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Play 2, The Creation through the Fifth Day


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.

A monologue, presented by the Plasterers, also known as Daubers. The pageant presents the Creation narrative according to Genesis 1, the first account presented in the Bible (the second follows in Genesis 2). Here the earth and all that is in it except for humans are brought into existence in five days. There is overlap with the previous play since in it the work of the first day had already been introduced. The verse form is a twelve-line stanza.

1–4 The Latin lines are immediately glossed by English translations. They are indicative of the placement of God on a higher level, with such effects of his creation as the animals, fish, and plants appearing below.

10 Up for to trine my trone. A reference to Lucifer’s attempt to seat himself in God’s throne in the previous pageant.

17 Thare mys may never be amendid. A theological puzzle is introduced since it would appear that God created some of the angels with a flaw in their design, but the usual explanation is that they were given a free will, which they abused of their own accord. God is utterly unforgiving, and the devils fall into their role as the opposition party and proponents of disobedience and evil throughout history as depicted by the play cycle. They are the ultimate source of conflict in the pageants and represent the absence of good.

31 Noght by my strenkyth but by my stevyn. The cosmos exists within God’s forethought, but it is his Word that brings it into existence, not an exercise of raw power such as Lucifer wished to display — and which only led to the establishment of a kingdom of darkness in the void that is entered through hellmouth. See John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

41–42 The firmament sal nought move, / But be a mene. The cosmos has as its purpose the enclosing of the world, which will be, according to the pre-Copernican cosmology of the time, at its center. Heaven is a fixed place, unchanging and stable. See below, where the sun and moon are fixed in the pageant heavens, which are decorated with stars.

90 Mesurid and made. Here again God appears as a craftsman, and very possibly he actually appeared thus in this pageant, where he could have held a set of large masons’ compasses, as sometimes occurs in the visual arts of the period; see above and also, for example, the fourteenth-century Holkham Bible Picture Book, fol. 2.

120 sertayne signes. Implying the signs of the zodiac, commonly appearing in association with the depictions of the seasons of the year, as on the early sculpture reset over the south porch doorway of the church of St. Margaret in York (see Halfpenny, Fragmenta Vetusta, pl. 24).

129 fysch. A panel in the Great East Window of the Minster shows the creation of fish and birds, and other panels also show other events in the creation story. In the Te Deum window formerly in St. Martin Coney Street, the parish church closest to the Common Hall, the Creator appears with birds, animals, and flowers, the products of his work following the creation of fish. Whales are specifically mentioned in Genesis 1:21.

154–56 Serpentis. The serpent is apparently flawed from its creation and thus apparently would not seem to fit the “and God saw that it was good” formula applied to all creatures in Genesis 1.

167 wax furth. See Genesis 1:22: “Increase, and multiply.” The stanza, and the pageant, will conclude with God’s blessing.


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 DEUS. Reg: inserted following line 4.
In. Reg: large capital letter I, in red.
altissimis. Letter i following <>m in Reg is interlined.

11 lengger. So LTS, RB; Reg: legger.

21 And. Written over erasure by Scribe A in Reg.

41 nought. So LTS; Reg, RB: nough.

69 tharon. So LTS, RB; Reg: tharon also.

71 hyng. Corrected, letter y overwritten, in Reg.

77 materis. Reg: originally wateris, canceled and materis substituted by scribe.

95 Two. So LTS, RB; Reg: Towo.

101 furth er. So RB; Reg, LTS: further.

109 thei. So RB; Reg, LTS: ye I

117 ye sall set. So LTS, RB; Reg: ye sall ye set.

140 dwelland. So LTS; Reg, RB: dewlland.

156 won. So RB; Reg, LTS: wo.

166 erthe. In Reg, letter h extends upward, with a face looking to left drawn in.

171 ye. Interlined in Reg.




































DEUS   In altissimis habito,
In the heghest hevyn my hame have I,
Eterne mentis et ego,
Withoutyn ende aylastandly.

Sen I have wroght thire worldys wyde,
Hevyn and ayre and erthe also,
My hegh Godhede I will noght hyde
All yf sume foles be fallyn me fro.
When thai assent with syn of pride
Up for to trine my trone unto,
In hevyn thai myght no lengger byde
But wyghtly went to wone in wo;
And sen thai wrange have wroght,
My lyk ys to lat tham go
To suffir sorowe onsoght
Syne thai have servid so.

Thare mys may never be amendid
Sen thai asent me to forsake,
For all there force non sall thame fende
For to be fendys foule and blake.
And tho that lykys with me to lende
And trewly tent to me will take
Sall wonne in welth withoutyn ende
And allway wynly with me wake.
Thai sall have for thare sele
Solace that never sall sclake.
This warke methynkys full wele,
And more now will I make.

Syne that this world es ordand evyn,
Furth well I publysch my power.
Noght by my strenkyth but by my stevyn
A firmament I byd apere.
Emange the waterris, lyght so levyn,
There cursis lely for to lere,
And that same sall be namyd hewvyn
With planitys and with clowdis clere.
The water I will be set
To flowe both fare and nere,
And than the firmament
In mydis to set thame sere.

The firmament sal nought move,
But be a mene, thus will I mene,
Ovir all the worlde to halde and hove,
And be tho tow wateris betwyne.
Undir the hevyn, and als above
The wateris serly sall be sene,
And so I wille my post prove
By creaturis of kyndis clene.
This warke his to my pay
Righit will, withoutyn wyne.
Thus sese the secunde day
Of my doyingys bydene.

Moo sutyll werkys assesay I sall
For to be set in service sere:
All the waterris grete and smalle
That undir hevyne er ordande here,
Gose togedir and holde yow all
And be a flode festynde in fere
So that the erthe, both downe and dale,
In drynesch playnly may apere.
The drynes “lande” sall be
Namyd, bothe ferre and nere,
And then I name the “se”
Geddryng of wateris clere.

The erthe sall fostyr and furthe bryng
Buxsumly, as I wyle byde,
Erbys and also othyr thyng
Well for to wax and worthe to wede.
Treys also tharon sall spryng
With braunchis and with bowis on brede,
With flouris fayr on heght to hyng
And fruth also to fylle and fede.
And thane I will that thay
Of themselfe have the sede
And mater that thay may
Be lastande furth in lede.

And all ther materis es in mynde
For to be made of mekyl might,
And to be kest in dyveris kynde
So for to bere sere burguns bright.
And when ther frutys is fully fynde
And fayrest semande unto syght,
Thane the wedris wete and wynde
Oway I will it wende full wyght,
And of there sede full sone
New rotys sall ryse upright.
The third day thus is done:
Thire dedis er dewly dyght.

Now sene the erthe thus ordand es,
Mesurid and made by myn assent,
Grathely for to growe with gres
And wedis that sone away bese went,
Of my gudnes now will I ges
So that my werkis no harmes hent,
Two lyghtis, one more and one lesse,
To be fest in the firmament:
The more light to day
Fully suthely sall be sent;
The lesse lyght allway
To the nyght sall take entent.

Thir figuris fayre that furth er fun
Thus on sere sydys serve thai sall:
The more lyght sall be namid the son,
Dymnes to wast be downe and be dale.
Erbis and treys that er bygune:
All sall he governe, gret and smale.
With cald yf thai be closid or bun,
Thurgh hete of the sun thai sal be hale.
Als thei have honours
In alkyn welth to wale,
So sall my creaturis
Evir byde withoutyn bale.

The son and the mone on fayre manere
Now grathly gange in your degré;
Als ye have tane youre curses clere
To serve furth loke ye be fre,
For ye sall set the sesons sere
Kyndely to knowe in ilke cuntré,
Day fro day, and yere fro yere,
By sertayne signes suthly to se.
The hevyn sall be overhyld
With sternys to stand plenté.
The furth day his fulfillid:
This werke well lykys me.

Now sen thir werkis er wroght with wyne,
And fundyn furth be firth and fell,
The see now will I set within
Whallis whikly for to dewell,
And othir fysch to flet with fyne,
Sum with skale and sum with skell,
Of diveris materis more and myn,
In sere maner to make and mell.
Sum sall be meke and milde
And sum both fers and fell:
This world thus will I eke
Syn I am witt of well.

Also up in the ayre on hyght
I byd now that thore be ordande
For to be foulis fayre and bright,
Dewly in thare degre dwelland,
With fedrys fayre to frast ther flight
For stede to stede whore thai will stande,
And also leythly for to lyght
Whoreso thame lykis in ilke a londe.
Thane fysch and foulis sere
Kyndely I you commande
To meng on youre manere
Both be se and sande.

This materis more yitt will I mende
So for to fulfill my forthoght
With diveris bestis in lande to lende,
To brede and be with bale furth brught.
And with bestis I wille be blende
Serpentis to be sene unsoght
And wormis upon thaire wombis sall wende
To won in erth and worth to noght.
And so it sall be kende
How all that eme is oght,
Begynnyng, mydes, and ende
I with my worde hase wrothe.

For als I byde bus all thyng be
And dewly done als I will dresse,
Now bestys ar sett in sere degré
On molde to move, both more and lesse.
Thane foulis in ayre and fische in see
And bestis on erthe of bone and flesch,
I byde ye wax furth fayre plenté
And grathly growes, als I yow gesse.
So multiply ye sall
Ay furth in fayre processe:
My blyssyng have ye all.
The fift day endyd es.
(see note); (t-note)

Since; there

fools (misguided ones)
step up; throne; (see note)
abide; (t-note)
immediately; live
wrong (error)
desire (implying will)

error; rectified; (see note)

remain; (t-note)
give heed to my will
profitably; keep watch


strength; voice; (see note)

Among; light so bright
courses truly to discover


midst; them separately

(see note); (t-note)
   mean (intermediate space); order
be positioned
those two

by nature
is; recompense
well; doubt

More subtle; attempt

are ordained

linked together
hill; valley
dry land


bring forth
Obediently; bid
to be fruitful; worthy to be clad
Trees; (t-note)
branches; boughs extended
flowers; hang; (t-note)
fruit; feed (nourish)

in that place (where planted)

cast; diverse species
differing blossoms
weather’s rain
Away; go; quickly


(see note)
Truly; grass
be gone
set (firmly)

give (its) attention

forth are found; (t-note)

Dimness to lessen on hill

gifts; (t-note)
well-being; select


sun; moon
appropriately go [forth]
taken; courses
forth (from now on)
different seasons; (t-note)
each country

definitive; truly; (see note)
fourth; is

founded forth by forest and hill
Whales actively
swim; fins; (see note)

many ways; mingle

fierce; ferocious
well of wit (i.e., wise)

there; ordained

feathers; enable
with ease to alight
Then; various
Consistent with [your] natures
mingle (i.e., copulate); own way


breed; pain forth brought
(see note)
snakes; bellies; go
live; be without value; (t-note)
all that is required

beasts; diverse
the earth

multiply; (see note)
forthwith increase; intend


Go To Play 3, The Creation of Adam and Eve