Play 13, Joseph's Troubles about Mary
Play 13, JOSEPH’S TROUBLES ABOUT MARY: 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 portion of the entry retained in the Ordo paginarum emphasizes Joseph’s wish in his shame to send Mary away without public notice, and Gabriel’s message to them (actually, in the play to Joseph only) to order them depart for Bethlehem. The text in the Register, however, makes much more of Joseph’s confrontation of Mary and his accusation concerning the paternity of the child. He recounts the miraculous happening in the Temple — the flowering of the rod that he had been given — and knows about the prophecy that a virgin shall conceive, yet he cannot believe that this can possibly apply to him. The comedy involved in presenting Joseph as an old and impotent man (see line 196: “Thase games fra me are gane”) emphasizes the anguish of his disbelief. In this he is much less the irascible old carpenter encountered in the Joseph of the N-Town plays. Tom Flanigan points out that, “in dramatic terms, his frustration is partially attributable to Mary’s exasperating reticence.”1 But believing himself to be beguiled, he is, as Mary responds, himself “begiled” (line 214). Suggested by two biblical verses only (Matthew 1:19–20), the story of Joseph’s doubts had been expanded and popularized in the Protevangelium and those later sources which the author would have had at hand, including the Meditations and chapter 5 of Nicholas Love’s adaptation, The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, that would easily have been available.2 As the second Eve who is to play an essential role in reversing the Fall, Mary is of course exemplary in her chastity, and she was the universal object of devotion in the medieval city of York.3 Joseph’s Troubles, written in part in unique ten-line stanzas and, in lines 79–166, in eleven-line stanzas, was the responsibility of the Pewterers and Founders, whose craftsmanship involved the production of tin-alloy utensils and badges.4 The Founders may also have worked in lead.
1–20 The beginning of a long lament. Joseph, returning to Mary after an absence, emphasizes how tired and weak he is. In the play, he likely was given a crutch, as frequently in iconography (e.g., the Bolton Hours, fol. 36). In the Coventry Shearmen and Taylors’ pageant, Joseph by way of contrast simply returns, whereupon he discovers that Mary is with child and enters into a short dialogue with her prior to his vision of the angel, who will affirm her virginity. In the York play, he already knows of the pregnancy, and this informs his sour mood in the opening monologue.
21–40 Joseph’s recounting of the episode in the Temple in which he is recognized as one who is chosen to marry by the miracle of the flowering rod. The scene appears in glass possibly by the York school of glass painters in a window at Great Malvern (Rushforth, Medieval Christian Imagery, p. 346, fig. 164).
43 My yonge wiffe is with childe full grete. According to the Protevangelium she is six months pregnant at the time of Joseph’s return, but the York dramatist places her even later in her pregnancy. The York pageant emphasizes that this would be a matter of very great shame and would mark Joseph as a cuckold.
65 why ne walde som yong man take her? A suggestion of the old man with a young wife scenario of fabliaux; see Chaucer’s January and May in the Merchant’s Tale. The Meditations give Mary’s age at the time of her marriage to Joseph as fourteen (p. 14).
66–70 over ga hir . . . mylde. He considers abandoning her in the forest, but fears that “wilde bestes might sla hir.” His conflicted attitude is expressed by line 70: “She is so meke and mylde.” The Protevangelium had reported that Joseph was contemplating letting “her go from me privily,” which merely echoes the statement in Matthew 1:19, but the idea that legal ramifications are involved was also introduced there (James, ed., Apocryphal New Testament, p. 44). In line 49, he had said “The lawe standis harde agayns me” (see Deuteronomy 22).
81 Sho sittis at hir boke full faste prayand. An iconographic commonplace. The prayerbook either rests on her lap or on a lectern in many depictions of the Annunciation; there are useful examples in alabaster carvings (see Cheetham, English Medieval Alabasters, nos. 91–98 and 100).
108 Say, maidens, how es this? Mary’s housemaids are there to provide certainty concerning Mary’s celibacy, and hence are designed to counter what might be called the fabliaux effect of the scene. However, the mention of the visit of the angel will serve to increase Joseph’s doubts and to reveal his extreme anxiety as he is about to confront Mary herself. The handmaidens are not noted in the Ordo paginarum and thus were in all likelihood added sometime between 1415 and c. 1463–77.
257–75 The angel of the Annunciation, Gabriel, comes to Joseph in a dream (see Matthew 1:20) to explain the Incarnation and to convince him of Mary’s innocence. In York art the scene appears in a printed Missal of 1533 (Missale secundum usum ecclesie Eboracensis, sig. B7), but this is a book that had been produced in Paris (see YA, p. 45). Gabriel orders that Joseph, as the espoused husband, should call the child Jesus. Consistent with cultural practice, the playwright’s assumption seems to have been that the espousal ceremony had legally made them like husband and wife, verified by Joseph’s taking Mary into his household to live, but not yet confirmed by the Church’s marriage rite.
279 Brynge hir to Bedlem this ilke nyght. Gabriel will thus provide motivation for the journey to Bethlehem; nothing is said about Caesar Augustus’ census that would require Mary and Joseph to travel to the “city of David” (Luke 2:1–5).
301 Slike poure wede. Emphasis on the poverty of the Holy Family is conventional, though representations of them in images and other media often depicted them wearing rich garments, even in Mary’s case, for example, wearing a gown lined with ermine in a window of c. 1430 at All Saints, North Street (Gee, “Painted Glass of All Saints' Church,” pl. XXXII).
Play 13, JOSEPH’S TROUBLES ABOUT MARY: 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 JOSEPH. Reg: added by LH.
Of. Large capital O in Reg.
11 dase. Reg: tase, changed by LH to dase.
18 me. So LTS, RB; Reg: we.
31 I. Added to line in Reg by LH.
47 might. So RB; Reg: mght; LTS: may.
80 fra. Altered to fro by LH, who also made similar changes (a to o) in Reg, as noted below.
82 tha. Reg: altered to tho.
84 ga. Reg: altered to go.
91 yhe. Reg: altered to ye by LH.
103 Nay, nay. In Reg, misplaced at beginning of line 104.
114 LH: hic caret in right margin (deleted) in Reg.
116 Reg: line added in right margin by JC.
129 allane. Reg: changed to allone.
131 gane. Reg: altered to gone.
157 na. Reg: changed to no.
188 knawe, nane. Reg: altered to knowe, none by LH.
190 mane. Corrected in Reg to mone.
193 stane. Reg: altered to stone.
196 gane. Reg: altered to gone.
218 twa. Altered in Reg to two.
219 tham. So RB; Reg, LTS: that.
220 wa. Reg: altered to wo.
221 Following line is missing in Reg.
222 fra. Reg: altered to fro.
224 I. Interlined in Reg.
fande. So RB; LTS: frande, following alteration (possible interlined r) in Reg.
225 swa. Reg: altered to swo.
235 Reg: line written at right in a different hand.
246 Reg: in right margin, by a later scribe: Hic deficit (deleted).
286 have. So RB; omit Reg.
294 forgifnesse. So LTS, RB; Reg: fo givnesse.
Play 13, JOSEPH’S TROUBLES ABOUT MARY: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 Flanigan, “Everyman or Saint,” p. 33.
Footnote 2 James, ed., Apocryphal New Testament, p. 44; Meditations, trans. Ragusa and Green, pp. 26–30; Love, Mirror, pp. 34–37. For discussion, see Woolf, English Mystery Plays, pp. 169–73.
Footnote 3 For comparison with the same episode in the Towneley collection, see Lyle, Original Identity of the York and Towneley Cycles, pp. 54–56.
Footnote 4 See Blair and Ramsay, eds., English Medieval Industries, pp. 66–77.
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