Play 16, Herod Questioning the Three Kings and the Offering of the Magi
Play 16, HEROD QUESTIONING THE THREE KINGS AND THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI: FOOTNOTES
Play 16, HEROD QUESTIONING THE THREE KINGS AND THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI: 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.
In the Ordo paginarum of 1415 the pageant of how the three Magi, following the star, appear in Herod’s court and then present their gifts to the Christ Child is attributed to the Goldsmiths and Masons, though in that document the guild identifications and description of the play were at some time altered and hence are difficult to interpret. In the second list of c. 1422 in the York Memorandum Book, these guilds seem to be responsible for different plays, with further doubt introduced since the reference to the Masons is entered in a different hand and interlined. In the Register the guilds’ plays are entered separately with a portion copied twice. Lucy Toulmin Smith printed them as separate plays, but Beadle has described how, probably in 1432 or thereabouts, they had been revised to create a single drama that could be performed on two pageant wagons representing Herod’s court and the scene of the Holy Infant, the Masons then being given the responsibility for the former. Beadle’s argument is convincing in part also since the alliterative verse forms in the first fifty-six lines likewise argue for composition at about this time, with the remainder utilizing a familiar twelve-line stanza representing older strata in the text. In its present state, the play in the Register is only representative of how it was staged between c. 1432 and not long after c. 1470, since by 1477 the Masons were instead given responsibility for the Purification.1 Information is lacking about the Masons’ portion of the drama between 1477 and 1561, when its “pageant of Herod inquyryng of the three kynges for the child Jesu” was given to the Minstrels; however, the earlier sponsorship was then still remembered as being formerly “brought forth by the late Masons.”2 The Masons were much employed about York, especially on the city churches and the Minster, until the 1530s, which more or less marked the end of church building in York on account of the Reformation. The Goldsmiths, who tended to live and work in the liberties, would have been uniquely able to supply the kings’ crowns and other touches of gold signifying royalty, including the first Magi’s gift. The Epiphany, the manifestation of the Godhead incarnate to the gentile princes of the world, is celebrated in the West on January 6; the play follows the narrative outlined in the Gospel lesson for that day (Matthew 2:1–12).
1–22 Herod reveals himself to be the typical ranting tyrant, the ridiculousness of what he says underlined by various claims such as his alleged ability to control the winds. In lines 17–18, he insists he is sixty-seven times “fairer of face and fressher on folde,” which is highly unlikely to have been the way he was represented in the pageant. He seems to be directing his claim to fair appearance against those who have the right to use heraldic red, a color common in coats of arms and represented as valued beyond the financial resources of ordinary people. King calls attention to the antiphon Herode iratus at the feast of the Massacre of the Innocents in which Herod precipitates an overflowing of anger resulting in terrifying atrocities (York Mystery Cycle, p. 111, citing York Breviary, 1:118 and 147). To symbolize such wrath at Beverley the actor playing Herod apparently appeared in blackface (Leach, “Some English Plays and Players,” p. 213), and a dark-faced Herod appears in thirteenth-century painted glass in the York Minster Chapter House (YA, p. 54, fig. 12). The reasons for his angry disposition are outlined in the Stanzaic Life, culminating in his fear that as an earthly monarch he will be destroyed by a heavenly king (pp. 63–64).
23–26 All kynges to youre croune . . . fro light. Herod’s soldier-retainers are consummate flatterers, but here what they say has immediate meaning for the encounter with the three kings who will shortly meet with the tyrant. In the following lines Herod will assert his supremacy, threatened as he is by any challenge to his authority. He remains the villainous tyrant of the liturgical drama (for the Officium Stellae and Fleury Herod, see Young, Drama of the Medieval Church, 2:59–100), but since he is not restrained by the decorum of liturgical drama he can demonstrate much broader and more inappropriate gestures and loud speech. In his pride he thus serves as a foil to the gentle Mary and her infant Son, who represent peace and humility as they also are strong beyond anything that Herod can imagine, since theirs is the power that has formed the cosmos and continues to sustain all things. In stained glass in the church of St. Michael Spurriergate, Herod has been given a crown with a devil emerging from it (Skey, “Herod’s Demon Crown”), an accouterment that well might also have appeared as part of his costume in this play on the feast of Corpus Christi. See also the discussion of masks for such characters in Twycross and Carpenter, Masks and Masking, pp. 216–20.
57–90 Beginning the Goldsmith’s contribution to the pageant, the three kings are introduced as directly opposed to proud Herod. Entering from different directions, they praise God as the author of everlasting life. They are following the brilliant star stationary in the east that will stand over the place where Jesus has been born. Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, citing Fulgentius, indicates that the star, instead of being “fixed in the firmament” was “suspended at a level of the air close to earth” and “was brighter than other stars, so bright indeed that sunlight could not dim it” (1:81). The same source mentions that when Jesus was born, the star appeared in the shape of “a most beautiful child over whose head a cross gleamed” (1:80), iconography that has been traced to the Book of Seth in the fourth century (Trexler, Journey of the Magi, p. 27). The Child appears in the star in the Coventry Shearmen and Taylors’ pageant (line 536; Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, p. 99). In the York pageant, the star would have been required to be suspended at a high point above the Goldsmith’s wagon stage where it would be clearly seen by the audience, and it would need also to disappear over Herod’s court (see, for example, Mirk, Festial, p. 49). Its reappearance may have been produced, as in the York liturgical Magi play of 1220–25, by introducing a second star (REED: York, 1:1), presumably shining when the Magi depart from the tyrant’s court. The kings know, if they are a little vague about it, what they are looking for, and they are grateful for their meeting so that they may travel together. Their names are not specified in the pageant, but the Golden Legend identifies them as Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.
109 of felashippe are we fayne. Their meeting is fortuitous. They represent friendship, as opposed to the bully Herod who can have no real friends, and hence look forward to the sense of community that should exist among Christians — and should be reinforced by the Peace in the Mass when the pax brede or osculatorium is passed (see McLachlan, “Liturgical Vessels and Implements,” p. 420).
119–24 Sir Herowde is kyng . . . to drede. They will ask for “his wille and his warande” in order to travel safely — in other words, the equivalent of a modern visa. In the Coventry Shearmen and Taylors’ pageant, Herod extravagantly offers a “paseporte for a hundred deyis” (line 615, p. 102).
129ff. The action returns to Herod’s court as the Magi approach. Herod reveals himself to be a sadist, torturer, murderer, and, significantly, deceiver. In this he will be encouraged by the Consolators.
157 Mahounde, my god. Stereotypically, Mohammed is idolatrously worshiped and in league with Satan.
189–91 Whedirward, in the develis name . . . bune in bande. This must have been spoken as an aside, and so too the lines of the Consolators. Similarly, lines 235–46 are asides, which the kings should not hear.
215–34 Recitation of the prophecies of Christ’s coming by Balaam, Isaias, and Hosea.
215–16 Balaham saide a starne shulde spryng / Of Jacob kynde. Echo of the Epiphany sequence, portion sung on the second day of the season (see King, York Mystery Cycle, p. 114, citing York Missal, 1:32).
260 Ye be bygilyd. Spoken as soon as the kings have departed. Herod and his evil counsellors will, however, be the ones beguiled — another instance of the beguiler beguiled, an important theme in the York cycle.
268 And playe us in som othir place. The Masons are now free to move their pageant wagon and cast to the next station, which means that it would be placed forward, before the Goldsmiths’ wagon, on the pageant route.
272 s.d. Harrode passeth and the three kynges commyth agayn. At this point the Masons depart, and the Goldsmiths take up the remainder of the pageant.
285 Whame seke ye, syrs. Spoken by Mary’s handmaiden and echoing the Quem queritis of the Easter Visitatio sepulchri, which is there spoken by the angel.
303 giftis of gud aray. They show the gifts they have brought. Love’s Mirror states that they “offred and leide here giftes before him” upon a cloth before his feet (p. 44).
307–08 for honnoure and elde, / Brother, ye shall begynne. Showing the required deference to the eldest, who will present his gift and worship the Child first. In iconography, this is usually quite obvious, with the eldest, who is kneeling, having a long beard, and the youngest, still beardless, standing where he will be seen to be the last to present his gift. For an example, see the Biblia Pauperum, p. 52, but the iconography is ubiquitus. Among several York examples, see the painted glass in a window in All Saints, North Street (Gee, “Painted Glass of All Saints' Church,” pl. XXIIa), and the Bowet Window in the Minster (YA, pp. 54–55, fig. 13). The king who is kneeling and presenting a gift invariably has removed his crown, and in the Bowet Window the second king is beginning to take his off in preparation for presenting his gift.
309–20 Hayle . . . I pray thee. The first king speaks a set of Hail lyrics, as will the others; compare the Nativity, lines 107–12. Jesus has come into time to give protection from the fiend and to unbind people from sin and hell — a suggestion of the power of the keys, the ability to bind and loose sins, later delegated to St. Peter and subsequently to the Church.
313 marc us thi men. To be marked (sealed) as Christ’s own forever, normally in the baptismal rite.
319 golde that is grettest of price. Traditionally the first king’s gift, an appropriate tribute to a king (see Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 1:83). In the window at All Saints, North Street, the gift is a gold cup. Love’s Mirror, praising Mary’s devotion to poverty, says that she gave the gold and other gifts “al to pore men” (p. 45).
321 foode that thy folke fully may fede. The word “foode” signifies child, but here is a pun since the infant in this case will also become the spiritually nourishing food of the Eucharist.
328 Als the gleme in the glasse. As the miraculous conception has taken place, so then his birth also happens in a way that will not to disturb Mary’s virginity. In depictions of the Annunciation in some Flemish paintings, the beam of light representing the coming down of the Holy Ghost passes through a glass window on its way to the Virgin (Schiller, Iconography, 1:49), often to her right ear, to emphasize by this means the major Epiphany theme of the Word become Flesh (Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts, figs. 204, 209, 346, and 448). See also the poems cited by Gray, Themes and Images, pp. 100–01.
331 Insens to thi servis. The second gift, explained in the Golden Legend as symbolizing sacrifice (1:83), foreshadowing the Crucifixion but also indicative of Christ’s role as the Great High Priest.
334 For our boote shall thou be bounden and bett. In the course of the Passion, preparatory to the actual Crucifixion. In Love’s Mirror, the kings prepared to leave by kissing Jesus’ feet and hand — and the infant then blessed them (pp. 44–45). The kneeling king kissing the Child’s feet appears in Italian art (see Trexler, Journey of the Magi, pp. 99 and 112, figs. 22 and 28), and the infant holding up his hand in blessing is common (see, for example, YA, pp. 49–50).
341–42 sen thy body beryed shal be, / This mirre will I giffe to thi gravyng. Myrrh, used for burial, foreshadows Christ’s death and burial.
357ff For solas ser now may we synge. The kings possibly did engage in song as they processed away from the Bethlehem site, but there is no indication of what they sang. Processions were an important part of the Epiphany ceremonies. However, Rastall believes this reference to singing is merely metaphorical (Heaven Singing, pp. 45–46). Instead of then returning to Herod, the kings discover they are very tired, and, at the suggestion of the Third King, decide to “reste a thrawe” (line 365). In depictions in the visual arts, the kings retain their crowns as they sleep.
369–80 The vision of the angel, whose warning against returning to Herod’s court will be heeded; they will flee to their own countries.
Play 16, HEROD QUESTIONING THE THREE KINGS AND THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI: 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).
After ascription to Masons, LH has added Mynstrells.
1 HERODES. Reg: added by LH.
6 Listes. So RB; Reg, LTS: I list.
19 is. Reg: interlined by LH.
56 ?hic caret. Reg: erased and a cross.
64 Of. Misplaced at end of line 63 in Reg.
73 noght. So LTS, RB; Reg omit.
129–272 Entered in Reg in the texts of both the Masons and the Goldsmiths, of which the Masons’ (abbreviated Reg/M) is presented here, with only the most substantive readings from the Goldsmiths’ text (abbreviated Reg/G) included in these textual notes. For a parallel text edition, see RB (pp. 138–45).
129 At left in Reg: sequitur postea (erased and now indecipherable except under ultraviolet light).
131 Reg/G: Sir, new nott is full nere this towne.
132 harlott. So Reg/M; Reg/G: losell.
133 Reg/G: Go bette boy and dyng tham downe.
136 do. So Reg/M; Reg/G omits.
139 Reg/G: Of one that is nowe borne.
141 Sir, so I say. Misplaced in Reg/M at beginning of next line.
147 Reg/G: Have done. Dresse us in riche array.
151 we. Interlined in Reg/M.
172 will. Reg/G: schall.
175 Forsoth. Reg/G: Sir.
177 King? So RB, Reg/G; Reg/M: Kingis.
develes name: Reg/G: devyl way.
178 ye. So Reg/G, RB; Reg/M: thee.
rave. So RB, Reg/G; Reg/M: rase.
180 shulde ye. So RB; Reg/M, Reg/G: ye shulde.
181 he is. So Reg/M; Reg/G: I am. Reg/G omits Filius and assigns his speech to Herodes.
183 he is. Reg/G: I am.
187 II REX. So RB; Reg/G: Lorde, we aske noght but leve.
189 Whedirward. So Reg/M; Reg/G: Whedir.
194 there hye wordis. So Reg/M; Reg/G: such wondir.
199 thys. So RB, after Reg/G: this; Reg/M: thy.
thing. Added as emendation over deleted counsaille.
202 kyth. Overwritten by LH in Reg/M.
205 will saye. So Reg/G; under ink blot in Reg/M.
209 I REX. RB, after addition by LH in Reg/G.
213 II REX. RB, after Reg/G.
214 newes. So RB, following Reg/G; Reg/M: newe.
217 III REX. RB, after Reg/G.
218 barne. So Reg/M; Reg/G: sone.
219 contrees. Deleted in Reg/M; JC emended to the world.
221 beiths. So Reg/M; Reg/G: shal be.
224 here. Reg/M: her; Reg/G: now.
225 I REX. So RB, after entry by LH in Reg/G.
227 forsoth saide. So Reg/M; Reg/G: sais.
229 childe consayved sall. So Reg/M; Reg/G: barne consayved shulde.
233 II REX. So RB, after late addition in Reg/G.
238 Reg/G: <>This bryge shall well to ende be broght.
245 is. So Reg/M; Reg/G: was.
250 is. So Reg/M; Reg/G: it is.
251 grathely. So Reg/M; Reg/G: grathe.
255 than were. So Reg/M; Reg/G: that is.
258 Reg/G: Alle the soth of that childe.
259 we. So Reg/M; Reg/G: that we.
263 swytteron. So Reg/M; Reg/G: littil.
264 all. So Reg/M; Reg/G omits.
272 Below in Reg/M, but erased: Hic caret: I Rex. Alake fosoth what schall I say. We lake that syne that we have sought. Also: sequitur postea (confirmed by RB). Reg/G: Nota . . . offerynges. Stage direction supplied in margin by JC.
295 and se. So RB. Misplaced in line 296 in Reg.
318 I soght sone, I. So RB; Reg: soght sone I.
329 thow. So RB2; LTS: yow.
336 fro the fende to thee fette. So RB; Reg: free thu fende fals thee to thy fette (thy canceled; obviously corrupt); LTS: fro the fende fals thee to fette.
371 God hymselfe. So RB; Reg: God of hymselfe (of deleted).
Play 16, HEROD QUESTIONING THE THREE KINGS AND THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 REED: York, 1:115.
Footnote 2 REED: York, 1:334.
The Masonns [and] Goldesmythis
Masons and Goldsmiths:
Nota: The Harrode passeth and the three kynges commyth agayn to make there offerynges. (see note)
Go To Play 17, The Purification of the Virgin