Play 35, Crucifixio Christi
Play 35, CRUCIFIXIO CHRISTI: 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 Crucifixio Christi, presented by the Pinners (and Painters), dramatizes the cruel placing of Jesus onto the cross by four soldiers, who would dominate the pageant if it were not for the Savior who is the silent center of the action. Their quick and impulsive gestures, movement, and speech would have been regarded as being typical of evil as opposed to the equanimity of more stable good characters. They attach Christ to the cross on the ground, as in the alternate way of doing it noted in the Meditations and in Love’s adaptation of this work.1 This is the manner in which the crucifying is done, for example, in a panel of painted glass now in the church of All Saints, Pavement, where, as too in the account in the Northern Passion, ropes are required to extend the body to fit the pre-drilled holes on the cross.2 Jesus speaks only twice, once before being nailed to the cross, and the second time reciting a variant of very popular verses from the cross — the O vos omnes speech addressed to those who pass by. The play, in twelve-line stanzas, represents a different style from the previous plays in the alliterative long line, and has some confusion in its speech designations. In this regard, the present text follows the edition of Beadle,3 who in turn was guided by J. P. R. Wallis.4
7 Sen we are comen to Calvarie. Locating the scene. There is some difficulty again with imagining the pageant’s action since much of it is as if on the ground; sight lines when Jesus is lying down, as he is during much of the play, are problematic even when using wagon staging. The Ordo paginarum specified that the crucifixion itself should be “super montem calvarie,” which must have been a raised area on the pageant wagon.
25–26 to this werke us muste take heede / So that oure wirkyng be noght wronge. This statement has been taken as a sign that the soldiers are good workmen who are anxious to do a good job, just as craftsmen in the city of York are expected to do quality work. It is tempting to invoke the concept of the “banality of evil” introduced by Hannah Arendt (Eichmann in Jerusalem). The executioners in this case may be energetic, but they are certainly sadistic bullies who go out of their way to torment and cause pain — acts which they clearly enjoy in spite of their frustration with the process of attaching Jesus to the cross. The soldiers are too much like out-of-control guards at a concentration camp or similar prison facility to be sympathetic. Research such as the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrates how ordinary human beings are capable of participating in torment and torture under circumstances in which they can see their victims as the “other” (see Zimbardo, Lucifer Effect). The executioners in this pageant are betrayed by circumstances and their lack of vision so that they too become like the other rabid torturers who have been observed in the previous Passion pageants in the cycle.
49–60 Jesus’ prayer before being nailed to the cross may be compared to the prayer in the Meditations (p. 334) and also to the Northern Passion, 1:179.
75 hymselffe has laide hym doune. The Meditations and other sources report instead a violent action. Love wishes his readers to imagine Jesus being cast upon the cross by the soldiers, who are like mad thieves trying to pull his hands and feet so as to nail him to it (Mirror, p. 177); see also the Northern Passion, 1:179–80.
79–80 he claymeth kyngdome with croune . . . schall hee. Possible stage direction. He may have been given a crown here, but if so it could have been a mock crown such as was worn by a fool king in play; compare the paper crown placed on the head of the Duke of York in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3, 1.4.93–95.
102 a stubbe. A short, thick nail (MED); see C. Davidson, Technology, Guilds, fig. 40 (p. 39), for an illustration, though the nail in this instance is not exactly a stub.
107 It failis a foote and more. Compare the Northern Passion: “If the tone hand at the bore ware, / That other failed a fute and mare” (1:189, Harleian manuscript, lines 1608–09).
131–32 A roope schall rugge hym doune / Yf all his synnous go asoundre. All Jesus’ sinews and bones indeed will be pulled asunder (see lines 147–48, 223–24), and this was regarded as having been predicted by Old Testament prophecy; see Psalm 21 (AV 22), particularly verses 15 and 18. Verse 18 also says, “They have dug my hands and feet,” predicting the driving of nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. Pickering notes that ropes had been mentioned in connection with the Crucifixion by Hilary of Poitiers in the fourth century (Literature and Art, p. 244). The account in the Stanzaic Life is even more violent and bloody than in the pageant.
144 foure bullis. The suggestion that even four bulls would be ineffectual in pulling Jesus’ limbs into place is an echo of Psalm 21:13 (AV 21:12): “fat bulls have besieged me.”
161 The mortaise is made fitte. Having the cross fit into a mortise in a Passion drama may be reflected in a drawing of the Crucifixion in the Carthusian Miscellany (London, British Library, MS. Add. 37049, fol. 30). This therefore may be an instance in which art imitates the drama, a view promoted by Émile Mâle (Religious Art) and M. D. Anderson (Drama and Imagery), who believed that the artists were influenced by the stage. In general, however, a very healthy skepticism is required with regard to this theory.
225–26 This fallyng was more felle / Than all the harmes he hadde. The cross is now raised high. At first it will wobble until wedges are driven to stabilize it. The terrible pain of Jesus’ torment is consistently emphasized, and in this late medieval writers stressed the importance of sympathizing and identifying with the pain. For its greater intensity and the visible signs — e.g., the flow of blood caused by the shock of the fall — see Mâle, Religious Art, 3:85.
253–64 Al men that walkis by waye or strete . . . saules to save. Jesus’ address from the cross to those who pass by — i.e., in this case the audience watching the pageant. The words are again adapted from O vos omnes, the cry from Lamentations 1:12, chosen also as the text of an antiphon on Good Friday as well as a responsory on Holy Saturday, and incorporated in the Improperia. See Gray, Themes and Images, pp. 140–42. Jesus’ forgiveness of his persecutors is based on Luke 23:34.
273 Vath, qui destruit templum. Matthew 27:40, following the Vulgate text.
293 I rede we drawe cutte for this coote. Compare Psalm 21:19 (AV 22:18): “They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots.”
Play 35, CRUCIFIXIO CHRISTI: 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).
As addition to craft ascription, by LH: and Paynters.
80 hange. So RB; Reg, LTS: have.
98–107 Speech identifications follow RB.
118 suerly. So Reg, LTS; RB: snelly.
154 and. So RB; Reg, LTS omit.
155 Thei. So RB; Reg, LTS: I.
183–84 We are redy . . . fang. Reg: added in margin by Scribe B.
183 IV MILES. So RB; Reg, LTS: III Miles.
230 morteyse. So LTS, RB; Reg: moteyse.
264 Reg: addition by JC in right margin: In welth without end / I kepe noght elles to crave.
Play 35, CRUCIFIXIO CHRISTI: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 Meditations, p. 334; Love, Mirror, p. 177. See also the discussion in Pickering, Literature and Art, pp. 237–48.
Footnote 2 C. Davidson, From Creation to Doom, pp. 125–26, fig. 11; Northern Passion, 1:188–89.
Footnote 3 RB, p. 451.
Footnote 4 Wallis, “Miracle Play of ‘Crucifixio Christi.’”
The Pynneres and Paynters
Go To Play 36, Mortificacio Christi