Play 41, Doubting Thomas
Play 41, DOUBTING THOMAS: 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 Scriveners’ pageant is unique in that it exists in two copies, one in the Register (the copy text for this edition) and the other, a guild copy, in the damaged Sykes Manuscript (ed. Cawley, “Sykes MS”). Problems with the Register copy are noted by Beadle,1 who also provides a full collation of the two manuscripts in the footnotes to his text of the play. The story of Thomas that is dramatized is closely related to the Emmaus play, and in the liturgical Peregrinus drama the section on his doubts was attached more or less as an epilogue to the main action. However, the biblical account in John 20:19–31 states that the appearance to Thomas took place one week later, and this reading was hence specified as the gospel for the first Sunday after Easter, known as Quasi modo Sunday (so known from the incipit of the Introit at Mass).2 The pageant begins with the revelation of Jesus to the disciples, who are in the midst of eating a meal, as reported in Mark 16:14, prior to the appearance to Thomas, at first as what appears to be an apparition that will be taken for a ghost. Jesus’ appearances and disappearances would have involved some clever effects, one would assume, since the Bible refers to his ability to enter rooms when “the doors were shut” (John 20:19). The play is written in six-line stanzas throughout.
5–12 The disciples’ fear of the Jews, here blamed for executing Jesus, is based on John 20:19.
29 Itt was vanyté in oure thought. At first the disciples tend to dismiss the apparition as the result of collective hallucination or overheated imagination, forming mental images without basis in sense perception. In spite of the miraculous radiance that accompanies Jesus, they remain skeptical until his third appearance in the pageant. The radiance about him, like his sudden appearances and disappearances, would necessarily have involved stage effects. Evidence from iconography suggests that Jesus would hold a vexillum as a sign that he is the risen Christ.
35 Itt is a sperite. James’ view is that Jesus is a spirit, or ghost, confirmed by John (line 37). Their fear at this point seems justified, since it was believed that a spirit or ghost could indeed be the devil in the guise of a known person. Jesus accuses them of being “madmen,” with thoughts distraught and at variance with reality (line 43).
50 Behalde and se myn handis and feete. These wounds, and the one at his heart, are offered as proof. All five wounds were primary objects of devotion; see Gray, “Five Wounds of Our Lord”; Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, pp. 243–56, figs. 98–99; and YA, pp. 77–78. Jesus will allow his wounds to be touched physically to prove that he is not a ghost.
63–66 Bringe nowe forthe unto me here / Some of youre mette . . . to ete. This is the second proof of his physical reality. The rapidity of James’ producing the honeycomb and roast fish indicates that these were on hand, probably on the table at which the disciples were eating.
75 ye schall wanhope forgete. They have been in despair, which is the “sickness unto death,” and now they must turn aside from it and revive their hope.
93–96 Whome that ye bynde bounden schall be . . . in hevene. The power of the keys, given to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19); the power to forgive sins or to withhold absolution (“whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven”). The clergy’s power (“posté”), derived from the apostles, to forgive sin is the underpinning of the doctrine of Penance.
97 Thomas comes into the acting area, mourning and in despair following the suffering and death of his Master. He approaches the other disciples at lines 125–26. He will dismiss their report of seeing Jesus as tricks “Of fooles unwise” (line 136) or thereafter as “some sperit” or ghost (line 149).
158–62 Till that I see his body bare . . . in his syde. See John 20:25. Touching the holy wounds was to be the ultimate proof that will cure his scepticism.
175 Beholde my woundis are bledand. Thomas will not only touch the wounds but will have direct contact with Jesus’ “blessid blode” (line 184), which was believed to have miraculous powers. Relics of his blood, as at Bruges, Westminster, or Hailes, were the objects of veneration and pilgrimage. Thomas calls it “blode of price” for its great value (line 182).
181 Mi Lorde, my God. Thomas’ speech translates the motto, taken from the Vulgate, on a window which shows the subject in the church of All Saints, North Street: Dominus meus et deus meus (John 20:28). Love says that Thomas “reverently” kneeled “don with bothe joy and drede” and “touchede hees wondes as he badde and seide, My Lorde and my God” (Mirror, p. 208).
193–98 My brethir . . . menghe. Jesus’ admonition to the disciples to go forth and preach to all countries concludes the pageant.
Play 41, DOUBTING THOMAS: 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).
For a complete collation with the Sykes MS, see RB.
1 to . . . wer. Compare Sykes: the . . . are.
5 ne. Compare Sykes: sens.
8 Compare Sykes: And wyth owr lyvys owr lath we lyff so long.
9 Compare Sykes: Sens that thes Jewys wroght this wrong.
25 oure. RB, after Sykes: owr; Reg, LTS: youre.
27–28 Lineation as in RB.
40 So it us. This edition, following Sykes: So yt us; LTS: Dois us; RB: So is us.
44 Reg has extraneous v to right of line.
46 may. So LTS, RB, following Sykes; Reg: nay.
56 Felys. So Sykes, RB; Reg, LTS: Folous.
66 ete. Reg: corrected (crudely overwritten) by LH.
71 here we thee. Compare Sykes: we wolde ye.
83 remenaunte sone. Compare Sykes: remland unto.
85 rayst. So Sykes, RB; Reg, LTS: dreste.
90 Releffe. So Reg, LTS; RB, following Sykes: Resave.
109 Wan was his . . . wonderus. So RB, following Sykes; LTS: Whan lo! as his wondis . . . wondis; Reg: Whan lo as wonderus . . . wondis.
110 skelpis. Compare Sykes: swapis.
121 So wofull wightis. So Sykes, RB; Reg, LTS: A blistfull sight.
133 JOHANNES. Added LTS, following Sykes.
135 a trayne. So Sykes, RB; Reg, LTS: attrayne.
167 no syne. So RB, following Sykes; Reg, LTS: sen ye.
to. So RB, following Sykes.
179 more mistrowand. So Reg, RB; LTS, following Sykes: more so mystrowand.
183 Line supplied by LTS from Sykes; Reg omits.
189 wight. Written over erasure in Reg.
190 thou. So Reg, LTS; RB, following Sykes: they.
Play 41, DOUBTING THOMAS: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 RB, p. 457.
Footnote 2 York Missal, 1:139.
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