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Play 23, The Transfiguration


1 Lines 27–28: Whom do men say / To be the Son of Man?


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 synopsis in the Ordo paginarum lists the characters, the disciples Peter, James, and John, with Jesus “ascending onto the mountain” where he is transfigured. Elijah and Moses were also presumably named before damage to the manuscript. The pageant would have required special lighting effects in order to represent the transfigured Christ; Muir points out that in the Revello Passion play a convex silver reflector was specified to direct light from the sun or, if the day was cloudy, from a candle. Other effects, recorded in Continental plays, involved having Christ drop away his outer robe so as to appear in the dazzling white garment indicated in the gospels, and sometimes he was outfitted with a gold mask to represent his face, which in the York play “schynes as the sonne” (line 98).1 A cloud was also lowered from which the Father was to speak. The account of the Transfiguration in the gospels was read in the York rite in the first week of Lent, on Ember Saturday, from Matthew 17:1–9. The Curriers, who produced the pageant, were leather workers specializing in the processing of hides. The verse is in twelve-line stanzas.

5 sightis seere. Supernatural effects; in the context of the theatrical event, the term implies the use of legerdemain.

8 to yone mountayne will I goo. Embedded stage direction. There must be a raised space on the pageant wagon to represent the mountain, which is said in the biblical accounts to be high.

17–20 “Shewe us thy Fadir . . . Fadir thore." Citing John 14:8–9. The pageant makes clear that the apostles are still not able to understand the full meaning of Christ’s words, for this will only be revealed to them after the Resurrection.

27–28 Quem dicunt homines / Esse filium hominis? Luke 9:18, glossed in the following lines.

41–42 biddis nowe / To tyme ye have my Fadir fonne. Smith glosses: “Bide now till ye have seen my Father” (York Plays, p. 186).

49 Jesus now goes up onto the mountain; the disciples look up at lines 59–60 when Jesus appears, at first alone and then with Elijah and Moses, who have come from heaven and limbo respectively to testify to his divinity as God’s Son (see lines 215–16). The three figures were regarded as analogous to the Trinity; thus they reveal the triune nature of God symbolically though not literally (Elijah and Moses were never of course regarded as part of the Trinity). Moses normally appears again with horns in this scene, as in the Biblia Pauperum (pp. 69 and 71). The historical survey in Schiller, Iconography, 1:145–52, is useful.

87 It marres my myght, I may not see. Possibly “myght” is a mistake for syght, meaning here his eyesight. In any case, the sight must involve a brilliant effect, which would have been emphasized by having the disciples shield their eyes.

91 Are was ther one, now is ther thre. A comment about what they have seen, not about what is in view at this moment. See also line 187.

97 His clothyng is as white as snowe. See the headnote to this pageant, above.

118–20 quyk schall we come / With Antecrist for to fyght /Beffore the day of dome. The battle of Elijah and his brother Enoch against Antichrist at the end of history is only to be found in the Chester cycle, but other plays on the subject appear on the Continent (Muir, Biblical Drama, pp. 150–51). The Wycliffite Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge makes reference to one such drama: “Pley we a pley of Anticrist and of the Day of Dome that sum man may be convertid therby” (pp. 101–02). The Antichrist, based on a handful of references in the New Testament, was believed to herald the end times and to appear as the reverse of the Savior — in other words, as the epitome of evil. See Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, pp. 8–9, and the Chester Mystery Cycle, Play 23.

127–30 Unto Crist come, this is the same . . . are bonne. A reference to the Harrowing, when Adam and the others will be drawn out of the “dongeoun” of limbo by Jesus and taken to bliss.

152–56 Peter’s proposal to build a tabernacle to Jesus and others to Moses and Elijah (see Matthew 17:4) demonstrates his very considerable misunderstanding on his part of Christ’s nature.

169 s.d. PATER IN NUBE. The cloud has descended; the Father’s hand, held down from it in the gesture of blessing, likely was all that was visible of him, as the usual iconography suggests. His speech reaffirms his approval of Jesus, whose “sygnes sere” reveal him to be his Son (line 174).

183 Rise uppe and tellis me what ye see. See Matthew 17:6 for the description of the disciples’ response to the vision of God the Father in the cloud: they fall on their faces at the sight. Jesus now commands them to rise and report on what they have seen and to regain their composure. However, their act of falling down would have covered the vanishing of Elijah and Moses which could thus have appeared to happen suddenly; on sudden disappearances, see Butterworth, Magic, pp. 75–77.

204 To seke all sydis seere. In other words, the light was shining all around them, as had been the case also with the shepherds when the angel had sung to them of the birth of Christ (Luke 2:9).

205 that noys noyed us more. Even more than the sight that they saw with its brilliant light and the miraculous figures of Moses and Elijah joining Jesus, there was “noys.” Most likely at the appearance of the cloud some music would have been performed, not impossibly vocal with organ accompaniment.

223–28 A full view of the deity will not be revealed to persons living in this life, only in the life beyond death; the Father is, however, made known through the Son and revealed in part through “Poyntes of his privité” (line 226).

233–36 This visioun lely loke ye layne . . . than clere. They are not to reveal what they have seen until after the Crucifixion and Resurrection; see Matthew 17:9.


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).

5 sightis. So LTS, RB; Reg: sighitis.

13 Reg: added at right in LH: cum Moysez et Elias.

31 Sum. So LTS, RB; Reg: sam.

41 and biddis nowe misplaced at beginning of line 42 in Reg.

73 of all welth is wele. So RB; Reg: omits of.

83 That. So LTS, RB; Reg: Than.

145 PETRUS. Supplied in margin of Reg in LH.

168, s.d. Hic descendunt nubes. By Scribe B, in red at right.

169 Pater. Reg: (redundant) written in right margin by LH (deleted).

171 grayde. So RB; Reg, LTS: grayth.

180 At right by LH in Reg: Hic caret (deleted).

185 may. So LTS, RB; Reg: three minims only.

238 me. Reg has extra minim on m.


Footnote 1 Muir, Biblical Drama, p. 117. For possible lighting effects, see Butterworth, Theatre of Fire, pp. 55–78.

The Coriours
















































JESUS   Petir, myne awne discipill dere,
And James and John, my cosyns two,
Takis hartely hede, for ye schall here
That I wille telle unto no moo;
And als ye schall see sightis seere
Whilke none schall see bot ye alsoo,
Therfore comes forth with me in fere,
For to yone mountayne will I goo.
Ther schall ye see a sight
Whilk ye have yerned lange.

PETRUS   My Lorde, we are full light
And glad with thee to gange.

JESUS   Longe have ye coveyte for to kenne
My Fadir, for I sette hym before,
And wele ye wote whilke tyme and when
In Galylé gangand we were.
“Shewe us thy Fadir,” thus saide ye then,
“That suffice us withouten more.”
I saide to you and to all men,
“Who seis me, seis my Fadyr thore.”
Such wordis to you I spakke
In trewthe to make you bolde,
Ye cowde noght undyrtake
The talez that I you tolde.

Anodir tyme, for to encresse
Youre trouthe and worldly you to wys,
I saide, Quem dicunt homines
Esse filium hominis?1
I askid yow wham the pepill chase
To be mannys Sone, withouten mys;
Ye answered and saide, “Sum Moyses,”
And sum saide than, “Hely it is,”
And sum saide, “John Baptist.”
Than more I enquered you yitt,
I askid yiff ye ought wiste
Who I was, by youre witte.

Thou aunswered, Petir, for thy prowe,
And saide that I was Crist, God Sonne;
Bot of thyselffe that had noght thowe,
My Fadir hadde that grace begonne.
Therfore bese bolde and biddis nowe
To tyme ye have my Fadir fonne.

JACOBUS   Lord, to thy byddyng will we bowe
Full buxumly, as we are bonne.

JOHANNES   Lorde, we will wirke thy will
Allway with trew entent.
We love God lowde and stille
That us this layne has lente.

PETRUS   Full glad and blithe awe us to be
And thanke oure maistir, mekill of mayne,
That sais we schall the sightis see
The whiche non othir schall see certayne.

JACOBUS   He talde us of his Fadir free,
Of that fare wolde we be full fayne.

JOHANNES   All that he hyghte us holde will hee;
Therfore we will no forther frayne,
But as he fouchesaffe
So sall we undirstande.

PETRUS   Beholde, her we have nowe in hast
Som new tythandys.

HELYAS   Lord God, I love thee lastandly
And highly, botht with harte and hande,
That me, thy poure prophett Hely,
Have stevened me in this stede to stande.
In paradise wonnand am I
Ay sen I lefte this erthely lande.
I come Cristis name to clarifie
As God his Fadir me has ordand,
And for to bere witnesse
In worde to man and wyffe,
That this his owne Sone is
And Lord of lastand liff.

MOYSES   Lord God, that of all welth is wele,
With wille and witte we wirschippe thee,
That unto me, Moyses, wolde tell
This grete poynte of thy pryvyté,
And hendly hente me oute of hell
This solempne syght for I schuld see,
Whan thy dere darlynges that thore dwell
Hase noght thy grace in swilk degree.
Oure formefadyrs full fayne
Wolde se this solempne sight
That in this place thus pleyne
Is mustered thurgh thi myght.

PETRUS   Brethir, whatevere yone brightnes be?
Swilk burdis beforne was nevere sene.
It marres my myght, I may not see,
So selcouth thyng was nevere sene.

JACOBUS   What it will worthe, that wote noght wee,
How wayke I waxe, ye will not wene,
Are was ther one, now is ther thre.
Methynke oure maistir is betwene.

JOHANNES   That oure maistir is thare
That may we trewly trowe;
He was ffull fayre beffore,
But nevere als he is nowe.

PETRUS   His clothyng is as white as snowe,
His face schynes as the sonne.
To speke with hym I have grete awe,
Swilk faire before was nevere fune.

JACOBUS   The tothir two fayne wolde I knawe
And witte what werke tham hedir has wonne.

JOHANNES   I rede we aske tham all on rowe
And grope tham how this game is begonne.

PETRUS   My bredir, if that ye be come
To make clere Cristis name,
Telles here till us thre,
For we seke to the same.

HELYAS   Itt is Goddis will that we you wys
Of his werkis, as is worthy.
I have my place in paradise,
Ennok my brodyr me by.
Als messenger withouten mys
Am I called to this company
To witnesse that Goddis Sone is this,
Evyn with hym mette and allmyghty.
To dede we wer noght dight,
But quyk schall we come
With Antecrist for to fyght
Beffore the day of dome.

MOYSES   Frendis, if that ye frayne my name,
Moyses than may ye rede by rawe,
Two thousand yere aftir Adam
Than gaffe God unto me his lawe,
And sythen in helle has bene oure hame.
Allas, Adams kynne, this schall ye knawe:
Unto Crist come, this is the same
That us schall fro that dongeoun drawe.
He schall brynge tham to blys
That nowe in bale are bonne;
This myrthe we may not mys,
For this same is Goddis Sonne.

JESUS   My dere discipill, drede you noght,
I am youre soverayne certenly.
This wondir werke that here is wrought
Is of my Fadir almyghty.
Thire both are hydir brought,
The tone Moyses, the todir Ely,
And for youre sake thus are thei sought
To saie you, his Sone am I.
So schall bothe heven and helle
Be demers of this dede,
And ye in erthe schall tell
My name wher itt is nede.

PETRUS   A, loved be thou evere, my Lord Jesus,
That all this solempne sight has sent
That fouchest saffe to schew thee thus
So that thi myghtis may be kende.
Here is full faire dwellyng for us,
A lykand place in for to lende.
A, Lord, late us no forther trus,
For we will make with herte and hende
A taburnakill unto thee
Belyve, and thou will bide;
One schall to Moyses be,
And to Ely the thirde.

JACOBUS   Ya, wittirly, that were wele done,
But us awe noght swilk case to crave;
Tham thare but saie and have it sone,
Such service and he fouchesaffe.
He hetis his men both morne and none
Thare herber high in heven to have;
Therfore is beste we bide hys bone.
Who othir reedis, rudely thei rave.

JOHANNES   Such sonde as he will sende
May mende all oure mischeve,
And where hym lykis to lende
We will lende, with his leve

Hic descendunt nubes.

PATER IN NUBE   Ye ffebill of faithe, folke affraied,
Beis noght aferde for us in feere.

Both erthe and eyre with clowdes clere.
This is my Sone, as ye have saide,
As he has schewed by sygnes sere.
Of all his werkis I am wele paied,
Therfore till hym takis hede and here.
Where he is, thare am I;
He is myne and I am his:
Who trowis this stedfastly
Shall byde in endles blisse.

JESUS   Petir, pees be unto thee,
And to you also, James and John.
Rise uppe and tellis me what ye see,
And beis no more so wille of wone.

PETRUS   A, Lorde, what may this mervayle be?
Whedir is this glorious gleme al gone?
We saugh here pleynly persones thre,
And nowe is oure Lorde lefte allone.
This mervayle movis my mynde
And makis my flessh affrayed.

JACOBUS   This brightnes made me blynde,
I bode nevere swilke a brayde.

JOHANNES   Lorde God, oure maker almyghty,
This mater evermore be ment,
We saw two bodis stande hym by
And saide his Fadir had thame sent.

PETRUS   There come a clowde of the skye,
Lyght als the lemys on thame lent,
And now fares all as fantasye,
For wote noght how thai are wente

JACOBUS   That clowde cloumsed us clene
That come schynand so clere,
Such syght was never sene,
To seke all sydis seere.

JOHANNES   Nay, nay, that noys noyed us more
That here was horde so hydously.

JESUS   Frendis, be noght afferde therfore,
I schall you saye encheson why.
My Fadir wyte how that ye were
In youre faith fayland and forthy
He come to witnesse ay where,
And saide that his Sone am I
And also in this stede
To witnesse the same,
A quyk man and a dede
Come to make clere my name.

PETRUS   A, Lord, why latest thou us noght see
Thy Fadirs face in his fayrenes?

JESUS   Petir, thou askis overgrete degree,
That grace may noght be graunted thee, I gesse.
In his Godhed so high is he
As all youre prophetis names expresse,
That langar of lyffe schall he noght be
That seys his Godhede as it is.
Here have ye sene in sight
Poyntes of his privité
Als mekill als erthely wighte
May suffre in erthe to see.

And therfore wende we nowe agayne
To oure meyné, and mende ther chere.

JACOBUS   Oure felaws ful faste wil us frayne
How we have faren, al in feere.

JESUS   This visioun lely loke ye layne,
Unto no leffand lede it lere
Tille tyme mannys Sone have suffered payne
And resen fro dede, kens it than clere.
For all that trowis that thyng
Of my Fadir and me,
Thay schall have his blessing
And myne, so motte it be.

earnestly heed; hear

many; (see note); (t-note)
in company
(see note)

long yearned for



Galilee going
(see note)


[For otherwise] you could not understand

(see note)



of you


be; abide; (see note); (t-note)
found (seen)

obediently; obliged


ought; (see note)

matter; glad

is willing

poor; Elijah


everlasting life

well (source); (t-note)

graciously took

plain; (t-note)
organized through

(see note)

(i.e., be determined to be)
weak (sleepy)
Before; (see note)

(see note)

matter; found

know; hither; transported

in order


brother [is]

death; put
alive; (see note)


expound in order


Until; comes; (see note)

bound (captive)


say [to] you



praised; (t-note)

vouchsafe; show

pleasant; remain
hand; (see note)



if he wills [it]
[secure] dwelling


desires; remain

Here the clouds descend; (t-note)

(see note); (t-note)
framed; (t-note)



(see note)
be; distraught


saw; plainly

endured; assault



[we] know

surprised (shocked)

seek all around; (see note)

sound annoyed; (see note)




(i.e., too much)

(see note)



truly; conceal; (see note)
living man; reveal

risen; teach; openly


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