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Play 22, The Temptation in the Wilderness


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 tempting of Christ by Satan in the wilderness is reported in Matthew 4:1–11, the gospel lesson for Quadragesima Sunday in the period leading up to Lent in the liturgical calendar.1 The Smiths’ play on the subject begins with a monologue by Satan, who then approaches Jesus at the conclusion of his forty days of fasting in the desert. Jesus will be tempted, as Love points out in his Mirror, by gluttony, “veyn joy,” and a combination of avarice and idolatry. He was, says Love, “tempted in alle maner temptacion that longeth to the infirmyte of man without synne”;2 an illustration showing each of the temptations accompanies Love’s text in Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS. Advocates 18.1.7, fol. 49v.3 The Biblia Pauperum places the image of this event, with the Savior holding up his hand, palm out against an ugly horned Satan, over against a depiction of Adam and Eve with the serpent in the Garden to show that Christ’s role is to reverse the effects of the Fall by resisting the tricks and false promises of Satan.4 The play presents some challenges in staging which the sponsoring guilds were likely well-positioned to solve. In the production of the pageant the Smiths were joined in 1530 by the Locksmiths, both occupations that had a long history in the city extending back to at least to Anglo-Scandinavian York. The Temptation is written in six-line stanzas.

1 Make rome. Diabolus’ appearance here suggests folk drama, or at least a tradition of impromptu playing in the streets or in houses about which we know far less than we would like. He undoubtedly made his way through the audience to the pageant wagon; one would guess that by the second stanza he was already speaking from the stage and reporting on his fall “fro heven to hell” (line 8). In his role he was clearly intended to be comic, but he also, dressed in his demonic costume, would have been potentially terrifying to members of audiences who believed in him as the ultimate source of evil in the world.

9–18 Because Christ has not yet died for the sins of the world, salvation is not yet available; all who have previously died are in limbo or in the fearful depths of darkest hell. According to the abuse of power theory that emerges frequently in the theology of the York plays, Satan still maintains the right to possess them at their death as a consequence of the Fall and the inheritance by all of original sin.

19–30 sum men spekis of a swayne . . . and morne. Diabolus is not unaware of the Incarnation, but typically his thinking tends to be confused. Jesus’ incarnation, he believes, is a trick, which indeed it is, for it deceives Satan and as one of its consequences makes possible the release in the Harrowing of those who have lived good lives in prior times. Jesus is the second Adam who has the power to reverse the effects of the Fall, a point implicit in the Epistle to the Romans 5:12–19.

43–44 He has fastid, that marris his mode, / Ther fourty dayes. Forty days “withowten foode” should, he believes, have weakened Jesus’ moral fiber. The space of forty days of fasting has considerable resonance, since Lent was in York as elsewhere in Western Christendom a similar time of fasting, though not so stringent, obviously, as in Jesus’ case. Diabolus, who initially hopes for success through the temptation to the sin of gluttony, is of course entirely wrong about what the effect of Jesus’ fasting will be.

55 Thou witty man. Here Diabolus approaches Jesus and flatters him.

56–57 If thou can ought of Godhede, / Byd nowe that ther stones be brede. Translation of Matthew 4:3; compare Luke 4:3. Jesus’ answer is paraphrased in lines 74–78: man shall not live by bread alone, for “Goddis wordis are gostly fode” that spiritually nourish humans “ilkone.”

91 Uppon the pynakill parfitely. A representation of the Temple would have been required as an essential part of the stage set, though no evidence is extant to indicate the manner in which Jesus was placed on the pinnacle. It may be that the Smiths had invented a device to lift Jesus aloft and to bring him down again, or his return could have been effected by presenting him with a set of stairs by which to descend. The late stage direction calling for angels to sing Veni creator at this point is probably misplaced; it does not seem appropriate for the Temptation.

145 For I have all this worlde to welde. If Jesus will fall down before him and honor him, Diabolus, the prince of this world (so described in John 12:31), will give him all kingdoms and all countries. See Matthew 4:7–9, but Diabolus does not take Jesus up into a “very high mountain” in the play.

159 To pyne of helle I bide thee passe. At the end of this little drama, Jesus will perform a highly dramatic act, in contrast to the biblical account in which the devil merely leaves him. But in a thirteenth-century York Psalter (London, British Library, MS. Add. 54179, fol. 45), Christ is shown still on the roof of the temple, while the devil is falling headlong downward and into a dark hole. It indeed will be, as Diabolus says, “warre than evere it was” (line 176). The “felawschip of fendis fell” (line 173) paradoxically can hardly be characterized by any sense of either friendship or community, both primary Christian values.

181–88, 200–204 The angels, who come in the biblical text to minister to him (Matthew 4:11), are intended to express appropriate wonderment at Jesus’ accomplishment in resisting the three temptations.

205–08 My blissing have thei with my hande . . . the fende. Conventional gesture of blessing, and directed to the audience, or at least the members of it who will “stiffely stande / Agaynste the fende” of hell.

209 my tyme is faste command. He is anticipating the “tyme” of his Passion when he must endure torture and death on the cross.


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).

Craft assignment: Lok- interlined as addition to Smythis.

1 Make. Reg: large capital M is sketched in.

22 Thei. So LTS, RB; Reg: Thi.

91, s.d. Tunc cantant . . . creator. Stage direction, for singers, added by JC in right margin in Reg.

92 Diabolus added in right margin by LH; this edition omits.

108 tose. Originally written toce and corrected in Reg.

154 Line misplaced following line 152 (deleted) in Reg, then written in red ink in right margin.

156 As. Reg: scribe began writing a lower case a at end of previous line (not canceled).

192 thow leve. Reg: deleted words, thereafter full line written in red at right.


Footnote 1 York Missal, 1:52.

Footnote 2 Love, Mirror, pp. 74.

Footnote 3 See C. Davidson, Deliver Us from Evil, p. 66, fig. 9.

Footnote 4 Biblia Pauperum, p. 65.

The Smythis










































DIABOLUS   Make rome, belyve, and late me gang.
Who makis here all this thrang?
High thou hense, high myght you hang
Right with a roppe.
I drede me that I dwelle to lang
To do a jape.

For sithen the firste tyme that I fell
For my pride fro heven to hell,
Evere have I mustered me emell
Emonge mannekynde,
How I in dole myght gar tham dwell
Ther to be pynde.

And certis, all that hath ben sithen borne
Has comen to me, mydday and morne,
And I have ordayned so tham forne,
None may thame fende,
That fro all likyng ar they lorne
Withowten ende.

And nowe sum men spekis of a swayne
Howe he schall come and suffre payne
And with his dede to blisse agayne
Thei schulde be bought.
But certis this tale is but a trayne,
I trowe it noght.

For I wotte ilke a dele bydene
Of the mytyng that men of mene,
How he has in grete barett bene
Sithen he was borne,
And suffered mekill traye and tene
Bothe even and morne.

And nowe it is brought so aboute
That lurdayne that thei love and lowte,
To wildirnesse he is wente owte
Withowtyne moo.
To dere hym nowe have I no doute,
Betwyxte us two.

Before this tyme he has bene tent
That I myght gete hym with no glent,
But now sen he allone is wente
I schall assay
And garre hym to sum synne assente
If that I may.

He has fastid, that marris his mode,
Ther fourty dayes withowten foode;
If he be man in bone and bloode
Hym hungris ill;
In glotonye than halde I gude
To witt his will.

For so it schall be knowen and kidde
If Godhed be in hym hidde,
If he will do as I hym bidde
Whanne I come nare,
Ther was nevere dede that evere he dide
That greved hym warre.

Thou witty man and wise of rede,
If thou can ought of Godhede,
Byd nowe that ther stones be brede
Betwyxte us two.
Than may thei stande thyselfe in stede
And othir moo.

For thou hast fastid longe, I wene,
I wolde now som mete wer sene
For olde acqueyntaunce us bytwene,
Thyselve wote howe.
Ther sall no man witte what I mene
But I and thou.

JESUS   My Fadir, that all cytte may slake,
Honnoure everemore to thee I make
And gladly suffir I for thy sake
Swilk velany,
And thus temptacions for to take
Of myn enmy.

Thou weried wight, thi wittis are wode,
For wrytyn it is, whoso undirstande,
A man lyvis noght in mayne and mode
With brede allone,
But Goddis wordis are gostly fode
To men ilkone.

Iff I have fastid oute of skill,
Wytte thou me hungris not so ill
That I ne will wirke my Fadirs will
In all degré;
Thi biddyng will I noght fullfill,
That warne I thee.

DIABOLUS   A, slyke carping nevere I kende;
Hym hungres noght as I wende.
Nowe sen thy Fadir may thee fende
Be sotill sleghte,
Late se yf thou allone may lende
Ther uppon heghte,

Uppon the pynakill parfitely.

Tunc cantant angeli Veni, creator.

A, ha, nowe go we wele therby;
I schall assaye in vayneglorie
To garre hym falle,
And if he be Goddis Sone myghty,
Witt I schall.

Nowe liste to me a litill space:
If thou be Goddis Sone, full of grace,
Shew som poynte here in this place
To prove thi myght.
Late se, falle doune uppon thi face,
Here in my sight.

For it is wretyn, as wele is kende,
How God schall aungellis to thee sende,
And they schall kepe thee in ther hande
Wherso thou gose
That thou schall on no stones descende
To hurte thi tose.

And sen thou may withouten wathe
Fall and do thyselffe no skathe,
Tumbill downe to ease us bathe
Here to my fete,
And but thou do I will be wrothe,
That I thee hette.

JESUS   Late be, warlowe, thy wordis kene,
For wryten it is, withouten wene,
Thy God thou schall not tempte with tene
Nor with discorde;
Ne quarell schall thou none mayntene
Agaynste thi Lorde.

And therfore trowe thou, withouten trayne,
That all thi gaudes schall nothyng gayne,
Be subgette to thi sovereyne
Arely and late.

DIABOLUS   What, this travayle is in vayne,
Be ought I watte.

He proves that he is mekill of price;
Therfore it is goode I me avise
And sen I may noght on this wise
Make hym my thrall,
I will assaye in covetise
To garre hym fall,

For certis I schall noght leve hym yitt,
Who is my sovereyne, this wolde I witte.
Myselffe ordande thee thore to sitte,
This wote thou wele,
And right even as I ordande itt,
Is done ilke dele.

Than may thou se sen itt is soo
That I am soverayne of us two,
And yitt I graunte thee or I goo
Withouten fayle,
That, if thou woll assente me too,
It schall avayle.

For I have all this worlde to welde,
Toure and toune, forest and felde,
If thou thyn herte will to me helde
With wordis hende,
Yitt will I baynly be thy belde
And faithfull frende.

Behalde now, ser, and thou schalt see
Sere kyngdomes and sere contré;
Alle this wile I giffe to thee
For evermore,
And thou fall and honour me,
As I saide are.

JESUS   Sees of thy sawes, thou Sathanas,
I graunte nothyng that thou me askis;
To pyne of helle I bide thee passe
And wightely wende
And wonne in woo, as thou are was,
Withouten ende.

Non othyr myght schal be thy mede,
For wretyn it is, who right can rede,
Thy Lord God thee aught to drede
And honoure ay,
And serve hym in worde and dede
Both nyght and day.

And sen thou dose not as I thee tell,
No lenger liste me late thee dwell.
I comaunde thee thou hy to hell
And holde thee thar
With felawschip of fendis fell
For evermar.

DIABOLUS   Owte, I dar noght loke, allas.
Itt is warre than evere it was;
He musteres what myght he has,
Hye mote he hang.
Folowes fast, for me bus pas
To paynes strang.

I ANGELUS   A, mercy, Lorde, what may this mene?
Me merveyles that ye thole this tene
Of this foule fende cant and kene,
Carpand you till;
And ye his wickidnesse, I wene,
May waste at will.

Methynke that ye ware straytely stedde,
Lorde, with this fende that nowe is fledde.

JESUS   Myn aungell dere, be noght adred,
He may not greve.
The Haly Goste me has ledde,
Thus schal thow leve.

For whan the fende schall folke see
And salus tham in sere degré,
Thare myrroure may thei make of me
For to stande still,
For overecome schall thei noght be
Bot yf thay will.

II ANGELUS   A, Lorde, this is a grete mekenesse
In yow in whome al mercy is,
And at youre wille may deme or dresse
Als is worthy;
And thre temptacions takes expres,
Thus suffirrantly.

JESUS   My blissing have thei with my hande
That with swilke greffe is noght grucchand,
And also that will stiffely stande
Agaynste the fende.
I knawe my tyme is faste command;
Now will I wende.
room, quickly; go; (see note); (t-note)
noisy crowd
fear; too long

Always; thus; (see note)
sorrow; make


on behalf of them

(see note)


(i.e., with certainty); indeed
insignificant person; refer to

great trickery; harm

rascal; venerate


been alert
get (catch); deception

cause; some

affects adversely; mood; (see note)

hold; good



(see note)
(see note)

[good] stead





accursed creature; mad

spiritual food
each one


such talk
By subtle sleight

pinnacle perfectly; (see note)

Then the angels sing “Come, Creator [Spirit]”; (t-note)

test [him]
cause to fall



toes; (t-note)

And if; angry

warlock; malignant
[be] tempted; harm



(i.e., For all I know)

in this way
slave (captive)

cause; [to] fall





govern; (see note)
Tower; field
hold (submit [yourself])
willingly; support

many countries


before; (t-note)


pain; order you to go; (see note)
dwell; previously

ought; fear

desire; [to] let
go (hurry)
(i.e., remain there)

High might
must pass (be transferred)

signify; (see note)
endured; affliction
cruel and provocative
Talking to you


(i.e., were in a difficult situation)

harass [me]

believe; (t-note)

Their example

(see note)
judge or direct

endure openly
sovereignly (royally)

(see note)
grief; complaining

coming; (see note)

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