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Play 13, Joseph's Troubles about Mary


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).


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.


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.

The Pewteres and Foundours





























































JOSEPH   Of grete mornyng may I me mene
And walke full werily be this way,
For nowe than wende I best hafe bene
Att ease and reste by reasonne ay.
For I am of grete elde,
Wayke and al unwelde,
Als ilke man se it maye.
I may nowder buske ne belde,
But owther in frithe or felde.
For shame what sall I saie,

That thusgates nowe on myne alde dase
Has wedded a yonge wenche to my wiff,
And may noght wele tryne over two strase?
Nowe, Lorde, how lange sall I lede this liff,
My banes er hevy als lede
And may noght stande in stede
Als kende it is full ryfe.
Now, Lorde, thou me wisse and rede,
Or sone me dryve to dede,
Thou may best stynte this striffe.

For bittirly than may I banne
The way I in the Temple wente,
Itt was to me a bad barganne,
For reuthe I may it ay repente.
For tharein was ordande
Unwedded men sulde stande
Al sembled at asent,
And ilke ane a drye wande
On heght helde in his hand,
And I ne wist what it ment.

In mange al othir ane bare I,
Itt florisshed faire and floures on sprede,
And thay saide to me forthy
That with a wiffe I sulde be wedde.
The bargayne I made thare,
That rewes me nowe full sare,
So am I straytely sted.
Now castes itt me in care,
For wele I myght everemare
Anlepy life have led.

Hir werkis me wyrkis my wonges to wete.
I am begiled, how wate I noght.
My yonge wiffe is with childe full grete,
That makes me nowe sorowe unsoght.
That reproffe nere has slayne me.
Forthy giff any man frayne me
How this thing might be wroght,
To gabbe yf I wolde payne me,
The lawe standis harde agayns me,
To dede I mon be broght.

And lathe methinketh, on the todir syde,
My wiff with any man to defame
And whethir of there twa that I bide,
I mon noght scape withouten schame.
The childe certis is noght myne;
That reproffe dose me pyne
And gars me fle fra hame.
My liff gif I shuld tyne,
Sho is a clene virgine
For me, withouten blame.

But wele I wate thurgh prophicie,
A maiden clene suld bere a childe,
But it is nought sho, sekirly,
Forthy I wate I am begiled.
And why ne walde som yonge man take her?
For certis I thynke over ga hir
Into som wodes wilde.
Thus thynke I to stele fra hir;
God childe ther wilde bestes sla hir,
She is so meke and mylde.

Of my wendyng wil I none warne,
Neverethelees it is myne entente
To aske hir who gate hir that barne,
Yitt wolde I witte fayne or I went.

All hayle, God be hereinne.

I PUELLA   Welcome, by Goddis dere myght.

JOSEPH   Whare is that yonge virgine,
Marie, my berde so bright?

I PUELLA   Certis, Joseph, ye sall undirstande
That sho is not full farre you fra.
Sho sittis at hir boke full faste prayand
For you and us, and for all tha
That oght has nede.
But for to telle hir will I ga
Of youre comyng, withouten drede.
Have done, and rise uppe, dame,
And to me take gud hede:
Joseph, he is comen hame.

MARIA   Welcome, als God me spede.

Dredles to me he is full dere,
Joseph my spouse, welcome er yhe.

JOSEPH   Gramercy, Marie, saie what chere,
Telle me the soth, how est with thee?
Wha has ben there?
Thy wombe is waxen grete, thynke me;
Thou arte with barne, allas, for care.
A, maidens, wa worthe you
That lete hir lere swilke lare.

II PUELLA   Joseph, ye sall noght trowe
In hir no febill fare.

JOSEPH   Trowe it noght arme? Lefe wenche, do way.
Hir sidis shewes she is with childe.
Whose ist, Marie?

MARIA               Sir, Goddis and youres.

JOSEPH                                                   Nay, nay,
Now wate I wele I am begiled,
And reasoune why?
With me flesshely was thou nevere fylid,
And I forsake it here forthy.
Say, maidens, how es this?
Tels me the sothe, rede I,
And but ye do, iwisse,
The bargayne sall ye aby.

II PUELLA   If ye threte als faste as yhe can,
Thare is noght to saie theretill,
For trulye her come never no man
To waite her body with non ill
Of this swete wight.
For we have dwelt ay with hir still,
And was nevere fro hir day nor nyght.
Hir kepars have we bene
And sho ay in oure sight,
Come here no man bytwene
To touche that berde so bright.

I PUELLA   Na, here come no man in there wanes,
And that evere witnesse will we,
Save an aungell ilke a day anes
With bodily foode hir fedde has he,
Othir come nane.
Wharfore we ne wate how it shulde be,
But thurgh the Haly Gaste allane.
For trewly we trowe this,
Is grace with hir is gane,
For sho wroght nevere no mys,
We witnesse evere ilkane.

JOSEPH   Thanne se I wele youre menyng is:
The aungell has made hir with childe.
Nay, som man in aungellis liknesse
With somkyn gawde has hir begiled,
And that trow I.
Forthy nedes noght swilke wordis wilde
At carpe to me dissayvandly.
We, why gab ye me swa
And feynes swilk fantassy?
Allas, me is full wa,
For dule why ne myght I dy?

To me this is a careful cas.
Rekkeles I raffe, refte is my rede,
I dare loke no man in the face,
Derfely, for dole why ne were I dede.
Me lathis my liff!
In Temple and in othir stede
Ilke man till hethyng will me dryff.
Was never wight sa wa,
For ruthe I all to ryff,
Allas, why wroght thou swa,
Marie, my weddid wiffe?

MARIA   To my witnesse grete God I call,
That in mynde wroght nevere na mysse.

JOSEPH   Whose is the childe thou arte withall?

MARIA   Youres, sir, and the kyngis of blisse.

JOSEPH   Ye, and hoo than?
Na selcouthe tythandis than is this,
Excuse tham wele there women can.
But, Marie, all that sese thee
May witte thi werkis ere wan:
Thy wombe allway it wreyes thee
That thou has mette with man.

Whose is it, als faire mot thee befall?

MARIA   Sir, it is youres and Goddis will.

JOSEPH   Nay, I ne have noght ado withall.
Neme it na more to me, be still.
Thou wate als wele as I
That we two same flesshly
Wroght never swilk werkis with ill.
Loke thou dide no folye
Before me prevely
Thy faire maydenhede to spill.

But who is the fader? telle me his name.

MARIA   None but youreselfe.

JOSEPH                                  Late be, for shame.
I did it nevere, thou dotist, dame, by bukes and belles,
Full sakles shulde I bere this blame aftir thou telles,
For I wroght nevere in worde nor dede
Thyng that shulde marre thy maydenhede
To touche me till.
For of slyk note war litill nede,
Yhitt for myn awne I wolde it fede,
Might all be still.
Tharfore the fadir tell me, Marie.

MARIA   But God and yhow, I knawe right nane.

JOSEPH   A, slike sawes mase me full sarye
With grete mornyng to make my mane;
Therfore be noght so balde
That no slike tales be talde,
But halde thee stille als stane.
Thou art yonge and I am alde,
Slike werkis yf I do walde,
Thase games fra me are gane.

Therfore, telle me in privité,
Whos is the childe thou is with nowe?
Sertis, ther sall non witte but we;
I drede the law als wele as thou.

MARIA   Nowe grete God of his myght,
That all may dresse and dight,
Mekely to thee I bowe.
Rewe on this wery wight
That in his herte myght light
The soth to ken and trowe.

JOSEPH   Who had thy maydenhede, Marie? Has thou oght mynde?

MARIA   Forsuth, I am a mayden clene.

JOSEPH   Nay, thou spekis now agayne kynde.
Slike thing myght nevere na man of mene,
A maiden to be with childe!
Thase werkis fra thee ar wilde,
Sho is not borne, I wene.

MARIA   Joseph, yhe ar begiled:
With synne was I never filid,
Goddis sande is on me sene.

JOSEPH   Goddis sande, yha Marie, God helpe,
Bot certis, that childe was nevere oures twa.
But womankynde gif tham list yhelpe,
Yhitt walde thei na man wiste ther wa.

MARIA   Sertis, it is Goddis sande,
. . .
That sall I never ga fra.

JOSEPH   Yha, Marie, drawe thyn hande,
For forther yitt will I fande,
I trowe not it be swa.

The soth fra me gif that thou layne,
The childebering may thou noght hyde;
But sitte stille here tille I come agayne,
Me bus an erand here beside.

MARIA   Now, grete God he you wisse
And mende you of your mysse
Of me, what so betyde.
Als he is kyng of blisse,
Sende yhou som seand of this,
In truth that ye might bide.

JOSEPH   Nowe, Lord God, that all thing may
At thyne awne will bothe do and dresse,
Wisse me now som redy way
To walke here in this wildirnesse.
Bot or I passe this hill,
Do with me what God will,
Owther more or lesse;
Here bus me bide full stille
Till I have slepid my fille.
Myn hert so hevy it is.

ANGELUS   Waken, Joseph, and take bettir kepe
To Marie, that is thi felawe fest.

JOSEPH   A, I am full werie, lefe, late me slepe,
Forwandered and walked in this forest.

ANGELUS   Rise uppe and slepe na mare,
Thou makist her herte full sare
That loves thee alther best.

JOSEPH   We, now es this a farly fare,
For to be cached bathe here and thare,
And nowhere may have rest.

Say, what arte thou, telle me this thyng?

ANGELUS   I, Gabriell, Goddis aungell full even,
That has tane Marie to my kepyng
And sente es thee to say with steven
In lele wedlak thou lede thee;
Leffe hir noght, I forbid thee,
Na syn of hir thou neven,
But tille hir fast thou spede thee
And of hir noght thou drede thee,
It is Goddis sande of heven.

The childe that sall be borne of her,
Itt is consayved of the Haly Gast.
Alle joie and blisse than sall be aftir
And to al mankynde nowe althir mast.
Jesus his name thou calle,
For slike happe sall hym fall
Als thou sall se in haste.
His pepull saffe he sall
Of evyllis and angris all
That thei ar nowe enbraste.

JOSEPH   And is this soth, aungell, thou saise?

ANGELUS   Yha, and this to taken right,
Wende forthe to Marie thy wiffe alwayse:
Brynge hir to Bedlem this ilke nyght.
Ther sall a childe borne be,
Goddis Sone of heven is hee,
And man ay mast of myght.

JOSEPH   Nowe, Lorde God, full wele is me
That evyr that I this sight suld see;
I was never ar so light.

For for I walde hir have thus refused
And sakles blame that ay was clere,
Me bus pray hir halde me excused
Als som men dose with full gud chere.
Saie, Marie, wiffe, how fares thou?

MARIA   The bettir, sir, for yhou.
Why stande yhe thare? Come nere.

JOSEPH   My bakke fayne wolde I bowe
And aske forgifnesse nowe,
Wiste I thou wolde me here.

MARIA   Forgiffnesse, sir, late be for shame;
Slike wordis suld all gud women lakke.

JOSEPH   Yha, Marie, I am to blame,
For wordis lang are I to thee spak.
But gadir same nowe all oure gere,
Slike poure wede as we were,
And prike tham in a pak.
Till Bedlem bus me it bere,
For litill thyng will women dere.
Helpe up nowe on my bak.
mourning; speak; (see note); (t-note)
(i.e., I’d rather have)

Weak; feeble
every man
move easily; stay

in this way; old days; (t-note)

step; straws

bones; lead
perceived; in every way

curse; (see note)


assembled as agreed
each one
Up high

Among; one; (t-note)

repent; sore
(i.e., in trouble)

A single

doings cause me; cheeks
(see note)

disgrace nearly
if; question

death I might


which of these two

reproof causes me pain
makes; from home
if; lose


wouldn’t; (see note)
(i.e., to forsake her); (see note)
steal away from
shield; slay

made her (pregnant with); child
know; before


very far from you; (t-note)
book; (see note)
those; (t-note)


are you; (t-note)

how is it

woe do you deserve
let her learn such lore

no [moral] weakness

harm; Leave

I know well


(see note)

pay for

here came; (t-note)




His grace is with her; (t-note)

speak; deceivingly
chatter; so
of woe

rave; (i.e., my peace is compromised)

I loathe
Each man to scorn; drive
man so [full of] woe
(i.e., am wounded [in heart])

error (sin); (t-note)

No more marvelous
(i.e., these)


together carnally


you talk foolishly; books

such business
kept quiet


such words amaze; sorry
moan; (t-note)
stone; (t-note)
would (be willing to) do
gone; (t-note)


undertake; do

Have compassion; unhappy man

know; trust


no; (i.e., assert)


message; seen

together; (t-note)
if they desire; (t-note)
Yet; know; woe; (t-note)

[line missing, see note]

(i.e., stop talking)
go; (t-note)

if; conceal




But before

must; abide


sir, let
Worn out with wandering and walking

the very best of all

wondrous matter
pursued both

(see note)
is; voice
true wedlock
No sin; speak

message from

the very most

happening to him



Bethlehem; same; (see note)



For since; (t-note)



long (inappropriate) previously
poor clothes; wear; (see note)
press; into

Go To Play 14, The Nativity