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Play 42, The Ascension


1 Then the angel sings “I ascend to my Father”


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.

In addition to Mary and Jesus, only four apostles — John, Peter, Andrew, and James — have speaking roles in the Tailors’ pageant, but the Ordo paginarum indicates an early fifteenth-century cast of John the Evangelist and eleven apostles. Six angels were included — a plausible number, even if only two had speaking roles, since having four of them operate the cloud machine might have made good sense and yet have been quite consistent with traditional iconography. Jesus’ ascension would have been one of the high points of the drama, and was accompanied by music, noted by John Clerke as Ascendo ad patrem meum, replacing the clearly erroneous stage direction calling for Gloria in excelsys deo, which was canceled, presumably by Clerke, in the manuscript. We might imagine the cloud machine to have some affinity with the mechanism still used in the Assumption performed on August 14–15 each year at Elche in Spain,1 but it must have been more modest since it would have required technology that was manageable on a pageant wagon. The Virgin Mary also has a central role. It is usual for her to appear in the most prominent location in the grouping of apostles. The pageant is written in octaves.

1–24 The apostles remain very perplexed about Jesus’ resurrection, especially since he comes and goes mysteriously. Mary then reminds Peter (lines 25–32) about his doubts immediately following the Crucifixion, though now he should have “knowyng clere.” But she too would like to achieve greater understanding.

33–80 Almyghty God . . . schall ay. Jesus’ long prayer to his Father. He has died for humankind, and now will be reunited with the Father since he has accomplished what he was sent to earth to do.

81ff. Jesus will turn to the apostles to explain their predicament and to stress the urgency of maintaining their faith since thus the human body, subject to decay and dissolution, can transcend physicality. To do otherwise is to retain the bondage of the soul to the evil one, the devil of hell, who will supervise the “endles peyne” (line 120) to which the damned will be subjected. Finally, Jesus will return to judge those who will receive salvation and those who do not at Doomsday. The direct connection between the tree of the Garden of Eden and the cross will have been noted (lines 114–16). The speech, in which Jesus also reminds the disciples of their difficulties and martyrdoms to come, affirms the great strength that they will receive to do their work, whether it be exorcizing demons, healing the sick, speaking in tongues, handling serpents, or drinking “venym wik, withouten wene” (line 143).

93–98 but sithen I have / Ben walkand fourty daies aboute. King notes that the source of Jesus’ argument here is a sermon by Gregory the Great which was read on Ascension Day (York Mystery Cycle, p. 165, citing York Breviary, 1:478). As seen in the two previous pageants, Jesus has appeared with the disciples and shared food with them in order to demonstrate the physicality of the Resurrection.

105–06 Howe man by cours of kynde schall ryse / Allthogh he be roten. Affirming the resurrection of the physical body at the Last Day.

175–76 The Fadir blissing moste myghty / Giffe I you all that leffe here. The Stanzaic Life says that Jesus “blesset hom all whit mild steven, / and befor hom alle tho / Stegh uppe into the blisse of heven” (p. 294).

176 s.d. Ascendo ad patrem meum. An antiphon for Ascension Day; see York Breviary, 1:480. Dutka translates: “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. Alleluia” (Music, p. 113). Rastall also cites a short responsory on this text and references modern editions of the chants in the Liber usualis and other sources (Minstrels Playing, p. 37).

179–80 My Sone thus to be ravisshed right / In a clowde wendande uppe fro me. Tradition says that Jesus rose triumphantly. Iconographic evidence suggests that he probably stepped into the cloud and, with the bottom of his robe and bare feet visible, was raised up, disappearing entirely into the cloud. The Stanzaic Life explains that Jesus’ footprint remained on the “hard marbul stone” on which he was standing at the Ascension (p. 294), and this may indicate that in the play he was positioned higher than the apostles before his ascent so that his figure would stand out for the audience. While images such as a wooden roof boss (now replaced by a replica) in the nave of York Minster show the imprint of Jesus’ feet after he is lifted up (J. Browne, History of the Metropolitan Church, pl. CXVI), this sort of detail would not have been practical in a pageant wagon production.

218 What wondir ye to hevene lokand? The angel’s question embeds a stage direction. The apostles are all to look upward at the disappearing Jesus, as in illustrations in the visual arts such as the lost glass in the Bedern Chapel that was described by Torre, who also noted the Virgin “with hands conjoined on her breast” (O’Connor, “Bedern Stained Glass,” pp. 564 and 566).

221–32 Right so agayne come doune schall he . . . encresand ay. Jesus will return “with woundes bledand” to judge humankind, the first angel informs them. The choice for humans will ultimately be binary, to heaven or hell. This, as the second angel says, the apostles are to preach to the world.

233–52 The speeches of James, Andrew, and Peter focus mainly on the Jews’ malice and envy; they are described as false and “full of prompe and pride” so as to be impervious to Jesus’ teachings even though they should be stirred to “aske mercy.” This is typical of late medieval stereotyping of Jews as blind and headstrong at a time when their law was allegedly superseded by the new law of Jesus.


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).

Supplementary ascription to Potters (canceled); indecipherable text under erasure at left.

7–8 And lele. Reg: deleted at end of line 7, added to beginning of next line by LH.

14 yit any. So RB; Reg, LTS: it anly.

29 Some. So RB; Reg, LTS: Come.
schulde come is. So RB; Reg: schulde is.

92 clowte. So RB; Reg, LTS: lowte.

107 same. So LTS, RB; Reg: sane.

115 One. This edition, for roman numeral I in Reg; RB: Ane.

129 wendand. So RB; Reg, LTS: weldand.

133 He schall. Deletion in Reg is reinstated by LH; at left, in LH: I am (deleted).

176, s.d. Tunc cantat angelus. Stage direction in right margin, in LH; Reg: gloria in excelsys deo deleted, and JC thereafter entered Ascendo ad patrem meum.

212 on. So LTS, RB; Reg: no.

261 to fordo. So RB; Reg, LTS: for to do.

263–64 Lineation follows LTS.


Footnote 1 Massip, “Cloud”; C. Davidson, Technology, Guilds, 91–100.

The Tailoures
























































PETRUS   O mightfull God, how standis it nowe,
In worlde thus will was I nevere are;
Butte he apperes, bot I ne wote howe,
He fro us twynnes whanne he will fare.
And yitt may falle that for oure prowe
And alle his wirkyng lesse and mare.
A, kyng of comforte, gudde arte thou,
And lele and likand is thy lare.

JOHANNES   The missing of my maistir trewe
That lenghis not with us lastandly,
Makis me to morne ilke a day newe
For tharnyng of his company.
His peere of gudnes nevere I knewe,
Of myght ne wisdome yit any.

PETRUS   That we hym tharne sore may us rewe,
For he luffed us full faithfully.

Bot yitt in all my mysselykyng,
A worde that Christe saide comfortis me;
Oure hevynes and oure mournyng
He saide to joie turned schuld be.
That joie he saide in his hetyng,
To reve us none schulde have no posté,
Wherfore aboven all othir thyng
That joie me longis to knowe and see.

MARIA   Thou, Petir, whanne my Sone was slayne
And laide in grave, ye wer in were
Whedir he schulde rise, almoste ilkane,
But nowe ye wotte thurgh knowyng clere.
Some that he saide schulde come is gane
And some to come, but ilkane sere,
Whedir it be to come or none,
Us awe to knowe it all in fere.

JESUS   Almyghty God, my Fadir free,
In erthe thi bidding have I done
And clarified the name of thee,
To thyselffe clarifie the Sone.
Als thou haste geven me pleyne posté
Of ilke a flesh, graunte me my bone
That thou me gaffe myght lyffand be
In endles liffe and with thee wonne.

That liffe is this that hath none ende,
To knawe thee, Fadir, moste of myght,
And me thy Sone, whame thou gon sende
To dye for man withouten plight;
Mankynde was thyne whome thou bekende
And toke me to thi yemyng right.
I died for man, mannes misse to mende,
And unto spitous dede was dight.

Thy wille unto them taughte have I
That wolde unto my lare enclyne;
Mi lare have they tane buxsomly,
Schall none of them ther travaile tyne.
Thou gaffe them me but noght forthy,
Yitt are they thyne als wele as myne;
Fleme them not fro oure companye
Sen thyne are myne and myne er thyne.

Sen they are oures, if thame nede ought
Thou helpe them, if it be thy will,
And als thou wate that I thame boght,
For faute of helpe latte them not spill.
Fro the worlde to take them pray I noght,
But that thou kepe thame ay fro ill,
All thois also that settis thare thoght
In erthe my techyng to fulfill.

Mi thythandis tane has my menghe
To teche the pepull wher they fare.
In erthe schall thei leve aftir me
And suffir sorowes sadde and sare.
Dispised and hatted schall thei be
Als I have bene, with lesse and mare,
And suffered dede in sere degré,
For sothfastnesse schall none them spare.

Thou halowe thame, Fadir, forthy,
In sothfastnes so that thei may
Be ane as we ar, thowe and I,
In will and werke, both nyght and day,
And knawe that I am verilye
Both sothfastnes and liffe alway.
Be the whilke ilke man that is willy
May wynne the liffe that laste schall ay.

Bot ye, my postelis all bedene,
That lange has wente abowte with me,
In grete wanne trowyng have ye bene
And wondir harde of hartis ar ye.
Worthy to be reproved, I wene,
Ar ye forsothe, and ye will see
In als mekill als ye have sene
My wirkyng proved and my posté.

Whan I was dede and laide in grave,
Of myne upryse ye were in doute,
And some for myne uprysing strave
When I was laide als undir clowte
So depe in erthe, but sithen I have
Ben walkand fourty daies aboute,
Eten with you, youre trouthe to save,
Comand emange you inne and oute.

And therfore beis no more in were
Of myne upperysing, day nor nyght;
Youre misbeleve leves ilkone seere,
For witte ye wele, als man of myght
Over whome no dede may have poure,
I schall be endles liffe and right.
But for to schewe you figure clere,
Schewe I me thusgatis to youre sight,

Howe man by cours of kynde schall ryse
Allthough he be roten ontill noght;
Oute of his grave in this same wise
At the daye of dome schall he be broght
Wher I schall sitte as trewe justise
And deme man aftir he has wroght:
The wikkid to wende with ther enmyse,
The gode to blisse thei schall be broght.

Anodir skill forsoth is this:
In a tre man was traied thurgh trayne,
One man, forthy, to mende that misse
On a tree boght mankynde agayne.
In confusioune of hym and his
That falsely to forge that frawde was fayne
Mankynde to bringe agayne to blisse,
His foo the fende till endles peyne.

The thirde skille is, trewly to tell,
Right als I wende als wele will seme,
So schall I come in flessh and fell
Atte the day of dome whan I schall deme
The goode in endles blisse to dwell,
Mi fomen fro me for to fleme
Withouten ende in woo to well.
Ilke levand man here to take yeme.

But intill all the worlde wendand
The gospell trewly preche schall ye
Tille ilke a creatoure liffand.
Who trowes, if that he baptised be,
He schall, als yhe schall undirstande,
Be saved and of all thraldome free;
Who trowis it not, as mistrowand,
For faute of trouthe dampned is he.

But all ther tokenyngis bedene
Schall folowe tham that trowis it right,
In my name devellis crewell and kene
Schall thei oute caste of ilka wight,
With newe tongis speke, serpentes unclene
Fordo, and if thei day or nyght
Drinke venym wik, withouten wene,
To noye thame schall it have no myght.

On seke folke schall thei handes lay
And wele schall thei have sone at welde;
This poure schall thei have alway,
My menghe, bothe in towne and felde.
And witte ye wele, so schall thei
That wirkis my wille in youthe or elde,
A place for thame I schall purveye
In blisse with me ay in to belde.

Nowe is my jornay brought till ende,
Mi tyme that me to lang was lende.
To my Fadir nowe uppe I wende,
And youre Fadir that me doune sente:
Mi God, youre God, and ilk mannes frende
That till his techyng will consente
Till synneres that no synne thame schende,
That mys amendis and will repente.

But for I speke thes wordis nowe
To you, youre hartis hase hevynes,
Fullfillid all be it for youre prowe
That I hense wende, als nedful is.
And butte I wende, comes noght to yowe
The comforteoure of comforteles.
And if I wende, ye schall fynde howe
I schall hym sende, of my goodnesse.

Mi Fadirs will fullfillid have I;
Therfore fareswele, ilkone seere.
I goo make youe a stede redye
Endles to wonne with me in feere.
Sende doune a clowde, Fadir, forthy
I come to thee, my Fadir deere.
The Fadir blissing moste myghty
Giffe I you all that leffe here.

   Tunc cantat angelus Ascendo ad patrem meum.1

MARIA   A, myghtfull God, ay moste of myght,
A selcouth sight is this to see,
My Sone thus to be ravisshed right
In a clowde wendande uppe fro me.
Bothe is my herte hevy and light,
Hevy for swilke twynnyng schulde be
And light for he haldis that he hight
And thus uppe wendis in grette posté.

His hetyngis haldis he all bedene
That comfortis me in all my care,
But unto whome schall I me mene?
Thus will in worlde was I nevere
To dwelle amonge thes Jewes kene,
Me to dispise will thei not spare.

JOHANNES   All be he noght in presens seene,
Yitt is he salve of ilka sare;

But, lady, sen that he betoke
Me for to serve you as youre sonne,
You nedis nothyng, lady, but loke
What thyng in erthe ye will have done.
I ware to blame if I forsoke
To wirke youre wille, midday or none,
Or any tyme yitt of the woke.

MARIA   I thanke thee, John, with wordis fune;

Mi modirhed, John, schall thou have,
And for my sone I wolle thee take.

JOHANNES   That grace, dere lady, wolde I crave.

MARIA   Mi Sone sawes will I nevere forsake.
Itt were not semand that we strave
Ne contraried noght that he spake.
But John, tille I be broght in grave,
Schall thou never see my sorowe slake.

JACOBUS   Owre worthy Lorde, sen he is wente
For us, lady, als is his will,
We thanke hym that us thee hath lente
With us on lyve to lenge her stille.
I saie for me with full concente,
Thi likyng all will I fulfille.

ANDREAS   So wille we all with grete talent,
Forthy, lady, giffe thee noght ill.

I ANGELUS   Ye men of the lande of Galilé,
What wondir ye to hevene lokand?
This Jesus whome ye fro youe see
Uppetane, ye schall wele undirstande,
Right so agayne come doune schall he
When he so comes with woundes bledand,
Who wele has wrought full gladde may be,
Who ill has leved full sore dredand.

II ANGELUS   Ye that has bene his servauntis trewe
And with hym lengand, nyght and day,
Slike wirkyng als ye with hym knew,
Loke that ye preche it fourthe alway.
Youre mede in hevene beis ilke day newe,
And all that servis hym wele to paye;
Who trowes you noght, it schall thame rewe,
Thei mon have peyne encresand ay.

JACOBUS   Loved be thou, Lorde, ay, moste of myght
That thus, in all oure grete disease,
Us comfortist with thyne aungellis bright.
Nowe aught ther Jewes thare malise meese
That sawe thameselve this wondir sight
Thus nere thame wroght undir ther nose.
And we have mater day and nyght,
Oure God more for to preyse and plese.

ANDREAS   Nowe may ther Jewes be all confused
If thai onthinke thame inwardly
Howe falsely thei have hym accused
And sakles schente thurgh ther envy.
Ther falsed, that thei long have used,
Nowe is it proved here opynly.
And they were of this mater mused,
Itt schulde thame stirre to aske mercy.

PETRUS   That wille thei noght, Andrewe, late be,
For thei are full of pompe and pride.
Itt may noght availe to thee ne me,
Ne none of us with thame to chide.
Prophite to dwelle can I none see,
Forthy late us no lenger bide
But wende we unto seere contré
To preche thurgh all this worlde so wide.

JOHANNES   That is oure charge, for that is beste
That we lenge nowe no lenger here,
For here gete we no place of reste
To lenge so nere the Jewes poure.
Us to fordo thei will thame caste,
Forthy come forthe, my lady dere,
And wende us hense, I am full preste
With you to wende with full goode chere.

Mi triste is nowe ever ilk a dele
In yowe to wirke aftir youre counsaill.

JACOBUS   Mi lady dere, that schall ye fele
In oght that evere us may availe;
Oure comforte, youre care to kele
Whill we may leve we schall not faile.

MARIA   Mi brethir dere, I traste itt wele,
Mi Sone schall quyte you youre travaile.

PETRUS   To Jerusalem go we agayne
And loke what fayre so aftir fall;
Oure Lorde and maistir moste of mayne,
He wisse youe and be with youe all.
(see note)
perplexed; before
know not
separates when; go
working (efforts)
good; (t-note)
true; felicitous; lore (teaching)

remains; always
mourn; every; anew
equal; goodness

lose; be sorry


deprive; power

I long

each one

Some [things]; would happen have happened; (t-note)
each one separately

ought; all together

(see note)


gave; living
to live

whom; did

called (summoned)

spiteful death; put

law incline
taken obediently
gave; [to] me

Since; are yours


know; purchased
lack; bring to ruin

are firm in their

tidings received; company



death in many ways
loyalty to truth



truth; life eternal
(i.e., everlasting life)

apostles; forthwith; (see note)
for a long time
weakness in trusting
wondrous; hearts


ground; (t-note)
(see note)

Coming among


disbelief everyone abandons

death; power
eternal life; righteousness
[by] sign
in this manner

nature; (see note)
decayed to nothing
Last Judgment

judge; according to [what]

tree; betrayed; trick
lapse (sin); (t-note)


foe; fiend; pain

(i.e., bodily)

foemen (enemies); banish
living; heed

going; (t-note)
To every; living

signs altogether
expel each man

venom deadly
annoy them

health; in keeping


too long

To; overcomes


place ready

(see note)
Give; live

(see note); (t-note)

(see note)
ascending up from

such separation
holds [to] what; promised

promises; forthwith

address (speak)
confused; (before)

Even if he is
remedy; every affliction






Son’s words (sayings)
appropriate; argue


left behind
remain here; (t-note)


looking; (see note)

down; (see note)


reward; is
trusts; be sorry
increasing always

Praised; (see note)
discomfort (misery)

malice assuage


reflect on them

innocent killed


Profitable; dwell [among them]
let; longer abide
various countries

remain; longer
attempt; (t-note)

(i.e., in haste); (t-note)

trust; entirely



trust (believe)
requite; [for] your effort

events; befall (happen)


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