Play 21, The Baptism of Christ
Play 21, THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST: FOOTNOTE
Play 21, THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST: 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 lesson from Matthew 3:13–17 recounting the Baptism of Christ was read in the York rite at Mass on the first Sunday after the Octave of Epiphany1 — that is, one week prior to the reading of the lesson from Luke which tells the story of Christ in the Temple which formed the subject matter of the previous pageant. Further elaboration crucial to the play is found in the other gospels, especially John 1:29–34. The Baptism and John the Baptist, the saint who effected it, were popular in York. The Minster’s fabric rolls reveal that it had several relics, and the saint was frequently depicted in ecclesiastical art in the city. Enough remains so that it is possible to determine how St. John was expected to appear.2 In glass such as a panel of c. 1470 in the church of Holy Trinity Goodramgate, he is shown as he would have appeared in the desert: he wears a camel skin with head attached, with a cloak over it, and holds a roundel before him with the symbolic Agnus Dei.3 Because the Barbers were involved in the healing arts, their sponsorship of the Baptism play, depicting the institution of a Sacrament designed to heal the spiritual defects of humankind, seems appropriate. The York playtext, representing its status at or near the end of the third decade of the fifteenth century, would probably be rewritten during the time John Clerke came to supervise the production of the cycle, as his notations in the manuscript seem to imply. The verse is in seven-line stanzas.
3–4 yf I preche . . . of thy comyng. John was famous as a preacher and recognized by the Christian community as a prophet; see the Baptist’s words in John 1:23: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias.” These words are quoted in lines 27–28 of the pageant. Modern scholarship regarding John the Baptist has cast new light on his activities and on the prevalence of ritual washing in first-century Palestine, and the question remains whether the secretive Mandaean religious minority that survived in Iraq until modern times may be traced to the cult of John the Baptist.
29–49 As King notes, John’s speech here tends increasingly “to vanquish historical verisimilitude” and to rely on manuals of instruction such as the Lay Folks’ Catechism (York Mystery Cycle, p. 172). The necessity of baptism for salvation is indicated.
50–71 John is told what he already in part knows, but now he is provided with specifics by the two angels. The description of the descent of the Holy Spirit along with the sound of the loud and passionate voice of the Father may be regarded as a stage direction for what is to happen at lines 149–54: a dove will descend and the voice of the Father will proclaim, perhaps in Latin, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; compare Love, Mirror, p. 67), omitted from the extant text of the play. The voice of the Father probably was heard without his actual presence as represented by a visible actor.
84–105 Jesus continues to explain baptism as an example (myrroure) for all men (i.e., all people) that is necessary for entering “endless blys.”
101–05 The vertue of my baptyme dwelle / In baptyme watir evere and ay . . . Haly Gaste. Water used for baptism was considered holy even though the lengthy Continental rite of consecration was not present in English rites. Christian baptism was regarded as efficacious for the washing away of original sin and as a seal to signify being “Christ’s own forever.” For a brief description of the English rite, see Dudley, “Sacramental Liturgies,” pp. 219–27.
120–21 What riche man gose from dore to dore / To begge at hym that has right noght? Proverbial, and here expressing John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus. John will tremble with fear at what he has been asked to do (see lines 141–42). Woolf speaks of the “feeling of devout unwillingness” (English Mystery Plays, p. 219).
149–50 I baptise thee here in the name / Of the Fadir and of the Sone and Holy Gost. The Trinitarian formula required in baptism, following the York Manual. Jesus would appear to be standing in the river Jordan, but there is no reason to believe that he would be nude, as in representations in glass at Holy Trinity Goodramgate or St. John Ousebridge, the latter now inserted in a window in the Minster (YA, pp. 66–67, fig. 17). Blue cloth might have been used to represent the water rising up to Jesus’ waist, and the posture of standing as if in the water would have been retained surely. Water probably would have been poured over his head from a shell by John. The anointing with oil and chrism which appear in the Towneley play are missing here.
154 s.d. Tunc cantabunt duo angeli Veni creator spiritus. Hymn for Whitsunday; see York Breviary, 1:503; translated by Dutka in Music, pp. 119–20. For York music, see Hymni, fols. 32v–35r; compare Liber usualis, pp. 885–86, for the usual musical setting, which may differ slightly from that used in the English rites. Rastall suggests that professional singing men may have been hired to sing, but the music, especially if abbreviated to the first stanza, would have been within the reach of amateurs, either from the Barbers’ own guild or another (Heaven Singing, pp. 331–32). It is a devotional moment.
157 The dragons poure. Compare Psalm 73:13 (AV 74:13): “thou didst crush the heads of the dragons in the waters.” As King observes, this passage was adapted in an antiphon for the Epiphany season (York Mystery Cycle, p. 43, citing York Breviary, 1:193).The power of the dragon has now suffered defeat through the means of the baptism of Christ since he is sinless prior to the act. Yet that defeat may not be immediately obvious, and much more will be required of Jesus — that is, his death on the cross. The Baptism may be regarded as part of the elaborate trick that God is playing on Satan through hiding Jesus under the cover of his humanity.
162–68 Jesus reminds the audience that trusting and believing in him are necessary along with the ritual of baptism in order to “come to blisse.” On the other hand, those who fail “schal be dampned.”
Play 21, THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST: 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 Reg: at right, in LH: De novo facto.
48 with. So RB; Reg: wth; LTS: w[i]th.
49 Reg: mark X at left; below, at bottom of page, in JC’s hand: Her wantes a pece newely mayd for saynt John Baptiste.
50 I ANGELUS. So RB; Reg, LTS: ANGELUS.
52–53 thys day. Thus entered at beginning of line 53, canceled, moved to end of line 52 and emended to thys. A later hand was responsible to adding day after thys.
59 JOHANNES. Omitted by Scribe B in Reg; Joseph later designated, corrected by ?JC.
71 Lacuna noted, as indicated by marginal note at right of line by LH in Reg: Hic caret.
83 Reg: later scribe wrote Her wants a pece newely mayd for saynt John Baptiste.
84 In right margin in Reg, probably referring to lacuna in text: De novo facto.
88 The. So RB; Reg, LTS: By.
94 And. So RB; Reg, LTS: I.
101 vertue. Reg originally read wittnesse (deleted); vertue interlined by LH.
104 alway. So RB; in Reg, misplaced at beginning of next line.
107 At right, hic caret (deleted) in Reg.
114 Lorde. So LTS, RB; Reg: Lorede.
131 Thrughe baptyme clere. In red at right by Scribe B in Reg.
141–44 Lines not in correct order in Reg, and lines 141 and 143 entered twice; correct order indicated by letters a to d at left in Reg in red.
154, s.d. cantabunt duo angeli . . . spiritus. Stage direction, in red by Scribe B in Reg.
175, s.d. In JC’s hand in Reg, hic caret finem; below, in same handwriting: This matter is newly mayd and devysed wherof we have no coppy regystred.
Play 21, THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 York Missal, 1:34.
Footnote 2 YA, pp. 61–67 and 184.
Footnote 3 Inventory of the Historical Monuments, vol. 5, pl. 57; Knowles, “East Window of Holy Trinity.” For a survey of the iconography in relation to the York play, see C. Davidson, From Creation to Doom, pp. 80–85; and for England generally, Rushforth, Medieval Christian Imagery, pp. 89–92, and Nichols, Seeable Signs, esp. pp. 193–206.
Tunc cantabunt duo angeli Veni creator spiritus.1; (see note); (t-note)
Play 22, The Temptation In The Wilderness