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Play 18, The Flight to Egypt


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).


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.

The Marchallis















































JOSEPH   Thow maker that is most of myght,
To thy mercy I make my mone;
Lord, se unto thin symple wight
That hase non helpe but thee allone.
For all this worlde I have forsaken
And to thy service I have me taken
With witte and will
For to fulfill
Thi commaundement.
Theron myn herte is sette;
With grace thou has me lente,
Thare schall no lede me lette.

For all my triste, Lorde, is in thee
That made me, man, to thy liknes,
Thow myghtfull maker, have mynde on me
And se unto my sympplenes.
I waxe wayke as any wande,
For febill me faylles both foote and hande,
Whatevere it mene,
Methynke myne eyne
Hevye as leede.
Therfore I halde it best
A whille her in this stede
To slepe and take my reste.

MARIA   Thow luffely Lord that last schall ay,
My God, my Lorde, my Sone so dere,
To thy Godhede hartely I pray
With all myn harte holy entere;
As thou me to thy modir chaas,
I beseke thee of thy grace
For all mankynde
That has in mynde
To wirshippe thee.
Thou se thy saules to save,
Jesu, my Sone so free,
This bone of thee I crave.

ANGELUS   Wakyn, Joseph, and take entent.
My sawes schall seece thy sorowe sare;
Be noght hevy, thi happe is hentte,
Tharefore I bidde thee slepe no mare.

JOSEPH   A, myghtfull Lorde, whatevere that mente?
So swete a voyce herde I nevere ayre.
But what arte thou with steven so shylle
Thus in my slepe that spekis me till?
To me appere
And late me here
What that thou was.

ANGELUS   Joseph, have thou no drede,
Thou shalte witte or I passe;
Therfore to me take hede.

For I am sente to thee,
Gabriell, Goddis aungell bright,
Is comen to bidde thee flee
With Marie and hir worthy wight,
For Horowde the kyng gars doo to dede
All knave childer in ilke a stede
That he may ta
With yeris twa
That are of olde.
Tille he be dede, away
In Egipte shall ye beelde
Tille I witte thee for to saie.

JOSEPH   Ayelastand Lorde, loved mott thou be
That thy swete sande wolde to me sende.
But, Lorde, what ayles the kyng at me?
For unto hym I nevere offende.
Allas, what ayles hym for to spille
Smale yonge barnes that nevere did ille
In worde ne dede
Unto no lede
Be nyght nor day.
And sen he wille us schende,
Dere Lorde, I thee praye,
Thou wolde be oure frende.

For be he nevere so wode or wrothe,
For all his force thou may us fende.
I praye thee, Lorde, kepe us fro skathe,
Thy socoure sone to us thou sende;
For unto Egipte wende we will
Thy biddyng baynely to fulfill,
As worthy is
Thou kyng of blisse;
Thi will be wroght.
Marie, my doughtir dere,
On thee is all my thought.

MARIA   A, leve Joseph, what chere?

JOSEPH   The chere of me is done for ay.

MARIA   Allas, what tythandis herde have ye?

JOSEPH   Now certis, full ille to thee at saye,
Ther is noght ellis but us most flee
Owte of oure kyth where we are knowyn,
Full wightely bus us be withdrawen,
Both thou and I.

MARIA   Leve Joseph, why?
Layne it noght,
To doole who has us demed?
Or what wronge have we wroght
Wherfore we shulde be flemyd?

JOSEPH   Wroght we harme, nay, nay, all wrang,
Wytte thou wele it is noght soo;
That yonge page liffe thou mon forgange
But yf thou fast flee fro his foo.

MARIA   His foo, allas, what is youre reede,
Wha wolde my dere barne do to dede?
I durk, I dare,
Whoo may my care
Of balis blynne?
To flee I wolde full fayne;
For all this worlde to wynne
Wolde I noght se hym slayne.

JOSEPH   I warne thee he is thraly thrette
With Herowde kyng, harde harmes to have;
With that mytyng yf that we be mette
Ther is no salve that hym may save.
I warne thee wele, he sleeis all
Knave childir, grete and small,
In towne and felde
Within the elde
Of two yere
And for thy Sones sake;
He will fordo that dere,
May that traytoure hym take.

MARIA   Leve Joseph, who tolde yow this?
How hadde ye wittering of this dede?

JOSEPH   An aungell bright that come fro blisse
This tythandis tolde withouten drede,
And wakynd me oute of my slepe
That comely childe fro cares to kepe,
And bad me flee
With hym and thee
Onto Egipte.
And sertis I dred me sore
To make any smale trippe,
Or tyme that I come thare.

MARIA   What ayles thei at my barne
Slike harmes hym for to hete?
Allas, why schulde I tharne
My Sone his liffe so swete.
His harte aught to be ful sare
On slike a foode hym to forfare
That nevir did ill
Hym for to spill,
And he ne wate why.
I ware full wille of wane
My Sone and he shulde dye,
And I have but hym allone.

JOSEPH   We, leve Marie, do way, late be,
I pray thee, leve of thy dynne
And fande thee furthe faste for to flee
Away with hym for to wynne
That no myscheve on hym betyde,
Nor none unhappe in no kyn side,
Be way nor strete,
That we non mete
To slee hym.

MARIA   Allas, Joseph, for care.
Why shuld I forgo hym,
My dere barne that I bare?

JOSEPH   That swete swayne yf thou save,
Do tyte, pakke same oure gere
And such smale harnes as we have.

MARIA   A, leve Joseph, I may not bere.

JOSEPH   Bere arme? No, I trowe but small,
But God it wote I muste care for all,
For bed and bak,
And alle the pakke
That nedis unto us.
It fortheres to fene me,
This pakald bere me bus,
Of all I plege and pleyne me.

But God graunte grace I noght forgete
No tulles that we shulde with us take.

MARIA   Allas, Joseph, for grevaunce grete,
Whan shall my sorowe slake,
For I wote noght whedir to fare.

JOSEPH   To Egipte talde I thee lang are.

MARIA   Whare standith itt?
Fayne wolde I witt.

JOSEPH   What wate I?
I wote not where it standis.

MARIA   Joseph, I aske mersy;
Helpe me oute of this lande.

JOSEPH   Nowe certis, Marie, I wolde full fayne,
Helpe thee al that I may
And at my poure me peyne
To wynne with hym and thee away.

MARIA   Allas, what ayles that feende
Thus wilsom wayes make us to wende?
He dois grete synne,
Fro kyth and kynne
He gares us flee.

JOSEPH   Leve, Marie, leve thy grete.

MARIA   Joseph, full wo is me,
For my dere Sone so swete.

JOSEPH   I praye thee, Marie, happe hym warme
And sette hym softe that he noght syle,
And yf thou will ought ese thyn arme,
Gyff me hym, late me bere hym awhile.

MARIA   I thanke you of youre grete goode dede;
Nowe gud Joseph tille hym take hede,
That fode so free
Tille hym ye see
Now in this tyde.

JOSEPH   Late me and hym allone,
And yf thou can ille ride
Have and halde thee faste by the mane.

MARIA   Allas, Joseph, for woo,
Was never wight in worde so will.

JOSEP[H]   Do way, Marie, and say nought soo,
For thou schall have no cause thertill.
For witte thou wele, God is oure frende;
He will be with us wherso we lende;
In all oure nede
He will us spede,
This wote I wele;
I love my Lorde of all,
Such forse methynke I fele,
I may go where I schall.

Are was I wayke, nowe am I wight,
My lymes to welde ay at my wille;
I love my maker most of myght
That such grace has graunte me tille.
Nowe schall no hatyll do us harme,
I have oure helpe here in myn arme.
He wille us fende
Wherso we lende
Fro tene and tray.
Late us goo with goode chere,
Farewele and have gud day.
God blisse us all in fere.

MARIA   Amen as he beste may.
(see note); (t-note)
thine; man; (t-note)

engaged myself

person prevent; (t-note)

(see note)

grow weak; wand (stick)
weakness; fail



chose; (see note)



pay attention; (see note)
words; cease (allay); sore
sad; fortune; embraced

before; (see note)
voice so sweet sounding

let me hear

understand before I leave

(see note)

Herod; plans to kill
male children; place
take (capture)

(see note)
have informed you

Everlasting; praised may
vexes; against me
Little young boys



mad; angry


beloved young woman; (see note)


My cheer is gone

(i.e., it is hard to say this)
we must
native region
quickly must

dole; judged


Know you well
boy’s life; may surrender
Unless; foe; (see note)

Who; death
shrink back, I am afraid

bales (sorrow) put an end

angrily threatened
small one


destroy; dear one



Ere I come there

Such; threaten
lose; (t-note)

sore; (see note)
such a child; kill

knows not
(i.e., I’d be confused about this)

leave off; clamoring; (see note)
prepare yourself quickly

misfortune anywhere

no one meet

part with him

quickly, pack together
baggage; (see note)

bear (carry)

God knows

expedites things if I do not shirk; (see note)
package; must
(i.e., Even if I complain about it); (t-note)



long ere; (see note)


(i.e., I’ll do all in my power)

lonely (dangerous); (see note)



(see note)

wrap; warmly
slip down

Give; let; bear

See that you (attend) to him


man; world; wild (distraught)


Ere; weak; strong
limbs; wield (move)

has been granted


From harm and treachery

Go To Play 19, The Massacre of the Innocents