Play 19, The Massacre of the Innocents
Play 19, THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS: 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 Ordo paginarum of 1415, insofar as the damaged manuscript can be read, mentions Herod, two soldiers with lances, and four weeping mothers, but probably Consolators would have been included. The text in the Register again represents the pageant in c. 1463–77 in which presumably only two mothers have speaking roles, though in regard to speech designations the manuscript here is not reliable. By John Clerke’s time, the text had been revised or, more likely, replaced, for he entered the comment that “This matter . . . agreyth not with the Coucher in no poynt, it begynnyth, ‘Lysten lordes unto my lawe.’” The episode of Herod and the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, deriving ultimately from Matthew 2:16, was commemorated in the liturgy in association with the feast of Holy Innocents (December 28). Iconographic evidence from York, fourteenth-century glass in the Minster, suggests that the soldiers wore armor and that they appeared to impale the infants on their spears.1 Herod witnesses the carnage, and may even participate in it. The York pageant, written in an eight-line stanza with three stresses to the line, was produced by two manufacturing crafts, the Girdlers, makers of belts and similar items, and the Nailers.
3 Stente of youre stevenes stoute. Undoubtedly aimed at members of the audience, who presumably were jeering at Herod, the enemy of Christ and, by association, of all children. Herod is a worshiper of Mahounde, understood as a god, or an idol, directly opposed to the ideals of a Christian community. His evil advisors, identified as Consolators, will encourage him to act out his anger and hostility.
41–45 I am noyed of newe . . . a swayne. Herod is disturbed that the three kings have not returned, as they said they would — to which the Consolator in the following lines suggests that they had been wrong and hence were embarrassed to return to Herod without anything positive to relate.
57 Tham shamys. A dative of agency construction (now archaic) in which the subject is acted upon; i.e., a shame came to them. Compare “methinks.”
63–69 This portion of Herod’s speech is corrupt in the manuscript, though the gist of it is clear.
89 boy, thou burdis to brode. Herod accuses the messenger of jesting; it cannot be that the kings have gone on without fulfilling their promise. But in lines 103–05 the messenger will reveal the truth, which is that Herod is deceived. His response is anger, Herod’s typical temperament being revealed; in iconography, as at Fairford, he is typically seen holding a child whom he is stabbing with a long sword (Wayment, Stained Glass, pp. 79–80, pl. XXXIX). Nevertheless, here he is somewhat less extreme than the Herod of the Coventry Shearmen and Taylors’ play in which “Erode ragis in the pagond and in the strete also” (line 728 s.d.; Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, p. 105).
145 it is past two yere. There seems to be some confusion in the play about the length of time since Jesus was born. Later it seems to be recognized that Jesus was not yet two years of age.
152 knave childir kepte in clowte. The practice was to wrap children up rather tightly in swaddling clothes in lieu of diapers and the freedom given to modern infants; two years in such a condition would not have been unusual.
193 The soldiers have now arrived at Bethlehem. The missing line following line 193 would presumably have been an addition to the first soldier’s speech rather than to that of the outraged mother. In the scene which follows, the infants would have been represented by dolls or puppets since it is of course unimaginable that a real child could have been jerked, pulled, and tossed about as violently as would have been required.
203 And me, but itt be quytte. A stage direction is implied here to indicate that the soldier is returning the mother’s blows. Still, the scene is more subdued than the massacre in the Digby play of the Killing of the Children, nor is there any character like the cowardly and comic Watkin of that drama.
214 And I hadde but hym allone. An echo of Mary’s line in the Flight to Egypt: “And I have but hym allone” (line 146).
226–30 Allas, that we wer wroughte / In worlde women to be . . . spill. The women lament their state; they will see the children whom they have brought into world in the pain of childbirth now literally butchered in their sight.
240 How so they wraste or wryng. Hand gestures, a common sign of grief and despair. See C. Davidson, “Gesture,” pp. 82 and 97.
281 we will wende before. Herod will lead a procession on foot to the next station where the pageant will again be presented.
Play 19, THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS: 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).
Top of previous page, in JC’s handwriting: This matter of the gyrdlers agreyth not with the Coucher in no poynt; it begynnyth, Lysten lordes unto my lawe.
1 HEROD. Reg: centered above text, added in JC’s hand.
90 NUNCIUS. So LTS, RB; Reg omit.
91 HERODES. So LTS, RB; Reg omit.
153 and. So LTS, RB; Reg: and and.
167 I MILES. So RB; Reg, LTS: I CONSOLATOR.
171 boght. This edition; Reg, LTS: boght he; RB: bathe.
173 wathe. RB; Reg, LTS: waghe.
176 II MILES. So RB; Reg, LTS: II CONSOLATOR.
193 The following line is missing in Reg.
223 I MILES. So LTS, RB; Reg: II MILES.
240–41 Lines reversed in Reg.
245 thydingis. So Reg (as corrected by ?LH).
274 I CONSOLATOR. So LTS, RB; Reg omit.
275 than. Misplaced in Reg at end of previous line.
276 HERODES. So RB; LTS: II CONSOLATOR; Reg omit.
279 banne. So LTS, RB; Reg: bande.
Play 19, THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTE
Footnote 1 YA, pp. 58–60, fig. 16.
The Gyrdillers and Naylers
Go To Play 20, Christ and the Doctors