Back to top

Play 44, The Death of Mary


1 And they shall sing an antiphon, for example, “Hail, queen of heaven”


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 Drapers’ Death of Mary appears to be the same play for which a character list was provided in Ordo paginarum, except that it has two devils instead of the one noted at the end of the pageant in the manuscript. The inclusion of a devil should be no mystery (see the rubric following line 194), since Mary begs that at death she should not see such a creature (lines 133–34). Jesus refuses, though he tells her that she will be safe and not to worry. Iconographic evidence for ordinary deathbed scenes will show the soul being threatened by one or more devils and, when merited, rescued by an angel, the latter understood to be one’s guardian angel, illustrated in woodcuts in early English books on the art of dying.1 Because of its Roman Catholic content, the play, along with the other dramas on the life of the Virgin Mary that followed, was suppressed in the period of Protestant ascendancy under Edward VI but apparently returned under Queen Mary, only to be laid aside once more when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne. The story, popularized by such sources as the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine2 but ultimately derived from the apocryphal Transitus Beatae Mariae that narrated the concluding time in the life of Mary, is illustrated in a series in painted glass of c. 1350 in the choir of York Minster; one panel shows Gabriel with the palm “oute of paradise” (line 15) coming to her, and another illustrates her death with the apostles in her presence.3 The York Minster glass confirms a direct comparison with the Annunciation, with the Virgin reading from a prayer book when the angel arrives on the scene, and this seems to be the setting imagined by the playwright at the beginning of this pageant as well. Eight-line stanzas, marked by alliteration, are the norm, but this is not always adhered to.4

1–8 The announcement to Mary of her coming death, just as Gabriel in the Annunciation had addressed the very youthful Virgin with “Hayle Marie, full of grace and blysse” to tell her that she will conceive (Play 12, lines 158–61). Gabriel will specifically call her attention to the Annunciation, when he brought the “boodworde of [Jesus’] bering,” in lines 22–24. Mary is sometimes said to have been sixty years of age at her death, but the Golden Legend suggests that she was seventy-two.

30–31 Thyne appostelis to have in this place. Her request to her Son, Jesus, to have the apostles at her side at her death will be granted, as Gabriel immediately announces to her (lines 33–36). As soon as Gabriel withdraws (following line 39), the disciples start appearing, beginning with John, the one with a special relationship with Mary. The Ordo paginarum notes the presence of eight apostles, representing the eleven of the traditional account, Thomas, in far away India, being missing.

45 Within thre daies, iwis, / I schall be beldid in blisse. As Gabriel has told her (lines 7– 8), she will live only for three days, which are condensed into the 194 lines of the play.

65–66 a clowde now full clere / Umbelappid me. In the Golden Legend, it is John who was taken up into a “shining cloud . . . and whisked . . . to Mary’s door,” and elsewhere this source explains that a great clap of thunder is heard with the disciples coming “down like a rain shower before the door of the Virgin’s house” (2:78 and 90). All the disciples are amazed at the miraculous way in which they have been transported to Mary’s bedside.

94 caste some watir uppon me. Embedded stage direction, as is also the case when the second handmaid announces that Mary is dying “in oure hende” (line 99) — i.e., as they are holding her she is slipping into a coma. There is similarly an embedded stage direction in Mary’s sharp reproaches to the women for weeping (lines 103–04).

103 thus wynly. The MED suggests possible error for “wanliche.”

129–31 Jesus must now appear above and be seen by the audience, though he does not speak until line 151. To him Mary prays especially for those among her people who are devoted to her, and who will amend their ways. The idea of Mary as the protector and intercessor for those who extend devotion to her was a central tenet of late medieval traditional religion. Note the prayer to her of the two converted Jews (lines 119–26).

134 The fende thou latte me noght see. The Golden Legend places this request by the Virgin earlier, before her Son Jesus’ Crucifixion (Jacobus de Voragine, 2:89). As noted above, the appearance of a greedy devil in deathbed scenes was conventional, but here she begs her Son that this will not occur at her death. Her request will be denied; the devil’s “figoure full foule” will be present to frighten her but will not harm her (lines 154–55).

137–42 Men that are stedde stiffely in stormes or in see. Mary prays then for sailors, indeed for all those who venerate her and call on her in their need. For comment on the veneration of the Virgin, see, for example, Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, pp. 256–65.

143–50 Also, my bliste barne . . . bringe. Finally, Mary prays to her Son for all who call upon her name, those in trouble and in danger of being shamed, and women “in thare childing,” a time of particular dread in the fifteenth century since so many women did in fact die in childbirth.

153 Thyne asking all haly here heete I nowe thee. Jesus is not able to resist whatever his mother requests, other than in the matter of erasing the fiend from the scene at her ending.

156 Myne aungelis schall than be aboute thee. The Ordo paginarum specified only two angels in this pageant, but four are required by the text to sing the final antiphon.

171–74 Mi sely saule I thee sende . . . into thyne hande. The Golden Legend reports in one place that “Mary’s soul went forth from her body and flew to the arms of her Son” (Jacobus de Voragine, 2:80). The soul was conventionally visualized as a small doll-like figure emerging from the mouth of the dying person at his or her last breath; this could be represented in the pageant by a puppet, taken up into heaven to be received by Jesus.

194 s.d. Ave regina celorum. Marian antiphon. A convenient modern edition, though not derived from York service books, is available in the Liber usualis, pp. 274–75. Rastall suggests a more elaborate polyphonic setting here since four angel singers are involved (Heaven Singing, p. 330; “Heaven: The Musical Repertory,” pp. 172–73). Dutka translates: “Hail Queen of heaven, hail Lady of angels, hail holy root from whom a light for the world has risen. Hail glorious one, beautiful above all. Farewell, great in comeliness; and always [prevail upon] Christ for us” (Music, p. 114).


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 Hayle. In Reg, large capital H sketched in.

8 lente. So LTS, RB; Reg: lentthe (or lent thee).

12 kyng. So LTS, RB; Reg: leyng.

27 Following line is missing in Reg.

43 hente. So RB; Reg, LTS: hete.

66 Umbelappid. So LTS, RB; Reg: Unbelappid.

82 hir. So LTS, RB; Reg: high.

90 felawschip. So LTS, RB; Reg: felawschp.
atte. Overwritten in Reg.

100 Following line is missing in Reg.

104 for. So LTS, RB; Reg: fo.

114 daye. Corrected (from ?deye) in Reg.

122 beseke. So RB; LTS: be-seke; Reg: besoke.

128 thy. So RB; Reg, LTS: my.

166 Line misplaced in Reg (after line 163).

191 Line misplaced in Reg (after line 186).

194 sing. So LTS, RB; Reg: see.

194, s.d. Cum uno diabolo. At right, in red, by Scribe B in Reg.
Et cantant antiphona. scilicet. Reg: stage direction, in red, by Scribe B.


Footnote 1 See, e.g., Spinrad, Summons of Death, pp. 27–35.

Footnote 2 Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:77–80.

Footnote 3 See YA, p. 103.

Footnote 4 The classic study of the plays dramatizing the conclusion of Mary’s life is Mill, “York Plays of the Dying, Assumption, and Coronation.”

The Draperes







































GABRIEL   Hayle, myghtfull Marie, Godis modir so mylde,
Hayle be thou, roote of all reste, hayle be thou ryall.
Hayle floure and frewte noght fadid nor filyd,
Haile, salve to all synnefull; nowe saie thee I schall,
Thy Sone to thiselve me has sente
His sande, and sothly he saies,
No lenger than ther thre dayes
Here lefte thee this liffe that is lente.

And therfore he biddis thee loke that thou blithe be,
For to that bigly blisse that berde will thee bring
There to sitte with hymselve, all solas to see,
And to be crowned for his quene and he hymselve kyng
In mirthe that evere schall be newe.
He sendis to thee worthely, iwis,
This palme oute of paradise
In tokenyng that it schall be trewe.

MARIA   I thanke my Sone semely of all his sandis sere;
Unto hym lastandly be ay lovyng
That me thus worthely wolde menske on this manere
And to his bigly blisse my bones for to bringe.
But, gode ser, nevenes me thi name?

GABRIELL   Gabriell, that baynly ganne bringe
The boodworde of his bering,
Forsothe, Lady, I ame the same.

MARIA   Nowe, Gabriell, that sothly is fro my Sone sent,
I thanke thee ther tythyngis thou tellis me untill,
And loved be that Lorde of the lane that has me lente,
. . .
And dere Sone, I beseke thee,
Grete God, thou graunte me thi grace,
Thyne appostelis to have in this place
That thei at my bering may be.

GABRIELL   Nowe, foode faireste of face, most faithfull and fre,
Thyne askyng thi Sone has graunte of his grace,
And saies all same in sight ye schall see
All his appostelis appere in this place
To wirke all thi will at thi wending.
And sone schall thi peynes be paste
And thou to be in liffe that schall laste
Evermore withouten any ending.

JOHANNES   Marie, my modir, that mylde is and meke
And cheffe chosen for chaste, nowe telle me, what chere?

MARIA   John, sone, I saie thee forsothe I am seke;
My swete Sone sonde I hente, right nowe it was here
And douteles he saies I schall dye.
Within thre daies, iwis,
I schall be beldid in blisse
And come to his awne company.

JOHANNES   A, with thi leve, Lady, thou nevene it me noght,
Ne telle me no tydingis to twynne us in two,
For be thou, blissid birde, unto bere broght
Evermore whils I wonne in this worlde will me be full woo;
Therfore lete it stynte, and be still.

MARIA   Nay John, sone, myselve nowe I see.
Atte Goddis will moste it nedis be;
Therfore be it wroght at his will.

JOHANNES   A, worthy, when thou art wente will me be full woo,
But God giffe the appostelis wiste of thi wending.

MARIA   Yis John, sone, for certayne schall it be so.
All schall thei hardely be here at myne ending.
The sonde of my Sone saide me thus,
That sone schall my penaunce be paste
And I to be in liffe that evere schall laste,
Than baynly to belde in that blisse.

PETRUS   O God, omnipotent, the giffer of all grace,
Benedicite Dominus, a clowde now full clere
Umbelappid me in Jude prechand as I was,
And I have mekill mervayle how that I come here.

JACOBUS   A, sesse, of this assemelyng can I noght saie
Howe and in what wise that we are here mette,
Owthir myrthe or of mornyng mene wele it maye
For sodenly in sight here sone was I sette.

ANDREAS   A, bredir, be my wetand and iwisse so wer we
In diverse landes lely I wotte we were lente,
And how we are semelid thus can I noght see
But as God of his sande has us same sente.

JOHANNES   A, felawes, late be youre fare,
For as God will it moste nedis be,
That pereles is of posté,
His myght is to do mekill mare.

For Marie, that worthy, schall wende now, I wene,
Unto that bigly blisse that high barne baynly us boght
That we in hir sight all same myght be sene
Or sche dissever us froo, hir Sone sche besoght.
And thus has he wroght atte hir will
Whanne sche shal be broght on a bere
That we may be neghand hir nere
This tyme for to tente hir untill.

MARIA   Jesu, my darlyng that ding is and dere,
I thanke thee my dere Sone of thi grete grace
That I all this faire felawschip atte hande nowe has here,
That thei me some comforte may kythe in this case.
This sikenes it sittis me full sare;
My maidens, take kepe nowe on me
And caste some watir uppon me.
I faynte, so febill I fare.

I ANCILLA   Allas, for my Lady that lemed so light
That evere I leved in this lede thus longe for to lende,
That I on this semely schulde se such a sight.

II ANCILLA   Allas, helpe, sche dyes in oure hende.
A, Marie, of me have thou mynde
. . .
Some comforte us two for to kythe,
Thou knowes we are comen of thi kynde.

MARIA   What ayles yow women for wo thus wynly to wepe?
Yhe do me dere with youre dynne, for me muste nedis dye.
Yhe schulde, whenne ye saw me so slippe and slepe,
Have lefte all youre late and lette me lye.
John, cosyne, garre thame stynte and be still.

JOHANNES   A, Marie, that mylde is of mode,
When thi Sone was raised on a rode,
To tente thee he toke me thee till,

And therfore at thi bidding full bayne will I be.
Iff ther be oght, modir, that I amende may,
I pray thee, myldest of mode, meve thee to me,
And I schall, dereworthi dame, do it ilke a daye.

MARIA   A, John, sone, that this peyne were overe paste.
With goode harte ye alle that are here
Praies for me faithfully in feere,
For I mon wende fro you as faste.

I JUDEUS   A, foode fairest of face, moste faithfull to fynde,
Thou mayden and modir that mylde is and meke,
As thou arte curtaise and comen of oure kynde
All oure synnes for to sesse thi Sone thou beseke
With mercy to mende us of mys.

II JUDEUS   Sen thou, Lady, come of oure kynne,
Thou helpe us nowe, thou veray virginne,
That we may be broght unto blisse.

MARIA   Jesu, my Sone, for my sake beseke I thee this,
As thou arte gracious and grete God, thou graunte me thy grace.
Thei that is comen of my kynde and amende will there mys,
Nowe specially thou thame spede and spare thame a space,
And be ther belde, if thi willis be;
And dere Sone, whane I schall dye,
I pray thee than, for thi mercy,
The fende thou latte me noght see.

And also, my blissid barne, if thi will be,
I sadly beseke thee, my Sone, for my sake,
Men that are stedde stiffely in stormes or in see
And are in will wittirly my worschippe to awake
And thanne nevenes my name in that nede,
Thou late thame not perissh nor spille;
Of this bone, my Sone, at thi will,
Thou graunte me specially to spede.

Also, my bliste barne, thou graunte me my bone,
All that are in newe or in nede and nevenes me be name,
I praie thee, Sone, for my sake, thou socoure thame sone,
In alle ther schoures that are scharpe thou shelde thame fro schame.
And women also in thare childing,
Nowe speciall thou thame spede,
And if so be thei die in that drede,
To thi blisse thane baynly thou thame bringe.

JESUS   Marie, my modir, thurgh thee myght nowe of me
For to make thee in mynde with mirthe to be mending,
Thyne asking all haly here heete I nowe thee.
But modir, the fende muste be nedis at thyne endyng
In figoure full foule for to fere thee;
Myne aungelis schall than be aboute thee.
And therfore, dere dame, thou thar noght doute thee,
For douteles thi dede schall noght dere thee.

And therfore, my modir, come myldely to me,
For aftir the Sonne my sande will I sende,
And to sitte with myselfe all solas to se
In aylastand liffe in likyng to lende.
In this blisse schall be thi bilding,
Of mirth schall thou nevere have missing
But evermore abide in my blissing.
All this schall thou have at thi welding.

MARIA   I thanke thee, my swete Sone, for certis I am seke.
I may noght now meve me, for mercie almoste
To thee, Sone myne that made me, thi maiden so meke,
Here thurgh thi grace, God Sone, I giffe thee my goste.
Mi sely saule I thee sende
To hevene that is highest on heghte;
To thee, Sone myne, that moste is of myght,
Ressayve it here into thyne hande.

JESUS   Myne aungellis lovely of late, lighter than the levene,
Into the erthe wightly I will that ye wende
And bringe me my modir to the highest of hevene
With mirthe and with melody hir mode for to mende,
For here schall hir blisse never be blynnande.
Mi modir schall myldely be me
Sitte nexte the high Trinité
And nevere in two to be twynnand.

I ANGELUS   Lorde, atte thi bidding full bayne will I be,
That floure that nevere was fadid full fayne will we fette.

II ANGELUS   And atte thi will, gode Lorde, wirke will we
With solace on ilke side that semely umsitte.

III ANGELUS   Latte us fonde to hir faste hir fors to deffende,
That birde for to bringe unto this blis bright.
Body and sawle we schall hir assende
To regne in this regally be regentte full right.

IV ANGELUS   To blisse that birde for to bringe,
Nowe Gabriell, late us wightly be wendand;
This maiden mirthe to be mendand
A semely song latte us sing.

   Cum uno diabolo.

   Et cantant antiphona, scilicet, Ave regina celorum.1
(see note); (t-note)
flower; fruit; defiled

messenger; truthfully

life; given; (t-note)

great; Lord


sign; true

many messages
everlastingly; praising
say to me

message; bearing

gift; given; (t-note)

[line missing, see textual note]

(see note)
burial (funeral)

[For] your asking; has granted

passing away

chief; chastity

message; received; (t-note)
without doubt
(see note)

Lady; bier




willingly; dwell

Praise God; (see note)
Encircled; Judea preaching; (t-note)

cease; assembling

Either joy; mourning

so far as I know

message; together


peerless; power
much more

person; willingly us purchased
together; seen; (t-note)
Ere; separate herself

coming near her


sickness; sore

(see note)

shone; brightly
lived; place (land)
beautiful one


[line missing, see textual note]


excessively; (see note)
harm; crying; (t-note)
(i.e., go to sleep)
your fuss
make; to stop



excellent; this same day; (t-note)

passed over (concluded)

Pray; all together
must go

cease; beseech; (t-note)
sin (error)

people; (see note)
their defender

fiend; (see note)

steadfast; sea; (see note)
willing wisely
call on
allow them; perish

(see note)
trouble; call on me by

troubles; shield
their childbirth


wholly; promise; (see note)

form; frighten
(see note)
worry yourself
death; harm


everlasting; bliss to dwell

wielding (control); (t-note)

move (speak)

through; spirit
simple; (see note)


aspect; brighter; lightning

meekly by


flower; gladly; bring

of that lovely one be seated around

go; strength

reign; dominion

Lady; (t-note)
let; going
joy; mending
let; (t-note)

With one devil; (t-note)

(see note)

Go To Play 44a, The Funeral of the Virgin (Fergus)