16. Lazarus


1 Here begins Lazarus

2 Lines 28–29: No treatment will help him; / sleep is of no advantage to him

3 And Jesus wept, saying (John 11:38)

4 Lines 161–62: Many ugly beasts are ready to reduce you to bones

5 Lines 198–99: Remember that you fare as the wind does; / this world is profitless and will vanish

6 Here ends Lazarus


ABBREVIATIONS: Chester: The Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. Lumiansky and Mills (1974); CT: The Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson (1987); DSL: Dictionary of the Scots Language; Elliott: The Apocryphal New Testament, ed. Elliott; EP: The Towneley plays, ed. England and Pollard (1897); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (“the Towneley manuscript”); N-Town: The N-Town Plays, ed. Sugano (2007); OED: Oxford English Dictionary; REED: Records of Early English Drama; SC: The Towneley Plays, eds. Stevens and Cawley (1994); s.d.: stage direction; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).

The Lazarus play, written in the hand of the main scribe, is chronologically misplaced at the end of the manuscript, on five full pages following the Judgment (but before the Judas fragment in a different hand); its placement may be due to its being a late and unexpected addition to the collection of exemplars, from an independent source. As SC explain in a lengthy headnote to the play, some critics have suggested that the placement was intentional, citing the lack of any indication in the MS that the play belongs elsewhere (although see the Introduction, p. 9, regarding the unusually rubricated signature L), along with what are seen as problematic features of the play itself, notably the long concluding sermon by Lazarus, following the effective disappearance of Jesus from the play (p. 646–47). It is indeed difficult to imagine a sequence of Passion plays following this play and its sermon; however, once the assumption of sequential, processional production is removed, the play appears far less problematic. Other surviving Lazarus plays differ in notable ways: York pairs the raising of Lazarus with the encounter with a woman taken in adultery, and Chester pairs it with the healing of a blind man, while nearly half of the N-Town version is taken up with Lazarus’ illness and death, and the reactions of friends and family. A closer parallel in the N-Town collection would be the Death of Herod, which similarly ends with a moralizing sermon by Death (N-Town 20.246–84). Yet the Towneley Lazarus seems clearly built for independent production, at least as it stands. The play was likely compiled from more than one source: the biblical first half of the play, based on John 11:1–44, is written largely in couplets; the sermon is more varied but written mostly in an unusual 14-line stanza with concatenation (see note to line 119 below), and an 8-line stanza with a refrain, “amende thee whils thou may,” which likely comes from a separate poem.

Before 1 Thomas [character]. None of the disciples is named in the MS dialogue, so they may have been unidentifiable to the audience (although Peter might carry an obvious symbol such as keys); the three effectively stand in here for all twelve. However, Thomas is the sole disciple actually named in the gospel (John 11:16), which accounts for his being specifically named as a character along with Peter and John, the two most prominent of the disciples.

8 The Jues halden you for thare fo. See John 11:8. While this reference to “the Jews” in opposition to Jesus and his disciples (all Jewish, but not currently in Judea) is biblical, the next is not, advising distrust of “the Jue” (line 11). Overall, though, the dialogue adheres closely to its gospel source.

12 many day sen thou thaym knewe. That is, you have known them for a long time.

52–57 I am rysyng and I am life . . . . trowys thou this. See John 11:25–26.

61 Mawdlayn. Medieval tradition identified Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (and with other women from the gospel accounts as well).

84 laide under yonde stone. While the gospel account refers to Lazarus as being buried in a cave covered by a stone (John 11:38), late medieval artistic renderings normally show a coffin-style tomb.

99–102 Take and lawse . . . . all that gere. While “sudary” could refer to a handkerchief or, more pertinently, to a winding-cloth for burial, it apparently refers here specifically to a cloth used to cover the face of the deceased (see MED sudarie (n.), sense 2), which must be removed before Lazarus speaks along with the band around his throat (line 100) that holds the sudary in place. The other cloths binding him are loosened sufficiently to allow him to walk and talk, but are not removed, as he later refers to “Sich bandys” and “sich a wyndyng clothe” (lines 152, 170) as if still bound by them.

107 When I was dede to hell I soght. Like nearly every other human being to this point, Lazarus went to hell after death (Enoch and Elijah being exceptions — see Genesis 5:24 and 4 Kings 2:11).

110 Behold and ye may se. Lazarus turns his attention here to the audience, addressing them for the remainder of the play. As SC point out (p. 649n103), this sermon on death is closely based on one by fourteenth-century Dominican John Bromyard in his influential compilation entitled Summa Predicantium.

115 no wight in wede. That is, no one. This common alliterative phrase — variations of which are used in several plays here (see for example 14.234 and 20.318) — literally means “no person in clothing” (see MED wede (n.2), sense f).

116 From dede have maide hym seese. That is, from the time that death made you cease to be. The same syntactical structure is used in line 123.

119 Youre dede is wormes coke. Your death provides nourishment for worms. That is, Death, as cook, prepares the feast for worms (see MED cok (n.6), sense 3a). The word wormes is repeated from the previous line — a pattern of concatenation that typifies the 14-line stanzas in this play, linking the octave with the sestet, and one stanza to the next in most cases; the dual concatenation suggests that these could be configured as alternating 8-line and 6-line stanzas, as occurs briefly in a section of the Crucifixion play (see note to 20.396–423).

123 Fro dede you cleke in cloke. That is, from the time that death grasps you in its clutches, but with a possible pun on “cloak,” in keeping with the reference to “array” in line 125.

132 wight. While the term is often used to refer to a human being, the wight referred to here is a worm (as in the concatenated line that follows).

135 Thare lunges and thare lightys. Both words mean “lungs” (see MED lightes (n. pl.)); the first should possibly be “livers” which is often paired with “lights” in phrases such as this.

145 pall. While used for a variety of garments, “pall” usually refers to very fine, rich cloth, often in royal purple (an expensive crimson or scarlet dye), but can also mean the cloth placed over a coffin or tomb (hence the term “pallbearer”).

146 todys shall be youre nowche. A “nouche” (or ouche) is a clasped ornament such as a buckle, or the setting for a jewel; see MED nouche; OED ouche. Toads were widely associated with evil, but also thought to have a jewel hidden in their heads — the toadstone.

148 Feyndys will you fere. This line can mean either “fiends will frighten you” or “fiends will be your companions.” Either sense, however, suggests going to hell.

158 As bees dos in the byke. According to MED, the term bike normally implies wild swarms as opposed to a hive of domestic honeybees (although see the reference to “hony-bike” in 5.a.4).

165–66 For you then sorows leste / The moste has of youre goode. That is, whoever possesses the bulk of your wealth will then be the least of your sorrows. This line begins a section decrying the greed of others after one’s death.

187–88 To by youre saules hele, / There may no man thaym shrife. That is, there is no one who can shrive — hear confession and provide absolution for — executors, even if the health of your soul depended on it. The sentiment is repeated in the lines that follow (189–91). The reason for this is evidently that executors, being inherently dishonest (line 185), would be incapable of proper confession; lines 192–93 state that they will always swear falsely, claiming you owed more than you possessed (and thus gaining your wealth for themselves). Wills were regularly used to dispose of wealth in ways that would benefit the soul of the deceased, through intercessory masses and prayers, charitable donations, or even restitution for past wrongs, all of which thus depended on the honesty of the executor. Similar complaints abound; see for example the tales of avarice in Robert of Brunne’s Handlyng Synne, pp. 200–09.

203 Agane thou go anothere gate. That is, as protection against that time when you will take a different path, to your death.

206–08 For if all the goode . . . . mende thi state. For even if all the goods that you accumulated in life were to be distributed on your behalf after your death, this would not help your case in heaven — that is, it is what you do and how you live during your life that matters. See the note to lines 187–88 above.

211 As is the stede standyng in stall. The term stall can refer to a seat or position of rank and dignity (MED stal(le (n.), sense 1c) as well as to a place for a single horse to stand (sense 1a); and the horse is notably a steed, a great stallion — a horse of great value and revenue, as opposed to a mere palfrey or riding horse.


ABBREVIATIONS: EP: The Towneley Plays, ed. England and Pollard (EETS, 1897); Facs: The Towneley Cycle: A Facsimile of Huntington MS HM 1, ed. Cawley and Stevens; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (base text); SC: The Towneley Plays, ed. Stevens and Cawley (EETS, 1994); s.d.: stage direction; Surtees: The Towneley Mysteries, ed. Raine; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).

Before 1 Incipit Lazarus. This title is at the top of the page in the MS, the Judgment play having ended at the bottom of the previous page, with no indication of the play being misplaced or out of chronological order; see headnote to this play in Explanatory Notes.

3–4 To Betany will . . . is oure freynde. MS: these two lines are reversed, with the letters b and a in the hand of the main scribe in the left margin beside them, indicating the correct order.

11 trist thou not on the Jue. So EP, SC. MS: trist thou on the Iue.

14 till. MS: another hand has written an additional e after this word.

59 mysprase. MS: the letters a and e are very worn.

83 fourt. So EP. MS: iiij.

117 The. MS: Ne. The repetition of Ne in the previous lines would have allowed an easy slip here, particularly given the relatively obscure syntax of the previous line.

219 tene. So SC. MS: tyme.

After 237 Explicit Lazarus. The explicit is in a different sixteenth century hand from that of the main scribe. Below this yet another hand has written Finis (“The End”), framed in black, possibly at a time when this was indeed the last page of writing in the manuscript; the play as it stands is followed by the Judas fragment (included here as an Appendix).

Print Copyright Info Purchase

16. Lazarus

from: The Towneley Plays  2017

[fol. 129r]










[fol. 129v]
























[fol. 130v]












[fol. 131r]











Mary (Magdalene)

Incipit Lazarus. 1

Commes now, brethere, and go with me;
We will pas furth untill Judé.
To Betany will we weynde,
To vyset Lazare that is oure freynde.
Gladly I wold we with hym speke,
I tell you sothely he is seke.
I red not that ye thider go.
The Jues halden you for thare fo;
I red ye com not in that stede,
For if ye do then be ye dede.
Master, trist thou not on the Jue,
For many day sen thou thaym knewe,
And last tyme that we were thore
We wenyd till have bene ded therfor.
When we were last in that contré
This othere day, both thou and we,
We wenyd that thou ther shuld have bene slayn.
Will thou now go thider agane?
Herkyn, breder, and takys kepe:
Lazare oure freynde is fallyn on slepe;
The way till hym now will we take.
To styr that knyght and gar hym wake,
Sir, me thynke it were the best
To let hym slepe and take his rest,
And kepe that no man com hym hend,
For if he slepe then mon he mend.
I say to you, withoutten fayll,
No kepyng may till hym availl,
Ne slepe may stand hym in no stede; 2
I say you sekerly he is dede.
Therfor I say you now at last,
Leyfe this speche, and go we fast.
Sir, whatsoever ye bid us do,
We assent us well therto.
I hope to God ye shall not fynde
None of us shall lefe behynde;
For any parell that may befall,
Weynde we with oure master all.
Help me, Lorde, and gif me red.
Lazare my broder now is dede
That was to thee both lefe and dere;
He had not dyed had thou bene here.
Martha, Martha, thou may be fayn;
Thi brothere shall rise and lif agayn.
Lorde, I wote that he shall ryse
And com before the good justyce,
For at the dredfull day of dome
There mon ye kepe hym at his come
To loke what dome ye will hym gif;
Then mon he rise, then mon he lyf.
I warne you, both man and wyfe,
That I am rysyng and I am life,
And whoso truly trowys in me,
That I was ever and ay shall be,
Oone thyng I shall hym gif:
Though he be dede, yit shall he lif.
Say thou, woman, trowys thou this?
Yee, forsothe, my Lorde of blys,
Ellys were I greatly to mysprase,
For all is sothefast that thou says.
Go tell thi sister Mawdlayn
That I com, ye may be fayn.
Sister, lefe this sorowful bande;
Oure Lorde commys here at hande,
And his apostyls with hym also.
A, for Godys luf, let me go.
Blissid be he that sende me grace,
That I may se thee in this place.
Lorde, mekill sorow may men se
Of my sister here and me;
We ar hevy as any lede
For oure broder that thus is dede.
Had thou bene here and on hym sene,
Dede, forsothe, had he not bene.
Hider to you commen we ar
To make you comforth of youre care,
Bot loke no fayntyse ne no slawth
Bryng you oute of stedfast trawthe,
Then shall I hold you that I saide.
Lo, where have ye his body laide?
Lorde, if it be thi will,
I hope be this he savers ill,
For it is now the fourt day gone
Sen he was laide under yonde stone.
I told thee right now ther thou stode
That thi trawth shuld ay be goode,
And if thou may that fulfill
All bees done right at thi will.

Et lacrimatus est Jesus dicens, 3

Fader, I pray thee that thou rase
Lazare that was thi hyne,
And bryng hym oute of his mysese
And oute of hell pyne.
When I thee pray, thou says allwayse,
Mi will is sich as thyne;
Therfor will we now eke his dayse,
To me thou will inclyne.

Com furth, Lazare, and stande us by;
In erth shall thou no langere ly.
Take and lawse hym foote and hande,
And from his throte take the bande
And the sudary take hym fro,
And all that gere, and let hym go.

Lorde that all thyng maide of noght,
Lovyng be to thee
That sich wonder here has wroght;
Gretter may none be.
When I was dede to hell I soght,
And thou, thrugh thi pausté,
Rasid me up and thens me broght.
Behold and ye may se.

Ther is none so styf on stede,
Ne none so prowde in prese,
Ne none so dughty in his dede,
Ne none so dere on deese,
No kyng, no knyght, no wight in wede,
From dede have maide hym seese,
The flesh he was wonte to fede,
It shall be wormes mese.
Youre dede is wormes coke.
Youre myrroure here ye loke
And let me be youre boke.
Youre sampill take by me;
Fro dede you cleke in cloke.
Sich shall ye all be.

Ilkon in sich aray
With dede thai shall be dight,
And closid colde in clay
Wheder he be kyng or knyght;
For all his garmentes gay
That semely were in sight,
His flesh shall frete away
With many a wofull wight.
Then wofully sich wightys
Shall gnawe thise gay knyghtys,
Thare lunges and thare lightys,
Thare harte shall frete in sonder;
Thise masters most of myghtys
Thus shall thai be broght under.

Under the erthe ye shall
Thus carefully then cowche;
The royfe of youre hall
Youre nakyd nose shall towche.
Nawther great ne small
To you will knele ne crowche.
A shete shall be youre pall;
Sich todys shall be youre nowche.
Todys shall you dere,
Feyndys will you fere,
Youre flesh that fare was here
Thus rufully shall rote;
In stede of fare colore
Sich bandys shall bynde youre throte.

Youre rud that was so red,
Youre lyre the lylly lyke,
Then shall be wan as led
And stynke as dog in dyke.
Wormes shall in you brede
As bees dos in the byke,
And ees outt of youre hede
Thus-gate shall paddokys pyke.
To pike you ar preste
Many uncomly beest; 4
Thus thai shall make a feste
Of youre flesh and of youre blode.
For you then sorows leste
The moste has of youre goode.

Youre goodys ye shall forsake,
If ye be never so lothe,
And nothyng with you take
Bot sich a wyndyng clothe.
Youre wife sorow shall slake,
Youre chylder also both
Unnes youre mynnyng make,
If ye be never so wrothe.
Thai myn you with nothyng
That may be youre helpyng,
Nawthere in mes syngyng
Ne yit with almus dede;
Therfor in youre levyng
Be wise and take good hede.

Take hede for you to dele
Whils ye ar on life;
Trust in no freyndys frele,
Nawthere of childe then wife,
For sectures ar not lele,
Then for youre good will stryfe.
To by youre saules hele,
There may no man thaym shrife.
To shrife no man thaym may
After youre endyng day,
Youre saull for to glad.
Youre sectures will swere nay
And say ye aght more then ye had.

Amende thee, man, whils thou may;
Let never no myrthe fordo thi mynde.
Thynke thou on the dredefull day
When God shall deme all mankynde.
Thynke thou farys as dothe the wynde;
This warlde is wast and will away. 5
Man, have this in thi mynde
And amende thee whils that thou may.

Amende thee, man, whils thou art here,
Agane thou go anothere gate.
When thou art dede and laide on bere,
Wyt thou well thou bees to late;
For if all the goode that ever thou gate
Were delt for thee after thi day,
In heven it wolde not mende thi state;
Forthi amende thee whils thou may.

If thou be right ryall in rente
As is the stede standyng in stall,
In thi harte knowe and thynke
That thai ar Goddys goodys all;
He myght have maide thee poore and small
As he that beggys fro day to day.
Wit thou well, acountys gif thou shall;
Therfor amende thee whils thou may.

And if I myght with you dwell
To tell you all my tene,
Full mekill couthe I tell
That I have harde and sene,
Of many a great mervell
Sich as ye wolde not wene,
In the paynes of hell
Ther as I have bene.
Bene I have in wo,
Therfor kepe you therfro.
Whilst ye lif do so,
If ye will dwell with hym
That can gar you thus go,
And hele you lith and lym.

He is a Lorde of grace,
Umthynke you in this case,
And pray hym, full of myght,
He kepe you in this place
And have you in his sight.

Explicit Lazarus. 6

(see note)


Bethany; (t-note)
visit Lazarus

Jews; their; (see note)
trust; (t-note)
since; (see note)
thought to; dead; (t-note)

Listen, brother; take heed
stir; make







would not have


resurrection; (see note)

Else; blame; (t-note)
Magdalene; (see note)
confinement; [fol. 130r]





faithlessness; sloth
keep my promise to you

expect by this [time]; smells
fourth; (t-note)
Since; (see note)


hell’s punishment

be inclined

loosen; (see note)

went; (see note)
(see note)

stalwart; horse
Nor; valiant in conflict
valiant; deeds
honored on throne (dais)
creature; clothing; (see note)
When death; cease; (see note)
worms’ food; (see note)
(see note)

Each one

creature; (see note)

lungs; (see note)
waste away
most mighty

sheet; garment; (see note)
toads; ornament; (see note)
(see note)
piteously; rot


hue; lily
dark as lead
hive; (see note)
Thus; toads pluck
pick; ready

least; (see note)

Even if; loath

wife’s; decrease
With difficulty; commemoration
They remember


divide [your property]
executors; honest
will quarrel over your goods
buy; health; (see note)





(see note)
you are too late
goods; got; (see note)


royal in revenue
horse; (see note)


anger; (t-note)
much could

would not believe


from there

heal; joint and limb



Go To 17. The Conspiracy