Play 39, The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalen
Play 39, THE APPEARANCE OF CHRIST TO MARY MAGDALEN: 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 Ordo paginarum indicates that in this play Mary Magdalen again appeared with her ointment or spice jar, as she had in the previous pageant, and confirms that its subject was her meeting with Jesus in the garden — the hortulanus scene. The play is a continuation of the Carpenters’ drama but also initiates the post-Resurrection appearances, however abbreviated in the York cycle. In depictions in the visual arts in the late Middle Ages, Jesus may appear in this scene with a spade in hand like a gardener, hence accounting for the Magdalen’s failure to recognize him. In other instances, such as the miniature in York Minster Library MS. XVI.K.6, fol. 91r, he is holding a cross staff, and his red wounds are very visible. The Magdalen typically has long blond hair. While it was presented by the Winedrawers in the fifteenth century, there is some confusion about the sponsorship of this pageant and the following Peregrinus in later years.1
1–27 The pageant begins with Magdalen’s long lament, despairing at having lost Jesus. In spite of the angel’s message to the holy women, she fears he cannot be found. Keeping in mind that, as noted above, the Magdalen is a composite figure in biblical interpretation of the time (see Malvern, Venus in Sackcloth, pp. 16–29), her role as a weeper seems to have been established in the scene at Simon’s house, where she wept for her own sins, but her weeping, both at the tomb and at her unexpected meeting with the resurrected Jesus, is reported in John 20:11–15. In lines 38–41ff. she asks if the gardener has borne Jesus away.
62–63 Marie, of mournyng amende thy moode / And beholde my woundes wyde. Jesus reveals himself to the Magdalen. The wounds are proof of his identity.
68–69 Trowe it wele, it turnes to goode / Whanne men in erthe ther flessh schall hyde. The evil deed is actually a good thing. Line 69 seems to be a reference to the Last Judgment, when those who have lived in pursuit of spiritual goals will be rewarded and the others will want to hide.
70–71 A, Rabony . . . this day. Magdalen recognizes Jesus. The iconography here is widespread, with the Magdalen dropping down on her knees and either folding her hands or, more commonly, reaching out with her hands toward Jesus, as in the Biblia Pauperum (p. 108).
72 touche me noght. See John 20:17: noli me tangere, in the Vulgate rendering. This is a curious episode, since later Jesus will confirm his identity to St. Thomas by having him place his hand in his side wound. Some believe that Jesus’ response to the Magdalen reflects Middle Eastern anti-feminism and an apparent prohibition against touch between the sexes. Love could not believe that there would have been no touching between two who loved each other so much; he even speculated that she would have kissed Jesus’ hands and feet before the end of this meeting (Mirror, p. 200).
81 Thi woundes thai are nowe wette. The freshness of Jesus’ wounds is frequently insisted upon, and is a sign of life since after the heart stops at death wounds do not actually bleed. See also lines 111–13, below, for the statement that Jesus’ wounds “hath made thi body wete.”
82–85 Negh me noght . . . I stigh noght yette. This explanation for repulsing the Magdalen’s touch has long puzzled scholars; see note to line 72, above.
94–109 Jesus speaks of his armor, symbolically referring to his effort as a lover-knight on the cross. The concept of the Christian warrior derives from St. Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 6:11 ff. to “put you on the armor of God,” with Jesus providing the example to be followed.
142 To Galilé schall thou wende. Jesus sends the Magdalen to report the news about her meeting with him, and insists (line 146) that she should give a complete account.
Play 39, THE APPEARANCE OF CHRIST TO MARY MAGDALEN: 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).
Craft attribution by JC: Sledmen; in another hand: Palmers. Also barely legible and canceled handwriting by JC that was noted by RB, indicating connection to the following Peregrinus play.
67 unride. So RB; Reg, LTS: unrude.
85 Reg: at left, by a LH: Hic deficit.
Play 39, THE APPEARANCE OF CHRIST TO MARY MAGDALEN: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 See RB, pp. 454–55, and Meredith, “John Clerke’s Hand,” pp. 260–61.
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