Play 22, The Temptation in the Wilderness
Play 22, THE TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS: 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 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.
Play 22, THE TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS: 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).
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.
Play 22, THE TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
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.
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