Back to top

Play 20, Christ And The Doctors


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 play of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple, a dramatization of the events recounted in Luke 2:41–51 and noted in the York Missal as a lesson in the Epiphany season,1 is unusual in the York cycle for having a text that not only was borrowed for the Towneley collection but also shared structure and language with the Chester Blacksmiths’ and Coventry Weavers’ plays.2 The York pageant, in twelve-line stanzas, was produced by the Spurriers, makers and sellers of spurs, and Lorimers, who were manufacturers of harnesses, bits for horses, and, at times, also spurs. This pageant stands at the end of the Infancy series. It commemorates an event in which Jesus was separated from his parents and, as Love comments concerning the young Christ’s discussion in the Temple, found “sittyng among the doctours of lawe heryng hem entently, and askyng hem questiones wisyly.”3 The description in the Ordo paginarum likewise describes the scene as that of a scholastic discussion or debate on a subject of great sensitivity. But the incorporation of the Ten Commandments seems related to the campaign of religious education, encouraged by Archbishop Thoresby, that was the force behind the assembling and dissemination of the Lay Folks’ Catechism and the specifying of the basic demands of laypersons’ knowledge.4

3 solempne sightis. Jesus has been taken by his parents to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover (Luke 2:41).

15–20 Beginning Mary’s lament upon discovering that her child is not with them. Joseph’s response in the following lines should be seen as influenced by his age and feeble health, which make him at first the more reluctant partner in returning to Jerusalem. But he will be the one to recommend the return to look for him in the city. Their search for Jesus does not appear in iconography except for their discovery of him in the Temple at the end of the story.

45 He is but twelve yere alde. Jesus’ age is specified in Luke 2:42.

49–50 The first Magister/Doctor asks that a scholastic disputation be organized. The final lines are a sign that the author was aware of the necessity to maintain the discussion within orthodox limits; the Coventry Weavers’ play, as revised in the sixteenth century, refers to the “statute of this lande” and the “perell” of standing in opposition to “any artyccull.” Those who oppose are heretics to be prosecuted and “in the face of peple ooponnly slayne” (lines 855–56; Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, p. 138) — a glance at the statute De heretico carburendo (Statutes of the Realm, II Henry IV, c.15) perhaps.

67 Laye fourthe oure bokes. The Magisters will require their books; Jesus will not need to consult any. Late fourteenth-century painted glass at York Minster shows the Magisters reading at lecterns. In line 141, Jesus notes that they are “sette on rowes,” which is consistent with representations in iconography. These are embedded stage directions.

93–94 I wote als wele as yhe / Howe that youre lawes wer wrought. The Coventry play is even more emphatic, for Jesus says he has actually been “in those placis” in which “all owre lawis furst were wroght” (lines 903–04; Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, p. 139). His ability to understand scripture is due to the presence with him of the Holy Spirit, as he explains in the York play (lines 101–04).

112 Itt may falle wele in wirkyng. An offer to test the boy Jesus.

113–16 For David demys . . . loving. The reference is to Psalm 8:3: “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise.” The Towneley play quotes the biblical text from the Vulgate.

145–50 this is the firste bidding . . . lowde and still. The first of the two commandments in the summary of the law in Matthew 22:37–40, but derived from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

153–56 The secounde . . . sekirly. To love your neighbor “Als youreselffe,” Jesus says; the manuscript reading is correct since he is lecturing the priests of the Temple and it would be inappropriate to include himself. Compare the Coventry Weavers’ pageant: “asse thyself” (line 963; Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, p. 141).

193–94 he alleggis oure lawe / And lered nevere on boke to rede. Jesus astonishes the Magisters, especially since he has not had formal training and ought to be illiterate. But Jesus possesses all wisdom, to the point where in the following speech the third Magister will want him sent away since he would detract from their learning and hence receive more praise than they. He will, however, be defended by the first Magister, at which point Joseph and Mary appear again, having arrived at Jerusalem to look for Jesus.

221–22 where he sittis . . . Emong yone maistiris. The Coventry Weavers’ pageant has him sitting “aloft” (line 1022; Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, p. 143).

232 They are so gay in furres fyne. Probably ermine tippets are intended; in the example in Minster glass to which reference has been made above, the Magisters wear academic gowns and hats. Mary will refer to them in line 242 as “worthy wysse in wede,” which is suggestive but not specific. For further discussion of the iconography, see Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, pp. 268–69.

237 When I come there, what schall I saye? Joseph is very class conscious and also feels shy on account of his age and debility, which will not allow him to bow or kneel before the priests. Mary will have to take control of the situation.

259–60 -My Fadir werkis . . . am I sente for to fulfyll. See Luke 2:49: “did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” This is beyond Mary’s comprehension, and she will have to contemplate what is to follow.


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).

20 By LH, at right in Reg: hic caret (erased).

46–48 JOSEPH. RB, following Köbling; later scribe in Reg, LTS here only assign lines 47–48 to Joseph.

49ff. Reg: speech ascriptions in this pageant are inconsistent in that they use Magister and Doctor for the same set of characters.

56 aught. So RB; LTS: might.

82 lyve. Corrected in Reg; scribe originally wrote lyke.

89 bowrdyng. So RB; Reg, LTS: brandyng.

128 To say. Misplaced at end of previous line in Reg.

132 That. So RB, following Towneley; Reg, LTS: And.

134 Yitt fande. So RB2; LTS: Itt fand; Reg: Itt fande.

161 then. Misplaced at the beginning of line 162 by scribe in Reg.

181 forbedis. So RB; LTS: fo[r]bedis; Reg: fobedis.

209 we. So LTS, RB; omit Reg.

210 days thre. This edition; LTS, RB: ther dayes thre; Reg: thre dayes thre.

221 ye se. This edition; Reg: y se; LTS: y[e] se; RB: se ye.

227 gone. Altered to done by LH in Reg.

249 MARIA. Initially assigned by scribe to Jhc (deleted) in Reg.

253 twa. Reg: twa son (son deleted).

254 Son. Added by LH in Reg.

255 and. Ampersand interlined by LH in Reg.

271 or be. Misplaced at the beginning of the following line in Reg.

275 and he. Erasure between words in Reg.

288 Below, Scribe B has listed Jesu, Maria, Joseph, and Primus doctor, Secundus Doctor, et Tercius Doctor.


Footnote 1 York Missal, 1:36.

Footnote 2 For a collation comparing these plays, see Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, pp. 175–89, but see also Greg’s “Bibliographical and Textual Problems” and his chapter on the subject in his 1935 Malone Society volume (Trial and Flagellation with Other Studies, pp. 101–20), with corrections by Cawley, “Middle English Metrical Versions,” pp. 134–40.

Footnote 3 Love, Mirror, p. 59.

Footnote 4 See also King, York Mystery Cycle, pp. 38–41.

The Sporiers and Lorimers


























































JOSEPH    Marie, of mirthis we may us mene
And trewly telle betwixte us twoo
Of solempne sightis that we have sene
In that cité where we come froo.

MARIA    Sertis, Joseph, ye will noght wene
What myrthis within my harte I maie
Sen that oure Sone with us has bene
And sene ther solempne sightis alswae.

JOSEPH    Hamward I rede we hye
In all the myght we maye
Because of company
That will wende in oure waye.

For gode felawshippe have we founde
And ay so forward schall we fynde.

MARIA    A, sir, where is oure semely Sone?
I trowe oure wittis be waste as wynde,
Allas, in bale thus am I boone.
What ayleth us both to be so blynde?
To go overe fast we have begonne
And late that lovely leve behynde.

JOSEPH    Marie, mende thy chere,
For certis whan all is done
He comes with folke in feere
And will overetake us sone.

MARIA    Overetake us sone, sir, certis nay,
Such gabbyngis may me noght begyle,
For we have travelde all this day
Fro Jerusalem many a myle.

JOSEPH    I wende he hadde bene with us aye,
Awaye fro us how schulde he wyle?

MARIA    Hit helpis nought such sawes to saie.
My barne is lost, allas the whille
That evere we wente theroute
With hym in companye;
We lokid overe late aboute,
Full wooe is me forthy.

For he is wente som wayes wrang
And non is worthy to wyte but wee.

JOSEPH    Agaynewarde rede I that we gang
The right way to that same citee
To spire and spie all men emange,
For hardely homward is he.

MARIA    Of sorowes sere schal be my sang
My semely Sone tille I hym see,
He is but twelve yere alde.

JOSEPH    What way somevere he wendis,
Woman, we may be balde
To fynde hym with oure frendis.

I MAGISTER    Maistirs, takes to me intente
And rede youre resouns right on rawes,
And all the pepull in this present,
Evere ilke man late see his sawes.
But witte I wolde, or we hens wente,
Be clargy clere if we couthe knawe
Yf any lede that liffe has lente
Wolde aught allegge agaynste oure lawe,
Owthir in more or lesse.
If we defaute myght feele,
Dewly we schall gar dresse
Be dome every ilk a dele.

II MAGISTER    That was wele saide, so mot I thee,
Swilke notis to neven methynke wer nede,
For maistirs in this lande ar we
And has the lawes lelly to lede,
And doctoures also in oure degree
That demyng has of ilka dede.
Laye fourthe oure bokes belyve, late see
What mater moste were for oure mede.

III MAGISTER    We schall ordayne so wele
Sen we all clergy knawe,
Defaute shall no man fele
Nowdir in dede ne sawe.

JESUS   Lordingis, love be with you lentte
And mirthis be unto this mené.

I MAGISTER    Sone, hense away, I wolde thou wente,
For othir haftis in hande have we.

II MAGISTER    Sone, whoso thee hedir sente,
They were nought wise, that warne I thee,
For we have othir tales to tente
Than nowe with barnes bordand to be.

III MAGISTER    Sone, yf thee list ought to lere
To lyve by Moyses laye,
Come hedir and thou shalle here
The sawes that we shall saye,

For in som mynde itt may thee brynge
To here oure reasouns redde by rawes.

JESUS    To lerne of you nedis me nothing,
For I knawe both youre dedys and sawes.

I MAGISTER    Nowe herken yone barne with his bowrdyng,
He wenes he kens more than we knawes.
We, nay, certis sone, thou arte overe yonge
By clergy yitt to knowe oure lawes.

JESUS    I wote als wele as yhe
Howe that youre lawes wer wrought.

II MAGISTER    Cum, sitte, sone schall we see,
For certis so semys it noght.

III MAGISTER    Itt wer wondir that any wight
Untill oure reasouns right schulde reche,
And thou sais thou hast insight
Oure lawes truly to telle and teche?

JESUS    The Holy Gost has on me light
And has anoynted me as a leche
And geven me pleyne poure and might
The kyngdom of hevene for to preche.

I MAGISTER    Whens evere this barne may be
That shewes ther novellis nowe?

JESUS    Certis, I was or ye
And schall be aftir you.

I MAGISTER    Sone, of thy sawes, als have I cele,
And of thy witte is wondir thyng,
But neverethelesse fully I feele
Itt may falle wele in wirkyng,
For David demys of ilka dele
And sais thus of childir ying,
And of ther mouthes, he wate full wele
Oure Lord has parformed loving,
But yitt, Sone, schulde thou lette
Here for to speke overe large,
For where maistirs are mette
Childre wordis are noght to charge.

And if thou wolde nevere so fayne
Yf all thee liste to lere the lawe,
Thou arte nowthir of myght ne mayne
To kenne it as a clerke may knawe.

JESUS    Sirs, I saie you for sartayne
That suthfast schal be all my sawe,
And poure have playnere and playne
To say and aunswer as me awe.

I DOCTOR    Mastirs, what may this mene?
Mervayle methynke have I
Whens evere this barne have bene
That carpis thus connandly.

II DOCTOR    Als wyde in worlde als we have wente,
Yitt fande we nevere swilke ferly fare,
For certis I trowe this barne be sente
Full soverandly to salve oure sare.

JESUS    Sirs, I schall prove in youre present
Alle the sawes that I saide are.

III DOCTOR    Why, whilke callest thou the firste comaundement
And the moste in Moyses lare?

JESUS    Sirs, sen ye are sette on rowes,
And has youre bokes on brede,
Late se, sirs, in youre sawes
Howe right that ye can rede.

I DOCTOR    I rede this is the firste bidding
That Moyses taught us here untill,
To honnoure God overe all thing
With all thy witte and all thi will,
And all thyn harte in hym schall hyng,
Erlye and late both lowde and still.

JESUS    Ye nedis non othir bokes to bring
But fandis this for to fulfill.
The secounde may men preve
And clerly knawe, wherby
Youre neghbours shall ye love
Als youreselffe, sekirly.

This comaunded Moyses to all men
In his ten comaundementis clere,
In ther two biddingis, schall we kene,
Hyngis all the lawe that we shall lere.
Whoso ther two fulfilles then
With mayne and myght in goode manere,
He trulye fulfillis all the ten
That aftir folowes in feere.
Than schulde we God honnoure
With all youre myght and mayne
And love wele ilke a neghboure
Right as youreselfe certayne.

I DOCTOR    Nowe, sone, sen thou haste tolde us two,
Whilke ar the eight, can thou ought saye?

JESUS    The three biddis whareso ye goo,
That ye schall halowe the halyday;
Than is the fourthe for frende or foo
That fadir and modir honnoure ay.
The fifth you biddis noght for to sloo
No man nor woman by any way.
The sixth, suthly to see,
Comaundis both more and myne
That thei schalle fande to flee
All filthes of flesshely synne.

The seventh forbedis you to stele
Youre neghboures goodes, more or lesse,
Whilke fautez nowe are founden fele
Emang ther folke that ferly is.
The eighth lernes you for to be lele
Here for to bere no false witnesse.
Youre neghbours house, whillis ye have hele,
The ninth biddis take noght be stresse.
His wiffe nor his women
The tenth biddis noght coveyte.
Thez are the biddingis ten,
Whoso will lelly layte.

II DOCTOR    Behalde howe he alleggis oure lawe
And lered nevere on boke to rede.
Full subtill sawes, methinketh, he saies
And also trewe, yf we take hede.

III DOCTOR    Ya, late hym wende fourth on his wayes,
For and he dwelle, withouten drede,
The pepull schall full sone hym prayse
Wele more than us for all oure dede.

I DOCTOR    Nay, nay, than wer we wrang;
Such speking wille we spare.
Als he come late hym gang,
And move us nowe no more.

MARIA    A, dere Joseph, what is youre rede?
Of oure grete bale no bote may be;
Myne harte is hevy as any lede
My semely Sone tille hym I see.
Nowe have we sought in ilke a stede,
Bothe uppe and doune dayes thre,
And whedir that he be quyk or dede
Yitt wote we noght, so wo is me.

JOSEPH    Mysese had nevere man more,
But mournyng may not mende.
I rede forther we fare
Till God som socoure sende.

Aboute yone Tempill if he be ought,
I wolde we wiste this ilke nyght.

MARIA    A, sir, I see that we have sought.
In worlde was nevere so semely a sight.
Lo, where he sittis, ye se hym noght
Emong yone maistiris mekill of myght?

JOSEPH    Now blist be he us hedir brought,
For in lande was nevere non so light.

MARIA    A, dere Joseph, als we have cele,
Go furthe and fette youre sone and myne;
This daye is gone nere ilke a dele,
And we have nede for to gang hyne.

JOSEPH    With men of myght can I not mell,
Than all my travayle mon I tyne;
I can noght with them, this wate thou wele:
They are so gay in furres fyne.

MARIA    To tham youre herand for to say
Suthly ye thar noght drede no dele;
They will take rewarde to you allway
Because of elde, this wate ye wele.

JOSEPH    When I come there, what schall I saye?
I wate nevere, als have I cele.
Sertis, Marie, thou will have me schamed for ay,
For I can nowthir croke nor knele.

MARIA    Go we togedir, I halde it beste,
Unto yone worthy wysse in wede,
And yf I see, als have I reste,
That ye will noght, than bus me nede.

JOSEPH    Gange on, Marie, and telle thy tale firste.
Thy Sone to thee will take goode heede.
Wende fourth, Marie, and do thy beste;
I come behynde, als God me spede.

MARIA    A, dere sone Jesus,
Sen we love thee allone,
Why dosse thou thus till us
And gares us make swilke mone?

Thy fadir and I betwyxte us twa,
Son, for thy love has likid ill;
We have thee sought both to and froo,
Wepand full sore as wightis will.

JESUS    Wherto shulde ye seke me soo?
Oftetymes it hase ben tolde you till:
My Fadir werkis, for wele or woo,
Thus am I sente for to fulfyll.

MARIA    There sawes, als have I cele,
Can I noght undirstande;
I schall thynk on tham wele
To fonde what is folowand.

JOSEPH    Now sothely, Sone, the sight of thee
Hath salved us of all oure sore;
Come furth, Sone, with thi modir and me,
Att Nazareth I wolde we wore.

JESUS    Beleves wele, lordis free,
For with my frendis nowe will I fare.

I DOCTOR    Nowe, Sone, wher thou schall bide or be,
Gode make thee gode man evermore.
No wondir if yone wiffe
Of his fynding be full fayne;
He schall, and he have liff,
Prove till a praty swayne.

But Sone, loke that thou layne for gud or ill
The note that we have nemed her nowe,
And if it like thee to lende her stille,
And wonne with us, welcome art thowe.

JESUS    Graunt mercy, sirs, of youre gode will.
No lenger liste me lende with you;
My frendis thoughtis I wol fulfille
And to ther bidding baynely bowe.

MARIA    Full wele is us this tyde;
Nowe maye we make goode chere.

JOSEPH    No lenger will we bide;
Fares wele, all folke in feere.

(see note)



Homeward; advise; go

(see note)
(i.e., we were empty headed)
caught (bound)

too fast
left; loved one; (t-note)

in company

talk; deceive

thought; been
wander away


too late

wrong ways

Back again; advise; go

inquire; among
hardly (not likely)

many; song
(see note)

soever; (t-note)

pay attention to me; (see note); (t-note)
expound; rows (in order)

let; sayings (words)
could know
allege (challenge); (t-note)

Duly; begin to address
By judgment everything completely

might I thrive
Such evidence to identify; needful

truly; read (i.e., teach)

judging; each deed (thing)
quickly; (see note)

ordain so well

praise; given


attend to
jesting (playing)

law; (t-note)

hear; expounded; rows (in order)


jesting; (t-note)
thinks; knows
too young
yet to have knowledge of

as well; (see note)




(i.e., where is he from)
shows; marvelous things

existed before you

health (well-being)

emerge; performance; (see note)
judges in every way; (see note)

(i.e., irrelevant)

are inclined

truthful; sayings
power; complete and without ambiguity
ought; (t-note)

speaks; expertly; (t-note)

found; remarkable matter; (t-note)

remedy; suffering

sayings; ere

lore (teachings)

books opened

correctly; expound

(see note)


If [you] attempt
prove; (see note)


these; commandments; know
Hangs; must learn





steal; (t-note)

faults; found [to be] many (common)
teaches; truthful


faithfully seek

expounds; (see note)
(was) taught

wrong [to think thus]

let; go

sorrow; help


Unease (Discomfort)


(see note); (t-note)


nearly over; (t-note)
go hence

mix (associate)
effort; lose
(see note)

not at all
pay attention

(see note)
health (well-being)

bow or kneel

wise [ones] in garments

then must I help


do you this to

have been worried; (t-note)

Father’s business; (see note)

discover; following



[to be a] good

clever squire

be silent
matter; spoken of here
remain here

do I desire to remain


in company; (t-note)

Go To Play 21, The Baptism of Christ