Play 23, The Transfiguration
Play 23, THE TRANSFIGURATION: FOOTNOTES
Play 23, THE TRANSFIGURATION: 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 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.
Play 23, THE TRANSFIGURATION: 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).
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.
Play 23, THE TRANSFIGURATION: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 Muir, Biblical Drama, p. 117. For possible lighting effects, see Butterworth, Theatre of Fire, pp. 55–78.
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