shall belde and bide in my blissing. Jesus concludes with a blessing, undoubtedly with the physical sign of making a cross over the good souls — and the audience.
380 s.d. Et sic facit finem . . . ad locum. Rastall (Heaven Singing, p. 28) approves Happé’s paraphrase: “And thus crossing from the place to the place, he makes an end with the melody of angels” (English Mystery Plays, p. 694). Unfortunately, again no suggestion is available concerning the nature of the music, though once more it may be conjectured that competent musicians would have been procured and that they would have tried to approximate what would have been reasonably convincing as heavenly. The Towneley Judgment play specifies Te Deum laudamus, a portion of which had also been chosen for the music of heaven at the beginning of the York cycle. Whatever the melody was at York, it must have reinforced the certitude and hope of redemption — a joining of the blessed ones with the ultimate harmony of the cosmos — that is, at the last, in Caroline Walker Bynum’s words, “a concept of sublime courage and optimism” (Resurrection of the Body, p. 343).
Play 47, DOOMSDAY: 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).
4 I. Interlined in Reg.
31 harte. So RB; Reg, LTS: harte and.
37 erthe. Interlined in Reg by later scribe.
87 waste. Reg has s overwritten by Scribe B.
98 us. So LTS, RB; Reg: vis.
129 Reg: at left, in different hand: Nota.
156 us. Reg: interlined by LH.
161–68 Stanza omitted here in Reg, omission marked with large maltese cross and nota at right, and text added by Scribe B at the end of the pageant, where it is also so marked with a cross.
169 Compare Towneley: I Angelus cum gladio.
170 sam. Initially written samen (delete -en) in Reg.
175 wightis. Compare Towneley: saules.
177 DEUS. Compare Towneley: JESUS.
203 Reg: at left, by LH: What thay shall have for ther folly.
205 Reg: at right, in JC’s hand: hic caret o soverand savyour de novo facto.
209 Reg: at right, JC has again written de novo facto.
216, s.d. Hic ad sedem . . . angelorum. Stage direction, by Scribe B, unseparated from Deus’ speech in Reg.
228 Reg: at right, by LH: hic caret and de novo facto.
Following four lines are missing in Reg.
229 JC has written at right in Reg: de novo facta and, presumably giving incipit of missing speech, Alas that I was borne dixit Prima Anima Mala et II Anima Mala.
230 Reg: JC has written: de novo facta.
231 wofull. Compare Towneley: wykyd.
239 bale. Compare Towneley: batell.
242 ire. Not canceled in Reg, but interlined care above (so LTS); compare Towneley: joy.
254 I. So LTS, RB (after Towneley); Reg omits.
268 liffe. Compare Towneley: luf.
to. Interlined in Reg; LTS omits, following Towneley.
289 presse. Compare Towneley: prison.
290 payns. Interlined over canceled penaunce in Reg.
309 DEUS. Speech designation repeated in Reg at lines 317, 324, 333, and 341.
363 leste or moste. Compare Towneley: the lest of myne.
372 Reg: at left, by LH: nota miseremini mei etc.
380 s.d. Et sic facit finem . . . ad locum. Reg: stage direction in red ink.
Play 47, DOOMSDAY: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 The Mercers’ indenture was brought to light in 1972 when the discovery was reported by Johnston and Dorrell, “York Mercers and Their Pageant of Doomsday”; for the document, see REED: York, 1:55–56.
Footnote 2 REED: Coventry, p. 237; see also Twycross, “'With what body shall they come?'”
Footnote 3 REED: York, 1:189, 205, and 241–42.
Footnote 4 See the useful collection prepared by McGinn, in Apocalyptic Christianity, trans. McGinn.
Footnote 5 Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 1:7–9; Mirk, Festial, pp. 2–3.
Footnote 6 Gee, “Painted Glass of All Saints’ Church,” pp. 158–60, pls. XXIII–XXIV.
Footnote 7 See C. Davidson, History, Religion, and Violence, pp. 267–92.
Go To Appendix: Notes on the Dialect of the York Corpus Christi Plays, by Paul A. Johnston, Jr.