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Play 34, The Road to Calvary


1 Peace, knights and retainers who remain here about


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 passing of Jesus from Pilate’s palace to Calvary is a continuation of the torment and suffering experienced by him during the legal proceedings against him. Only one of the tormentors appears at the beginning of the pageant, to be joined by a second and then at line 59 by a third, who is, unusually, given a name, Wymond. The path representing the road to Calvary must utilize the ground level, the playing area or place. The Ordo paginarum described a play in which Jesus, carrying his cross, appeared “covered with blood.”1 The role of the tormentors as extreme bullies amplifies the action.2 Love comments that Jesus “was drawene and hastede by grete violence, without reste, til he came to that foule stinkyng place of ‘Calvarie,’ where was set the ende and the reste of this harde bataile that we speken of.”3 The audience is asked to “make rome” for them to pass (line 16), and at the end they set off for “Calvarie,” again passing through the audience. The Meditations cited Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica for the view that the cross was fifteen feet in height, and reports that Jesus, “the most gentle Lamb,” took it up “patiently” and carried it.4 But such a large cross would not have been easily brought onto the set by Wymond. Less familiar will be the playwright’s use of the story of the wood of the cross that had been told in the Northern Passion5 and other sources, ultimately deriving from the Gospel of Nicodemus. The history is complex. Grown from seed from Eden that was interred with Adam at his death, the tree was cut down for use in building Solomon’s Temple, but failed to fit and was rejected. Thereafter it was used for a bridge over the brook Cedron (see line 64), and eventually a third of the wood from it was used for making the cross. A variant of this account appears in the Golden Legend.6 The pageant’s biblical source, which says nothing about the origin of the wood of the cross, is mainly Luke 23:26–32. Written principally in ten-line stanzas, the pageant was presented by the Shearmen, a trade that specialized in finishing wool cloth.

1–15 The first two stanzas seem to be additions to the text and are not in the ten-line stanzas in which the rest of the play mainly is written. In lines 9–11, the first soldier commands the audience not to give vocal support to the “traytoure” Jesus. This provides evidence for inherent audience sympathy for the victim and contradicts modernist views of subversive and “destabilizing” acting and widespread irreverence in response to the York mysteries. The pageant continues to present the tormentors as doglike, indecorous in their movements and barking their outbursts as they place Jesus on the cross. See the Meditations for reference to them as like “terrible and ferocious dogs,” once more keeping Psalm 21 in mind (p. 319). Even porcine masks would have been appropriate for them, one would imagine.

52–54 sties and ropes . . . nayles and othir japes. Ladders were used in some accounts of the Crucifixion in which Jesus is attached to the cross while it is erect, though that will not be the case at York. Nails, in this case large spikes, were important objects of devotion; see their designation as dulces clavos, “sweet nails,” in the antiphon Crux fidelis, sung on Good Friday; see Hymni, fol. 22. The nails were frequently depicted in the visual arts of a devotional nature (see the example from a prayer roll of the young Henry VIII, illustrated in Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, fig. 110), most usually along with other instruments of the Passion, including the ropes and hammers, also displayed in the pageant (see line 92).

65 Men called it the kyngis tree. The tree had flourished in King David’s garden and hence came to be called the King’s Tree.

67 balke. Compare the Northern Passion, 1:161 (Harleian manuscript, line 617: “A mekill balk tham bud have ane”).

80–83 I toke the measure . . . an ende. The holes in the cross are already bored. Inevitably, however, an error has been made, not only showing the incompetence of the workmen but also proving the rightness of the prophetic passages in the Old Testament.

106–41 John’s planctus or lament, which breaks off on account of the loss of a leaf in the manuscript following line 141. The loss unfortunately hampers understanding of the scene and possible interaction with the soldiers.

127 Mi modir. Anachronistic reference to the Virgin Mary as John’s “modir,” since only at the scene of the Crucifixion is he designated as her son, a substitute for Jesus who is dying on the cross.

after 141 Missing leaf in the manuscript.

160–79 Doughteres of Jerusalem . . . and dighte. Jesus’ speech to his mother and the other Marys, based on Luke 23:28–31, is understood as a prediction of the final days of history and the Last Judgment.

183–86 lete clense thy face . . . This signe schalle bere witnesse. Normally an act assigned to Veronica, here transferred to the third Mary. Jesus’ face makes an imprint on the cloth, which becomes a sign — and a valued relic — of the Passion. Extant examples of the “vernicle” from York appear in the Bolton Hours, fol. 174, and a fifteenth-century York Psalter (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS. O.3.10), fol. 11v.

190–92 Saie, wherto bide ye here . . . stevenis steere. Unless there has been previous interaction lost with the missing leaf, this is the first notice by the soldiers of the lamenting holy women. The first soldier insultingly calls them “quenys,” or harlots.

193 Go home, casbalde, with thi clowte. Referring to the third Mary holding the vernicle. In lines 196–97 she responds that “This signe schall vengeaunce calle / On yowe.” The word “casbalde” is a term of abuse.

200 Lady, youre gretyng greves me sore. In the extant text, he has not been greeted by the Virgin, though the next lines in which she asks for assistance suggest a lacuna here. There is no indication in the stanza structure of something missing, however. That the holy women and John depart for Calvary is revealed by John in lines 203–04.

217 oure tooles are before. They do not have their tools in hand, but rather they will be waiting for them at the site of the Crucifixion.

225 He swounes. On account of being “forbledde” (line 223), Jesus is like one who is drunk and hence unable to carry the cross. For discussion, see Marrow, Passion Iconography, pp. 142–49. In the Biblia Pauperum (p. 93) and the Speculum humanae salvationis (Wilson and Wilson, Medieval Mirror, p. 184), Jesus carries his cross himself and is being led like an animal by a rope attached around his waist.

228–92 The enlisting of Symon of Cyrene to carry the cross is much expanded over the accounts in the synoptic gospels. Symon is on a journey to complete a vital business matter which is urgent and requires that he be at his destination on this day. The soldiers will be unbending and unfeeling, extremely mean and violent — once again like the “terrible and ferocious dogs” noted in the Meditations (p. 319, quoting Psalm 21:17).

309 He muste be naked nede. Jesus has been wearing his customary garments — i.e., his seamless cloak. This will now be taken from him and placed “in stoore” (line 331) until later. His blood makes the cloth stick to his sides (line 314).

341 he is boune as beeste in bande. Now shorn of his garment, he is led like a “sheep going to the slaughter,” here made explicit. He would have projected an image of one disgustingly bruised who could hardly be an object of affection and reverence if he were not the Savior, regarded as one who is like a beloved member of one’s family. Recognizing the force of such feeling is crucial to understanding the aesthetic and spiritual context of this pageant and the others in the Passion series.


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).

11 Following line missing in Reg.

After 141 Following leaf missing in Reg.

142 MARIA SANCTA. This edition (conjecture).

177 seen. So RB; Reg omit.

198 withalle. So LTS, RB; Reg: with ille.

201 everemore. So RB; Reg, LTS: nevere more.

206 I MILES. Reg: added twice, in one instance in red, by later hands.

208 Go. So LTS, RB; Reg: To.

243 III MILES. Reg: added by LH.

336 as. So RB; Reg, LTS: of.


Footnote 1 REED: York, 1:21, trans. 2:717.

Footnote 2 For illuminating commentary on bullying behavior, see White, “Psychodynamic Perspective.”

Footnote 3 Love, Mirror, p. 175.

Footnote 4 Meditations, p. 331.

Footnote 5 Northern Passion, 1:135, 148–67.

Footnote 6 Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 1:277–78.

The Shermen






































































PRIMUS MILES INCIPIT   Pees, barnes and bachillers that beldis here aboute,1
Stirre noght ones in this stede but stonde stone stille,
Or, be the lorde that I leve on, I schall gar you lowte.
But ye spare when I speke youre speche schall I spille
Smertely and sone.
For I am sente fro Sir Pilate with pride
To lede this ladde oure lawes to abide,
He getis no bettir bone.

Therfore I comaunde you on evere ilke a side
Uppon payne of enprisonment that no man appere
To suppowle this traytoure, be tyme ne be tyde,
. . .
Noght one of his prees,
Nor noght ones so hardy for to enquere,
But helpe me holly, alle that are here,
This kaitiffe care to encrees.

Therfore make rome and rewle you nowe right
That we may with this weried wight
Wightely wende on oure wayes.
He napped noght of all this nyght
And this daye schall his deth be dight,
Latte see who dare saie naye.
Because tomorne is provyde
For oure dere Sabbott day,
We will no mysse be moved
But mirthe in all that evere men may.

We have bene besie all this morne
To clothe hym and to croune with thorne,
As falles for a fole kyng,
And nowe methynkith oure felawes skorne,
They highte to have ben here this morne,
This faitour forthe to bring.
To nappe nowe is noght goode.
We! howe! high myght he hyng.

II MILES   Pees, man, for Mahoundes bloode.
Why make ye such crying?

I MILES   Why wotte thou noght als wele as I,
This carle burde unto Calvery
And there on crosse be done?

II MILES   Sen dome is geven that he schall dy,
Late calle to us more companye,
And ellis we erre oure fone.

I MILES   Oure gere behoves to be grayde
And felawes sammed sone,
For Sir Pilate has saide
Hym bus be dede be none.

Wher is Sir Wymond, wotte thou oght?

II MILES   He wente to garre a crosse be wroght
To bere this cursed knave.

I MILES   That wolde I sone wer hyder broght,
For sithen schall othir gere be soght
That us behoves to haffe.

II MILES   Us bus have sties and ropes
To rugge hym tille he rave,
And nayles and othir japes
If we oureselve wille save.

I MILES   To tarie longe us were full lathe,
But Wymond come, it is in wathe
But we be blamed all three.
We, howe, Sir Wymond waytesskathe.

II MILES   We, howe, Sir Wymond, howe.

III MILES                               I am here, what saie ye bathe,
Why crye ye so on me?
I have bene garre make
This crosse, as yhe may see,
Of that laye over the lake;
Men called it the kyngis tree.

I MILES   Nowe sekirly I thought the same,
For that balke will no man us blame
To cutte it for the kyng.

II MILES   This karle has called hym kyng at hame,
And sen this tre has such a name,
It is accordyng thyng
That his rigge on it may reste
For skorne and for hethyng.

III MILES   Methoughte it semyd beste
Tille this bargayne to bryng.

I MILES   It is wele warred, so motte I spede,
And it be lele in lenghe and brede;
Than is this space wele spende.

III MILES   To loke theraftir it is no nede.
I toke the mesure or I yode,
Bothe for the fette and hande.

II MILES   Beholde howe it is boorede
Full even at ilke an ende;
This werke will wele accorde,
It may not be amende.

III MILES   Nay, I have ordande mekill more,
Yaa, thes theves are sente before
That beside hym schall hyng,
And sties also are ordande thore
With stalworthe steeles as mystir wore,
Bothe some schorte and some lang.

I MILES   For hameres and nayles,
Latte see sone who schall gang.

II MILES   Here are bragges that will noght faile
Of irnne and stele full strange.

III MILES   Thanne is it as it aweth to bee,
But whiche of yowe schall beere this tree
Sen I have broughte it hedir?

I MILES   Be my feithe, bere it schall hee
That theron hanged sone schall bee,
And we schall teeche hym whedir.

II MILES   Uppon his bakke it schalle be laide,
For sone we schall come thedir.

III MILES   Loke that oure gere be grayede,
And go we all togedir.

JOHANNES   Allas, for my maistir that moste is of myght,
That yister-even late, with lanternes light,
Before the busshoppe was brought.
Bothe Petir and I we saugh that sight,
And sithen we wente oure wayes full wight,
When the Jewes wondirly wrought:
At morne thei toke to rede
And soteltes upsoght
And demed hym to be dede
That to tham trespassed noght.

Allas, for syte, what schall I saie,
My worldly welthe is wente for ay;
In woo evere may I wende.
My maistir, that nevere lakke in lay
Is demed to be dede this day,
Ewen in hys elmys hende.
Allas, for my maistir mylde
That all mennys mysse may mende
Shulde so falsely be filed
And no frendis hym to fende.

Allas, for his modir and othir moo,
Mi modir and hir sisteres alsoo,
Sittes samen with sighyngis sore.
Thai wate nothyng of all this woo;
Forthy to warne tham will I goo
Sen I may mende no more.
Sen he schall dye as tyte
And thei unwarned wore,
I ware worthy to wite,
I will to faste therfore.

But in myn herte grete drede have I
That his modir for dole schall dye
When she see ones that sight.
But certis I schal not wande forthy
To warne that carefull company
Or he to dede be dight.
. . .
MARIA SANCTA   Sen he fro us will twynne
I schall thee nevere forsake.
Allas, the tyme and tyde,
I watte wele the day is come
That are was specified
Of prophete Symeoun in prophicie:
The swerde of sorowe schulde renne
Thurghoute the herte sotelly.

II MARIA   Allas, this is a sithfull sight.
He that was evere luffely and light
And Lorde of high and lawe,
Oo, doulfully nowe is he dight
In worlde is none so wofull a wighte
Ne so carefull to knawe.
Thei that he mended moste
In dede and als in sawe,
Now have they full grete haste
To dede hym for to drawe.

JESUS   Doughteres of Jerusalem cytté,
Sees, and mournes no more for me
But thynkes uppon this thyng;
For youreselfe mourne schall yee,
And for the sonnes that borne schal be
Of yowe, bothe olde and yonge.
For such fare schall befalle
That ye schall giffe blissyng
To barayne bodies all
That no barnes forthe may brynge.

For certis ye schall see suche a day
That with sore sighyng schall ye saye
Unto the hillis on highte,
“Falle on us, mountaynes, and ye may,
And covere us fro that felle affraye
That on us sone schall light.”
Turnes home the toune untill
Sen ye have seen this sight,
It is my Fadirs will,
Alle that is done and dighte.

III MARIA   Allas, this is a cursed cas.
He that alle hele in his hande has
Shall here be sakles slayne.
A, Lorde, beleve lete clense thy face.
Behalde howe he hath schewed his grace,
Howe he is moste of mayne.
This signe schalle bere witnesse
Unto all pepull playne
Howe Goddes Sone here gilteles
Is putte to pereles payne.

I MILES   Saie, wherto bide ye here aboute,
Thare quenys, with ther skymeryng and ther schoute,
Wille noght ther stevenis steere?

II MILES   Go home, casbalde, with thi clowte
Or, be that lorde we love and loute,
Thou schall abye full dere.

III MARIA   This signe schall vengeaunce calle
On yowe holly in feere.

III MILES   Go, hye thee hense withalle
Or ille hayle come thou here.

JOHANNES   Lady, youre gretyng greves me sore.

MARIA SANCTA   John, helpe me nowe and everemore
That I myght come hym tille.

JOHANNES   My lady, wende we forthe before
To Calvery when ye come thedir;
Than schall ye saie what ye will.

I MILES   What a devyll is this to saye,
How longe schall we stande stille?
Go, hye you hens awaye,
In the devylis name, doune the hill.

II MILES   Ther quenes us comeres with ther clakke;
He schall be served for ther sake
With sorowe and with sore.

III MILES   And thei come more such noyse to make,
We schall garre lygge thame in the lake
Yf thei were halfe a skore.

I MILES   Latis nowe such bourdyng be.
Sen oure tooles are before
This traitoure and this tree;
Wolde I full fayne were thore.

II MILES   We schall no more so stille be stedde,
For nowe ther quenes are fro us fledde
That falsely wolde us feere.

III MILES   Methynkith this boy is so forbledde
With this ladde may he noght be ledde.
He swounes, that dare I swere.

I MILES   It nedis noght harde to harle
Sen it dose hym slike dere.

II MILES   I se here comes a karle
Shall helpe hym for to bere.

III MILES   That schall ye see sone one assaye.
Goode man, whedir is thou away?
Thou walkis as thou were wrothe.

SYMON   Sir, I have a grete journay
That bus be done this same day,
Or ellis it may do skathe.

I MILES   Thou may with litill payne
Eease thyselffe and us bathe.

SYMON   Goode sirs, that wolde I fayne,
But to dwelle were me lathe.

II MILES   Nay, beuscher, thou shall sone be spedde.
Loo, here a ladde that muste be ledde
For his ille dedis to dye.

III MILES   And he is brosid and all forbledde,
That makis us here thus stille be stedde;
We pray thee, sir, forthy,
That thou wilte take this tree
And bere it to Calverye.

SYMON   Goode sirs, that may nought be,
For full grete haste have I.

My wayes are lang and wyde,
And I may noght abide,
For drede I come to late;
For sureté have I hight
Muste be fulfillid this nyght
Or it will paire my state.
Therfore, sirs, by youre leve,
Methynkith I dwelle full lang.
Me were loth you for to greve,
Goode sirs, ye late me gang;

No lenger here now may I wone.

I MILES   Nay, certis, thou schalte noght go so sone,
For ought that thou can saye.
This dede is moste haste to be done,
For this boy muste be dede by none,
And nowe is nere myddaye.
Go helpe hym in this nede
And make no more delaye.

SYMON   I praye yowe dose youre dede
And latis me wende my waye.

And sirs, I schall come sone agayne
To helpe this man with all my mayne,
And even at youre awne will.

II MILES   What, wolde thou trusse with such a trayne?
Nay, faitour, thou schalte be fayne
This forwarde to fullfille,
Or, be myghty Mahounde,
Thou schalte rewe it full ille.

III MILES   Late dyng this dastarde doune,
But he goo tyte thertill.

SYMON   Sertis, sir, that wer nought wisely wrought
To bete me but I trespassid ought
Outhir in worde or dede.

I MILES   Uppon his bakke it schall be brought
To bere it, whedir he wille or noght.
What, devyll, whome schulde we drede?
Go, take it uppe belyve
And bere it forthe goode spede.

SYMON   It helpis noght here to strive;
Bere it behoves me nede.

And therfore, sirs, as ye have saide,
To bere this crosse I holde me paied
Right as ye wolde it wore.

II MILES   Yaa, nowe are we right arraied;
Loke that oure gere be redy grayed
To wirke whanne we come thore.

III MILES   I warand all redy
Oure tooles bothe lesse and more;
Late hym goo hardely
Forthe with the crosse before.

I MILES   Sen he has his lade, nowe late hym gang,
For with this warlowe wirke we wrang,
And we thus with hym yode.

II MILES   And nowe is noght goode to tarie lang;
What schulde we done more us emang?
Say, sone, so mote thou spede.

III MILES   Neven us no nodir noote
Tille we have done this dede.

I MILES   Weme, methynke we doote,
He muste be naked nede.

All yf he called hymselffe a kyng,
In his clothis he schall noght hyng
But naked as a stone be stedde.

II MILES   That calle I accordand thyng,
But tille his sidis I trowe thei clyng,
For bloode that he has bledde.

III MILES   Wheder thei clynge or cleve,
Naked he schalle be ledde,
And for the more myscheve
Buffettis hym schall be bedde.

I MILES   Take of his clothis beliffe, latte see.
Aha, this garment will falle wele for mee,
And so I hope it schall.

II MILES   Nay, sir, so may it noght be;
Thame muste be parte amonge us thre,
Take even as will fall.

III MILES   Yaa, and Sir Pilate medill hym,
Youre parte woll be but small.

I MILES   Sir, and ye liste, go telle hym
Yitt schall he noght have all

Butte even his awne parte and no more.

II MILES   Yaa, late thame ligge still here in stoore
Untill this dede be done.

III MILES   Latte bynde hym as he was before
And harle on harde that he wer thore,
And hanged or it be none.

I MILES   He schall be feste as fee
And that right sore and sone.

II MILES   So fallis hym for to be,
He gettis no bettir bone.

II MILES   This werke is wele nowe, I warand,
For he is boune as beeste in bande
That is demed for to dye.

I MILES   Thanne rede I that we no lenger stande
But ilke man feste on hym a hande
And harle hym hense in hye.

II MILES   Yaa, nowe is tyme to trusse
To alle oure companye.

III MILES   If anye aske aftir us,
Kenne thame to Calvarie.
(see note)
by; believe; make you to pay homage
(i.e., refrain from speaking)


support; (t-note)

[line missing, see textual note]

caitiff’s discomfort (pain)

accursed man


(i.e., will be)

wish no mishap to occur

befits; fool



churl must go

Since the verdict
Or else we are too few


must; noon

cause; made

we need to have

ladders; (see note)
pull [with violence]; screams

Unless; there is danger



charged to make

(see note)

timber; (see note)



knotty (strong)
If; true
Then; amount of time

ere; went; (see note)

at each end


planned (executed)

rungs; need

large nails
iron; steel; strong




(see note)


subtleties sought out



[knowledge or practice] of the law

Even; enemies’ hands


(see note)
Sit together

redress (events)
so quickly

honored to know


Before; put

[pages missing; see note; see textual note]
be separated; (t-note)



beloved; righteous

full of care (sorrow)


(see note)

matter (events)

terrible assault

Go home to


quickly; (see note)



(see note)
whores; agitating
voices control

?bald fellow; cloth; (see note)
pay; dearly

ill health

(see note)




shrew; annoys; outcry

cause them to lie; dungeon

Put aside; jesting (playing)
(see note)


(i.e., lost so much blood)
(see note)


churl; (see note)

to take up


great harm


bruised; (t-note)
be unable to move

bond (legal obligation)

impair (reduce); estate





get away with; trick




were [done]

made ready

go forth



(i.e., I’m astonished); act foolishly
(see note)



if; concerns himself (with)

lie; storage


domestic animal; (t-note)


beast; bonds (ropes); (see note)





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