Play 18, The Flight to Egypt
Play 18, THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT: 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 Register contains the pageant as it was at the time it was entered, but possibly not as it stood in the sixteenth century. John Clerke notes that “This matter is mayd of newe after another form” — a comment that was subsequently deleted. The play then either differed substantially, or in this case Clerke could simply have been making a hasty (and mistaken) observation based on viewing the pageants at the first station at the gates of Holy Trinity Priory. If thus altered, the play would not have been unique among the York plays. The subject matter of the flight from Herod’s massacre of children is from a narrative point of view joined with the next pageant, which dramatizes that atrocity; see Matthew 2:13–21. Both were commemorated in the York liturgy, but the principal feast was of course Holy Innocents. The pageant of the Flight shows Joseph as the guardian of Mary, a traditional role, but also has less interest from the point of view of its drama than the following play. The Flight was produced by the Marshals, whose occupation involved the care of horses, so they presumably could have supplied an ass for Mary to ride upon, as the text suggests as a requirement. The verse is a unique form of twelve-line stanza, with irregularities.
1–24 Joseph begins with a lament, mainly concerning his age and his state of exhaustion, which supplies motivation for sleeping. This in turn provides the opportunity for the angel to appear and reveal to him the bad news concerning the threat represented by Herod. Joseph is not, however, rebellious, for his heart is “sette” on fulfilling the law (line 10) and on not allowing anyone to prevent him from doing so.
14 That made me, man, to thy liknes. See the first creation story in Genesis: “Let us make man to our image and likeness” (1:26).
29 As thou me to thy modir chaas. In her prayer, Mary appeals to God who has chosen her to be his mother — an essential paradox of Christianity, that the Father should choose her to bear the Son, who is part of the undivided Godhead.
37 Wakyn, Joseph, and take entent. This and a number of other lines are duplicated in the Towneley Flight into Egypt.
37–40 Wakyn, Joseph . . . slepe no mare. In Matthew 2:13, following the departure of the Magi, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in his sleep.
42 So swete a voyce. The angel is speaking, not singing, but has a clear, sweet voice comparable to the ideal singing voice (see A. Davidson, “High, Clear, and Sweet”). The word “shylle” is used to describe it in the next line; it is tempting to gloss this term as shrill, but that word has connotations which are not applicable here. The appeal of the voice leads Joseph to know the identity of the speaker, who will be revealed to be Gabriel, the angel of the Annunication.
51–62 Gabriel’s message is an expansion of the very brief biblical account of Joseph’s vision that appears in Matthew’s gospel, in which the angel tells Joseph to go to Egypt and to stay there until he tells him it is safe to return.
60 Tille he be dede. Referring to Herod, who dies, and is succeeded by Herod Antipater. There will be no dramatization of Herod’s terrifying death here as there is in the N-Town play (Play 20, lines 233–85). Herod was generally thought to be, as Love insists, “the develes servant” (Mirror, p. 51).
84 doughtir. A term of endearment, appropriate for a young woman.
102 his foo. Joseph does not identify the foe by name until line 112. Mary will repeat “His foo” at the beginning of her speech in the next line (concatenation), but Joseph must wait until she has finished to announce that the enemy is Herod, who has chosen to slay all children under the age of two (lines 111–22).
139 His harte. Referring to Herod. Mary’s speech (lines 135–46) is a lament over the very idea of someone wishing to kill her only son, who is of course also God’s only Son.
148 leve of thy dynne. Indicative of the intensity of Mary’s lament. Joseph will indicate that there is no time to lose, and they must be careful in their flight so that they meet no one who wishes to slay the Child (lines 153–55).
161 such smale harnes as we have. A reminder of the poverty of the Holy Family, for they have only a few household things to take with them.
168 It fortheres to fene me. While the general meaning may be surmised, the text as it stands is unclear. Bevington emends the line to read: “It fortheres [not] to fene me”; he glosses: “It’s no use pretending or delaying (lit. it doesn’t further matters to feign, shirk); I must bear this pack of all I’m responsible for and complain about (?)” (Mediaeval Drama, p. 434).
176 To Egipte talde I thee. Mary is frightened, and cannot remember what Joseph has said their destination was to be, but neither of them have a clue about where they are ordered to go. God will need to guide them.
188 wilsom wayes make us to wende. Love emphasizes the difficulty of travel for an old man and a young wife with a baby along “a nuyes wey and herd and diverse, that was not inhabited and also a wey ful longe” which may have taken “the travaile of two monethes and more” (Mirror, p. 51).
194 Bevington suggests a stage direction: “Mary mounts an ass with her child” (Mediaeval Drama, p. 435). This would be a convenient way to have the actors set out toward the next station. Mary mounted on an ass and holding the Child appears in a window in the choir of York Minster (YA, pp. 57–58, fig. 15).
Play 18, THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT: 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 Thow. Reg has sketched in capital T.
At right, in JC’s hand: This matter is mayd of new after another forme (deleted).
3 thin. So LTS; Reg: thn (final letter unclear); RB: this.
12 Reg: at right, by LH: Caret (deleted).
33 Reg: at right, by LH: Maria ad huc.
34 Reg: text in margin at left deleted and illegible.
47 What that. So LTS, RB; Reg: What at that.
66 nevere offende. So RB; Reg: nevere didde offende (didde canceled).
137 tharne. So LTS, RB; Reg: thrane.
170 Of all. So LTS; Reg, RB: Off of all.
Go To Play 19, The Massacre of the Innocents