Play 38, The Resurrection
Play 38, THE RESURRECTION: 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 York pageant, mounted by the Carpenters who are known to have supported their own religious guild devoted to the Resurrection,1 incorporates material typically associated with the liturgical Visitato Sepulchri but embeds it in the story of the four knights chosen by Pilate to guard the sepulcher. Their narrative may be read elsewhere, as, for example, in the Northern Passion, and they emerge as nearly necessary depictions on representations of the Resurrection.2 There is a strong connection in this pageant with image devotion, with a focus on seeing the rising of Jesus out of the tomb to the accompaniment of liturgical music, identified by Rastall as Christus resurgens, shared with the York Elevatio ceremony performed on Easter morning.3 The Harleian text of the Northern Passion indicates that anyone who “heres or redes” (line 20) the narrative will be given Christ’s blessing and a hundred days of pardon in Purgatory granted by Pope Innocent,4 and one would imagine that a similar blessing could likely have been expected from seeing and hearing the story as staged at Corpus Christi. At some point a copy of the York Resurrection was borrowed by a compiler of the Towneley collection, formerly thought to be the Wakefield cycle, and the two texts even share, as Beadle has noticed, a corrupt passage (York, lines 294–98; Towneley, lines 452–58).5 The Towneley version, which was derived from an independent copy of the play that is now lost, confirms the expected character designations for the Marys, with the first being Mary Magdalen, the second Mary the mother of James, and the third Mary Salome, and it also provides some readings that correct mistakes by the scribe who entered the play into the York Register. The York Resurrection, which in some ways is the climax of the York cycle, uses a six-line stanza.
1–36 The high priests have gone to Pilate and argue with him about the Crucifixion, which they claim was justified and reasonable. The Centurion will, however, contradict their assertions about its justice and even insist that Jesus “was Goddis Sone almyghty” (line 75).
86–97 In answer to Caiphas’ request for some “tokenyngis trewe” (line 81), the Centurion rehearses a list of remarkable signs, including an eclipse, that occurred at the Crucifixion. These are based on Matthew 27:51–54, and represent something “outside nature” that will be accepted as such by the audience (see Twycross, “Playing ‘The Resurrection,'” p. 279). Lines 93–94 are confused but refer to the arising of men from their graves in Matthew 27:52–53. Pilate, however, will dismiss the eclipse as a natural phenomenon (line 99), but more ominously Caiphas renews his charge of sorcery, for that is the only way he believes dead men could rise and walk (lines 103–04).
123–24 Such wondir reasouns as he redis / Was nevere beforne. Sharply distinguishing the York Pilate from the more hostile high priests. Thereafter Caiphas and Anna will launch into a rehearsal of their charges, now including their fear that Jesus’ body will be stolen from the grave (lines 147–48). Pilate agrees to guard the tomb and will appoint soldiers to do so.
183 On ilke a side latte us sitte doune. Embedded stage direction. The soldiers have arrived at the tomb and are taking their places at its four corners. They will sit, a convenient posture from which to show them sleeping. They are sometimes shown thus in iconography, and not infrequently take their places in niches in the tomb.
186 s.d. Tunc Jhesu resurgente. Rastall points out that this stage direction, by the main scribe, refers ahead to the speech by the first Mary as “warning her not to speak until Christ has risen from the tomb and left the playing area” (Minstrels Playing, p. 9n14). The silence of Jesus is striking when, if the usual iconography is maintained, he steps out of the coffer tomb, perhaps onto the back of one of the sleeping soldiers. As Sheingorn notes, this involved “a significant change in content from the Latin plays” and “underscored the theme of triumph which is an inseparable part of the celebration” (“Moment of the Resurrection,” p. 111). For further discussion, see C. Davidson, "Memory, the Resurrection, and Early Drama," pp. 3–37, and Twycross, “Playing ‘The Resurrection’.” Whether Jesus’ rising is accompanied by a “gret erthe dyn” or earthquake as the angel descends to roll back the stone (see Matthew 28:2, and the Pepysian Gospel Harmony, p. 102) we do not know, but it was feasible and would have been a stunning introduction to the action and the singing of the angel. The Coventry plays are known to have had a “baryll for the yerthe quake” (REED: Coventry, p. 474), but not for the Resurrection pageant.
Tunc angelus cantat Resurgens. This is added in a later hand, but likely represents long-standing practice. As noted above, the item must be Christus resurgens, of which several possibilities are available, the most likely of which is perhaps the antiphon (see Rastall, Minstrels Playing, pp. 35–36). Dutka translates: “Christ having risen from the dead dies now no more: death shall have no more dominion over him. [For the life he lives, he lives with God. Alleluia, Alleluia]” (Music, p. 115). The first soldier, who has heard the singing in his sleep, will report that they “herde never sen we were borne / . . . Suche melodie” (lines 384–86). The angel traditionally wears an alb, taking the description in Mark 16:5 of a white garment as a prescription. The Pepysian Gospel Harmony describes the angel as wearing “clothes als white as snow” and having a “visage als rede as fyre” (p. 102).
187 Allas, to dede I wolde be dight. Beginning the laments of the Marys, leading up to their discovery at the tomb.
195–96 he is medicyne / And bote of all. Still the first Mary refers to Jesus as “medicyne,” a medical solution to the problems of guilt and despair; see 1 Peter 2:24, which asserts, referring to Jesus’ Passion and suffering on the cross, “by whose stripes you were healed.” The actor playing Jesus who has just been seen by the audience will still seem to bear the wounds of his suffering, perhaps still wet, as the second Mary remembers them in the next speech.
203 graven under the grete. The grave, however, is almost certainly a coffer tomb, not one that is sunk into the ground.
213 anoynementis faire and clere. Mary I, identified in Towneley as Mary Magdalen, traditionally would have carried a jar containing ointment and spices, iconography in part conflating her (incorrectly) with the reformed prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon — an act which, as we have seen, plays a role in Judas’ plot to kill his Master (see Play 36, lines 129–54).
230 The hevy stone is putte aside. Suggesting the cover of the coffer tomb usually seen in depictions in the visual arts (see YA, pp. 91–92) rather than the stone which requires rolling away in Mark 16:3 and Luke 24:2, nor is it a tomb that can be entered, as in John 20:5 and in some liturgical dramas (see especially Ogden, “Visitatio Sepulchri: Public Enactment and Hidden Rite”).
235–40 Ye mournand women . . . . / Here in this place whome have ye sought? . . . Come nere and see. Compare the Quem queritis exchange in the liturgical Easter play, the Visitatio sepulchri, of which, however, there is no evidence in York service books.
243 The sudary. Love explains that the sudary was the head wrap that Jesus wore at his burial, but also indicates that the other “clothes that he was wrapped inne” were found (Mirror, p. 198). The grave clothes were presented as a prime piece of evidence of the Resurrection here as in such liturgical dramas as the well-known Fleury Visitatio (Young, Drama of the Medieval Church, 1:394–95). The sudary will be shown to the audience. While Twycross suggests that the effect, in contrast with the liturgical drama, is “curiously distant” (“Playing ‘The Resurrection,’” p. 293), we can hardly be sure that this was the case. It is not a relic like the Turin shroud, but it represents the actual cloth in which Jesus was buried and hence is likely to have had a devotional role in the drama.
260 To Galilé nowe late us wende. Mary II and Mary III go to inform the disciples of what they have seen.
267–88 Mary I’s lament, continued after the departure of the other Marys. This is made all the more urgent when it is remembered that this is Mary Magdalen, who is represented as the repentant “Sinner” and that this is a saint with whom personal identification was often very strong among some members of the audience. She is the woman who had a special love for Jesus, a point that is exploited tastelessly in the twentieth-century musical Jesus Christ Superstar. When she completes her lament, she must leave the stage, and just then the soldiers, who have been sleeping throughout the previous scene, rouse themselves to find that Jesus is gone from the grave.
310–11 Witte Sir Pilate of this affraye, / We mon be slone. While being witnesses to the Resurrection (note especially line 293a: “Rise uppe and see”), the soldiers are primarily motivated by their fear of being executed for dereliction of duty, here presented as a capital crime. At first they consider lying, but then resolve to tell the truth — that is, that it was a supernatural event; see line 332.
339 We dye but onys. Proverbial. See Whiting and Whiting, Proverbs, D243.
348ff. The soldiers, now back at Pilate’s court, will try to explain their failure. Caiphas and Anna, who are also present, recognize the importance of the event but of course misunderstand its essential character. They will make suggestions for what, in the current jargon, will be a “cover-up.” The knights will be bribed to remain quiet about the event. In Gréban’s Passion the soldiers insist on a large payment “because they are selling something very rare and precious: Truth” (Muir, Biblical Drama, p. 140).
450–51 Thus schall the sothe be bought and solde, / And treasoune schall for trewthe be tolde. Pilate emerges as a politician, one more interested in himself and in public relations affecting him, than in the truth. These words are followed by a mock benediction in which the audience is urged to hold this advice “ay in youre hartis,” a lesson quite at variance with the meaning of the Resurrection that the audience has just seen in representation.
Play 38, THE RESURRECTION: 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).
1 PILATUS. Reg: entered by LH.
52 Reg: line omitted by Scribe B, inserted at right by LH.
68 At left in Reg, by LH: Hic deficit.
93 tremeled, and also manne. Compare Towneley: tremlyd as a man.
147 menne. Compare Towneley: dyscyplys.
158 to. So LTS, RB, after Towneley; Reg omits.
163 Reg adds, interlined in LH after knightis: Lorde.
175 I MILES. Added by LH in Reg.
186, s.d. Tunc Jhesu resurgente. Reg: stage direction by Scribe B, in red, and, at right, JC’s addition Tunc angelus cantat Resurgens.
188 werke. Compare Towneley: warlde.
198 hym on. This edition; Reg, LTS: on hym on; RB: on hym.
217 II MARIA. So LTS, RB; Reg: I Maria; compare Towneley: Maria Jacobi.
245 his. So LTS, RB; Reg: his his.
254 Reg: at left, by LH: Et hic deficit (deleted).
257 will. Reg: partially obscured by ink blot.
259 lende. So RB; Reg: layne; so too LTS who, however, notes lende must have been intended (p. 410n).
268 Man most of myght. This line, inserted by LTS from Towneley, replaces JC’s addition in Reg: A weryd wight. Regarded as extra-metrical by RB.
281 Compare Towneley: my gylt he was fortayn.
306 I MILES. So RB, after Towneley; Reg, LTS: III Miles.
326 Compare Towneley: thousand.
346 I MILES. By LH in Reg.
383 I MILES. By LH in Reg.
397 PILATUS. Canceled but marked stet in Reg by LH.
432 CAIPHAS. Added and ruled off in Reg by JC.
Play 38, THE RESURRECTION: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 York Memorandum Book B/Y, p. 254.
Footnote 2 See YA, pp. 91–95.
Footnote 3 Rastall, Minstrels Playing, p. 35; Sheingorn, Easter Sepulchre in England, p. 365; and see the discussion by King, York Mystery Cycle, pp. 158–61.
Footnote 4 Northern Passion, 1:249.
Footnote 5 See RB, p. 453.
(see note); (t-note)
Go To Play 39, The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalen