Play 11, Pharaoh and Moses
Play 11, PHARAOH AND MOSES: 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.
As the play assigned to the Hosiers, makers of stockings and undergarments, this pageant was also adapted for inclusion in the Towneley manuscript. The Exodus narrative appears among the readings for Lent in the York liturgy, and is considered one of the most important of Old Testament stories. Typologically it was believed to foreshadow the Harrowing, as in the Speculum humanae salvationis,1 but in its exposition of release from bondage and tyranny it surely would have resonated with people who felt they were living in this “vale of tears,” the condition of post-lapsarian humankind considered normal and from which only spiritual means can effect release. The story should have been popular in its own right on account of the Red Sea scene, which presumably involved considerable ingenuity in staging; the sea may have been represented by a cloth, as indicated at Coventry by the Smiths’ accounts.2 The Hosiers, a cloth guild, would have been easily able to provide this sort of effect with the help of the Dyers. But it is another effect that is emphasized in the Ordo paginarum, which reports Moses’ raising up of the serpent before Pharaoh, apparently in the presence of eight Jews — an act for which he is suspected of witchcraft. God also appears in the burning bush at line 101, and this would presumably demand the use of a pyrotechnic device. In iconography, through a misreading of the Vulgate, Moses appears with horns, which at Lucerne in 1583 were produced by having two hornlike curls on his head.3 Moses has horns in a panel in the east window of York Minster that also contains a depiction of the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea, the latter unfortunately now almost indecipherable and confused.4 The episode of Moses and the receiving of the Ten Commandments is omitted in the York pageant. The biblical source for the pageant is Exodus 2–14. The verse form is a twelve-line stanza common in the York plays.
7 his hayre as elde will asse. Affirming primogeniture.
21–24 The tyrant Pharaoh is accompanied by Consolators, who are his sycophants. Consolator I echoes and elaborates his concern about those who have other allegiances than to him — in other words, the Israelites. This is their role throughout. The term Consolators is abbreviated throughout, only once being thus spelled out (at line 219); see discussion in RB, p. 423.
41 Thay come of Joseph. See Genesis 37–47. While Pharaoh describes Joseph as “worthy to prayse” (line 42) the Israelites are now unwelcome aliens in Egypt and are an oppressed minority, albeit a large one since their numbers have grown to a multitude from the time when Joseph and his brothers arrived. Their numbers are calculated in lines 55–58 as upwards of 300,000 men, aside from women, children, and servants, who are not counted.
93–96 Moses is the keeper of his father-in-law Jethro’s sheep after fleeing from Pharaoh (Exodus 3). Jethro is identified as “the priest of Madian” (Exodus 3:1). Moses’ self-banishment was in response to his killing of an Egyptian who was mistreating an Israelite.
105 come noght to nere. See Exodus 3:5: “Come not nigh hither.” There is no indication that Moses should take off his shoes at this point, as in the biblical account. He is standing before God who has appeared in the burning bush, which he has first seen at line 101.
147–52 wande . . . myn entent. The magical wand or rod that becomes a serpent. For discussion of magic tricks of legerdemain, see Butterworth, Magic, though he does not comment on this trick specifically. Moses’ rod was noted in 1500 among the possessions of York Minster, but this was probably a representation, not a relic (Fabric Rolls, p. 224).
154 lepre. An emendation since the manuscript reading of serpent is clearly wrong (corroborated by Towneley). This effect would have taken less skill than the rod/serpent, but similarly would have depended for its effectiveness on the reaction of those standing by, especially Pharaoh.
173 Ego sum qui sum. Exodus 3:14; glossed in the following line.
209 To wildirnesse he walde thei wente. After their liberation will come the years of wandering in the wilderness before they settle in Israel.
219 warlowe with his wande. Already Pharaoh sees Moses as a wizard. This is previous to the miracle of the rod/serpent in lines 231–45.
251 God sende sum vengeaunce sone. This line introduces the plagues of Egypt, which begin to emerge in the next speech by I Egiptius. The plagues will be rapidly reported with the drama set in motion by Pharoah’s duplicity and appearance of relenting from time to time behind a hypocritical front.
261–64 watir . . . Is turned to rede blude. The first plague.
271 tadys and frosshis. Plague of toads and frogs. The second plague.
273 myses. Gnats. The third plague.
293 loppis. The word is of Scandinavian derivation, meaning “fleas”; so L. T. Smith, who was deeply conversant with Northern dialects (York Plays, p. 544). RB suggests “flies” (p. 505). The biblical text describing the fourth plague clearly specifies flies (see Exodus 8:24–31), and it may be presumed that loppis either had been adapted in Northern English to signify flies, or that the author or scribe made an error in using the word incorrectly. Fleas of course do not “flye” (line 293). Whatever the case, Towneley uses the same term (loppys) and also indicates flying (line 305).
295 beestis lyes dede and dry. The fifth plague, “very grievous murrain” (Exodus 9:3).
315 poudre. Powder — i.e., ashes. In Exodus 9:8–11 the ashes were taken up by Moses and allowed to be blown by the wind, causing boils.
317 Like mesellis. Skin affliction, implying leprosy. The sixth plague.
320 thondour-slayne. The effect of storm and lightning which destroy vines everywhere. The seventh plague.
339 Wilde wormes. Locusts, the eighth plague. See Exodus 10:4.
343–44 thre daies . . . So myrke. Three days of darkness. The ninth plague.
345 grete pestelence. Terminology reminiscent of the bubonic plague, which, along with other lethal diseases, afflicted York from time to time after 1349. The tenth plague, in Exodus 11–12, afflicting the firstborn children of Egypt.
404 The Towneley pageant has a stage direction at approximately this point: Tunc merget eos mare (“Then the sea shall drown them” [line 413 s.d.]).
405 s.d. Cantemus domino. Rastall points out that in the York rite this is the incipit of a responsory for matins at Quadrigesima and, with a slightly different text, as a tract for the Easter vigil (Heaven Singing, p. 237). See Exodus 15:1.
Play 11, PHARAOH AND MOSES: 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 O pees. Words separated in Reg by deleted letter.
2 comaunde. Indefinite minims in Reg. 12 als it. So LTS; Reg: as it als it; RB: as it.
21 CONSOLATOR. So RB (throughout, following line 219 in Reg; see RB, p. 423).
32 Israell. Reg: corrected by LH.
41 of. So LTS, RB; Reg: of of (corrected). 42 was a prince. Reg: letter a interlined by LH.
61 qwantise. So LTS, RB; Reg: qwantile.
154 as a lepre. So RB, following Towneley; Reg, LTS: serpent.
159 send. Reg: interlined in hand of JC.
175 meve. So LTS, RB; Reg: meke.
183 will I fayre. Reg: written by JC above original scribe’s fayne (deleted).
197 Beith. So RB, noting alteration in Reg by LH (from ?Beeth); LTS: Beeths.
219 Where. So LTS; Reg, RB: When.
219–20 Reg: lines misassigned to I Consolator (ascription deleted).
240 A. So LTS, RB; Reg: Al.
255 II EGIPTIUS. Reg: Originally given to II Consolator (corrected by Scribe B).
257 I CONSOLATOR. So RB; Reg: Consolator.
284 MOYSES. Reg: JC’s emendation over erasure.
289 I EGIPTIUS. Reg: originally assigned to Moyses. JC’s correction, over erasure.
291–92 Reg: Scribe B emended mistake in exchanging speech attributions.
299 REX. Reg: speech attribution to I Egiptius corrected by Scribe B.
315 poudre. So RB; Reg: poure; LTS: pou[d]re.
331 Ellis. So LTS, RB; Reg: Eellis.
342 myscheff. Reg: two final letters added by LH crudely.
345 pestelence. Reg: added by LH above the line.
351 we. Reg: interlined by LH.
372 us. So RB, following Towneley; Reg, LTS: thus.
Play 11, PHARAOH AND MOSES: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 Wilson and Wilson, Medieval Mirror, p. 194.
Footnote 2 REED: Coventry, p. 251.
Footnote 3 Meredith and Tailby, Staging, p. 135.
Footnote 4 French, York Minster: The Great East Window, pp. 64–65.
Go To Play 12, The Annunciation to Mary and the Visitation