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Play 15, The Offering of the Shepherds


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.

Like the previous play, the Offering of the Shepherds appears to have been rewritten after the compilation of the Ordo paginarum in 1415 and before the pageant was entered in the Register. In this case, however, the Ordo paginarum is consistent with the structure of the play aside from the missing leaf, first noticed by Beadle, which contained the angel’s announcement of the newly born Child Jesus (after line 55).1 Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the pageant, however, is the connection, not fully understood by scholars, with the Shrewsbury Fragments, for there are parallels with the lines of the third shepherd in the Officium Pastorum in Shrewsbury, MS. Shrewsbury School VI, fols. 38r–39r.2 The biblical source in Luke 2:8–20 forms the ultimate basis for the pageant, but the story also was known through many other sources as well as from depictions in the visual arts. The one example from York that illustrates the Adoration is from the sixteenth century: a carved staircase panel from the Bar Convent.3 There are, however, two instances of the Angel appearing to the shepherds in glass in the Minster and a fine full-page woodcut in the York Book of Hours printed on the Continent in 1517 which shows one shepherd falling, another on one knee, and a third shielding his face at the appearance of the angel, who holds a scroll.4 Pamela King calls attention to the reading of a lesson recounting the event from the Venerable Bede in the York liturgy for Christmas Day.5 The pageant, in a seven-line stanza except for the three beginning and three ending stanzas that have a common twelve-line form, was the responsibility of the Chandlers, who supplied the wax candles so very widely used in religious rites in pre-Reformation York.

5–12 Oure formefadres . . . by borne. The first shepherd knows the prediction of the Patriarchs and Prophets that a prince shall be born in Bethlehem, and the other two will also prove themselves knowledgeable in this respect. They are thus not ordinary shepherds but rather in a symbolic sense also representative of spiritual shepherds, the clergy, who are leaders in maintaining the adoration of the Child in the liturgy. Yet they do simultaneously maintain their identity as shepherds, including their traditional musical ability, though their singing is less competent than the angel’s song. Shepherds often appear with bagpipes (see Rastall, Heaven Singing, pp. 349–50).

15 A sterne shulde schyne. The account in Luke does not include the star, which is borrowed from the Magi story, but the reference by the second shepherd to “lightfull lemes” shining in darkness (line 16) is consistent with the medieval tradition; see, for example, the star to which the angel points in the upper right of the miniature in the Holkham Bible Picture Book, fol. 13.

23–24 als clene maye / As ever she was byforne. Again an assertion of Mary’s virginity both before and after the birth of Jesus. King cites a processional for Christmas Day: “You gave birth to your Maker, and you remain a virgin eternally” (York Mystery Cycle, p. 99, quoting York Manual and Processional, p. 138, in translation).

31 The force of the feende to felle in fighte. A glance at the Last Day of history, when Satan will finally and permanently be overcome, but also relevant to the everyday struggle against temptation.

37 Hudde. The second shepherd is called by name.

39 Colle. The first shepherd also calls the third shepherd by name.

42 swilke a sight. This would appear to refer to the star, not yet the angel or angels, though a selcouthe sight nevertheless.

after 55 The missing leaf would have presented the coming of the angel, whose song was the Gloria, undoubtedly sung by a professional singer from one of the parish churches or the Minster since subsequent notice by the shepherds will be indicative of a higher level of skill. In the Shewsbury Officium Pastorum, the third shepherd comments on the “nobull noyes” made by “an angel bright” (lines 16–17). The text of the Gloria is liturgical, differing from the Vulgate version in Luke 2:14 which has altissimis instead of excelsis, and would presumably have been sung from musical notation so would require an experienced church musician. A Gloria, simply represented by an incipit, from Chester in London, British Library, MS. Harley 2124 is reproduced in Rastall, Heaven Singing, pl. 7, though in the pageant a liturgical chant from the York service books would have been used. There is good reason to suspect that instruments might have been included since in iconography they appear frequently in representations of heavenly music. The first shepherd, in saying he can imitate “itt alls wele as hee” (line 60), is surely exaggerating his ability, though when joined by the others (as appears to be the case, and if so he must have been a lead singer) he is able, with their help, to command “a mery note” (line 65).

67 I have so crakid in my throte. “Crakid” may be little more than a generic term for singing here, but it nevertheless suggests that the shepherds sang harshly, with “sharp, sudden burst[s] of sound” (Carter, Dictionary, p. 102). The effect on the second shepherd’s throat, suggested also by his dry lips, indicates a tight-throat singing technique.

78 fynde that frely foode. Compare Shrewsbury Officium Pastorum: “To fynde that frely fode” (line 37).

84–85 myrthe and melody / With sange. The shepherds sing in procession as they cross to where the Child and his parents are located. No indication in the York text is present to suggest the nature of the music, and the staging is not clarified either.

92–95 The third shepherd reveals that the angel had told them the Child should be found between the “two bestis tame,” and this would presumably have been a spoken addition to his lost song on the leaf missing from the playtext.

103 belle of tynne. English shepherds used sheep bells to help locate their herds, but this must be a smaller bell, attached to a “baren” or poor brooch. Bells were considered to be a useful defense against the devil.

112 Two cobill notis uppon a bande. Hazelnuts on a string, probably as a bracelet.

124 horne spone. A large spoon, designated as to size (large enough to hold forty peas). Spoons frequently appear in iconography in association with the infant Jesus; for discussion, see Ishii, “Spoon and the Christ Child.” The third shepherd’s gift to the Child in the Shrewsbury Officium Pastorum is an even larger horn spoon, which “may herbar an hundrith pese” (line 44). This speech (lines 39–49) and the third shepherd’s at York are nearly identical except for Shrewsbury’s “dayntese” instead of York’s “novelté” and the addition of two final lines at York.

131 make mirthe as we gange. Mirthe, in this context, simply suggests singing; see Dutka, Music, p. 100. A partly erased addition by John Clerke, read by Beadle under ultraviolet light (RB, p. 428), suggests that a conclusion to the play was wanting. However, it is possible that Clerke was noting only a missing final song, already cited in the final line of text, and not any further matter.


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 I PASTOR. Reg: supplied by JC.
Bredir. Reg: large initial B sketched in.

7 a. So LTS, RB; Reg: I.

13 II PASTOR. Reg: supplied by JC.

20 al. Reg: interlined by a LH.

25 III PASTOR. Reg: supplied by JC.

37–64 I PASTOR. Shepherds identified in Reg by I, II, and III only; here following LTS, RB.

41–42 Reg: designated for III Pastor (deleted).


55 Missing leaf follows in Reg not noted by LTS.

56 [III PASTOR.] So RB. Presumably continuation of speech from previous page.

64, s.d. Et tunc cantant. Reg: in red, by Scribe B. Added by JC in margin: caret nova loquela and de pastores.

78 I. Reg: interlined by later scribe.

85 With. At end of line 83 in Reg.
Savyour. Added to text by JC.

85, s.d. Et tunc cantant. Reg: in red, by Scribe B.

87 burgh. So RB; Reg, LTS: burght.

99 Reg: additions in later hand(s) in margin: hic caret and nova loquela.

106–07 On single line, lines in reverse order in Reg.

108 Reg: addition in margin by LH: hic caret.

118 askis. So LTS, RB; Reg, Bevington: aftir.

120 hic. Reg: at left, by LH.

128 Farewele. So LTS, RB, citing Shrewsbury Fragment A47.

131 Reg: following but erased, visible under ultraviolet light: Here wantes the conclusyon of this matter (in JC’s hand). Under erasure is an indecipherable writing.


Footnote 1 Beadle, “Unnoticed Lacuna.”

Footnote 2 See Davis, ed., Non-Cycle Plays, pp. 1–2.

Footnote 3 Inventory of the Historical Monuments, vol. 3, pl. 42.

Footnote 4 YA, pp. 53–54.

Footnote 5 King, York Mystery Cycle, p. 104, citing the York Breviary, 1:83.

The Chandelers



























I PASTOR   Bredir in haste, takis heede and here
What I wille speke and specifie;
Sen we walke thus, withouten were,
What mengis my moode nowe mevyd will I.
Oure formefadres, faythfull in fere,
Bothe Osye and Isaye,
Preved that a prins withouten pere
Shulde descende doune in a lady
And to make mankynde clerly
To leche tham that are lorne;
And in Bedlem hereby
Sall that same barne by borne.

II PASTOR   Or he be borne in burgh hereby,
Balaham, brothir, me have herde say,
A sterne shulde schyne and signifie
With lightfull lemes like any day.
And als the texte it tellis clerly
By witty lerned men of oure lay,
With his blissid bloode he shulde us by,
He shulde take here al of a maye.
I herde my syre saye
When he of hir was borne,
She shulde be als clene maye
As ever she was byforne.

III PASTOR   A, mercifull maker, mekill is thy myght
That thus will to thi servauntes see.
Might we ones loke uppon that light,
Gladder bretheren myght no men be.
I have herde say, by that same light
The childre of Israell shulde be made free,
The force of the feende to felle in fighte,
And all his pouer excluded shulde be.
Wherfore, brether, I rede that wee
Flitte faste overe thees felles
To frayste to fynde oure fee
And talke of sumwhat ellis.

I PASTOR   We, Hudde!

II PASTOR                      We, howe!

I PASTOR                                         Herkyn to me!

II PASTOR   We, man, thou maddes all out of myght.

I PASTOR   We, Colle!

III PASTOR                  What care is comen to thee?

I PASTOR   Steppe furth and stande by me right
And telle me than
Yf thou sawe evere swilke a sight.

III PASTOR   I? Nay, certis, nor nevere no man.

II PASTOR   Say, felowes, what, fynde yhe any feest,
Me falles for to have parte, pardé.

I PASTOR   Whe, Hudde, behalde into the heste,
A selcouthe sight than sall thou see
Uppon the skye.

II PASTOR   We, telle me, men, emang us thre,
Whatt garres yow stare thus sturdely?

III PASTOR   Als lange as we have herdemen bene
And kepid this catell in this cloghe,
So selcouth a sight was nevere non sene.

I PASTOR   We, no Colle, nowe comes it newe inowe
That mon we fynde;
. . .
[III PASTOR]   Itt menes some mervayle us emang,
Full hardely I you behete.

I PASTOR   What it shulde mene that wate not yee,
For all that ye can gape and gone.
I can synge itt alls wele as hee,
And on asaie itt sall be sone
Proved or we passe.
Yf ye will helpe, halde on; late see,
For thus it was.

Et tunc cantant.

II PASTOR   Ha, ha, this was a mery note;
Be the dede that I sall dye
I have so crakid in my throte
That my lippis are nere drye.

III PASTOR   I trowe thou royse,
For what it was fayne witte walde I
That tille us made this noble noyse.

I PASTOR   An aungell brought us tythandes newe
A babe in Bedlem shulde be borne,
Of whom than spake oure prophecie trewe,
And bad us mete hym thare this morne,
That mylde of mode.
I walde giffe hym bothe hatte and horne,
And I myght fynde that frely foode.

III PASTOR   Hym for to fynde has we no drede;
I sall you telle achesoune why:
Yone sterne to that Lorde sall us lede.

II PASTOR   Ya, thou sais soth, go we forthy
Hym to honnour
And make myrthe and melody
With sange to seke oure Savyour.

Et tunc cantant.

I PASTOR   Breder, bees all blythe and glad,
Here is the burgh ther we shulde be.

II PASTOR  : In that same steede now are we stadde;
Tharefore I will go seke and see.
Slike happe of heele nevere herdemen hadde.
Loo, here is the house, and here is hee.

III PASTOR   Ya, forsothe this is the same,
Loo! whare that Lorde is layde
Betwyxe two bestis tame,
Right als tha aungell saide.

I PASTOR   The aungell saide that he shulde save
This worlde and all that wonnes therin;
Therfore yf I shulde oght aftir crave
To wirshippe hym I will begynne.
Sen I am but a symple knave,
Thof all I come of curtayse kynne,
Loo, here slyke harnays as I have,
A baren broche by a belle of tynne
At youre bosom to be,
And whenne ye shall welde all,
Gud Sonne, forgete noght me
Yf any fordele falle.

II PASTOR   Thou Sonne, that shall save bothe see and sande,
Se to me sen I have thee soght,
I am ovir poure to make presande
Als myn harte wolde, and I had ought.
Two cobill notis uppon a bande,
Loo, litill babe, what I have broght,
And whan ye sall be Lorde in lande,
Dose goode agayne, forgete me noght,
For I have herde declared
Of connyng clerkis and clene
That bountith askis rewarde,
Nowe watte ye what I mene.

III PASTOR   Nowe loke on me, my Lorde dere;
Thof all I putte me noght in pres,
Ye are a prince withouten pere,
I have no presentte that you may plees.
But lo, an horne spone, that have I here,
And it will herbar fourty pese;
This will I giffe you with gud chere,
Slike novelté may noght disease.
Farewele thou swete swayne,
God graunte us levyng lange,
And go we hame agayne
And make mirthe as we gange.
Brothers; hear; (t-note)

forefathers; altogether; (see note)
Hosea; Isaiah
Proved; prince; peer; (t-note)

clean (sinless)
child be

town; (t-note)
star; (see note)
bright beams

buy [back] (redeem)
maid; (t-note)

clean maid (virgin); (see note)

creator; (t-note)


to overcome; (see note)

try; livestock

Whee; (see note); (t-note)

pay attention

act badly

(see note)

near me
(see note)


feast (revels)
I ought to have a; by God


kept; livestock; valley


[pages missing; see note]
omen; among; (t-note)
boldly; assure

and do

on a try; soon
hold on [to your note]

And then they sing; (t-note)

(see note)

think you talk nonsense
gladly know
to us; musical sound

would give
noble child; (see note); (t-note)


(see note)

And then they sing; (t-note)


place; stopped

luck; well-being

(see note)


such [household] gear
poor brooch; tin; (see note)

wield (control) all [things]
God’s (or ?Good); (t-note)

sea; (t-note)

overly poor; present
heart would wish, if
hazelnuts; (see note)

bounty; (t-note)

Though I don’t mean to push myself forward
spoon; (see note)
contain; peas

living long

go; (see note); (t-note)

Go To Play 16, Herod Questioning the Three Kings and the Offering of the Magi