Play 44, The Death of Mary
Play 44, THE DEATH OF MARY: FOOTNOTE
Play 44, THE DEATH OF MARY: 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 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).
Play 44, THE DEATH OF MARY: 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 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.
Play 44, THE DEATH OF MARY: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
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.”
Go To Play 44a, The Funeral of the Virgin (Fergus)