Play 45, The Assumption of the Virgin (Thomas Apostolus)
Play 45, THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN (THOMAS APOSTOLUS): FOOTNOTES
2 Rise up, my dearest one, my dove, tabernacle of glory, container of life, heavenly temple (see explanatory note)
3 Come forth Libanus [Lebanon], my spouse, come forth, thou shalt be crowned (see explanatory note)
4 Then don’t delay now my speaking for to prosper
5 Come, my chosen one, and I will place you on my throne / Because the king greatly desires your beauty (see explanatory note)
6 It will not work to question him; he will not be polite
7 Sirs, my message is intended to bring you some joy
Play 45, THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN (THOMAS APOSTOLUS): 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.
Prior to the Reformation, the Church in England celebrated the Assumption of the Virgin as a major feast on August 15. The Weavers’ pageant dramatizes the legend of the apostle Thomas, absent from her death and burial, who was believed to be returning from his mission in India when he encountered the Virgin Mary being taken up into heaven. To provide him with verification that he had seen her, she removed the girdle from around her waist and gave it to him. The Golden Legend offers a simpler account, only saying that he again was filled with doubt, as he had been after the Resurrection, and her “girdle that had encircled her body fell intact into his hands” as proof.1 The Assumption play at York, which appears to have been the most rich of all the York pageants in music, includes notation in the Register for Surge proxima and Veni de libano sponsa in two versions as well as two settings of Veni electa mea. Rastall has dated the compositions in the middle third of the fifteenth century.2 Since they are integral to the pageant, this would suggest a date when the play itself was re-written in alliterative verse. If heaven is a place rich in music, as was commonly assumed, the singing and likely playing of angel instrumentalists would have been given a very high priority. Angels at York are very commonly depicted as musicians, often performing on instruments.3 Practically speaking for polyphonic music at this time in York, the choices here would have been most likely portative organ and regals rather than the instruments played by minstrels, who were not expected to read music in score. Such instruments, along with harps, are noted in N-Town (Play 41, lines117 s.d., 314 s.d.).4 The York music for the Assumption involves a high level of musical sophistication, and may have been performed by twelve musicians, the number of roles for angels written into the text in the Register. This number of musicians could well have come from York Minster, though excellent musicianship may also be surmised at some of the parish churches and the monastic houses. The Ordo paginarum’s description of the apostle Thomas “preaching in the desert” is not a good fit with what is now present in lines 1–104; this again is indicative of the later date for the playtext as it appears in the Register. In the 1430s or thereabouts the Weavers were an extremely wealthy guild, unlike the same guild in the latter part of the century and in the following century after the migration of the industry to the West Riding.5 The verse appears in thirteen-line stanzas, marked again by alliteration as fully as important as rhyme.
1–97 Thomas rehearses his sorrow “waylyng and weping” over the by-now-familiar events of Christ’s Passion and emphasizes Jesus’ rejection by the Pharisees and his torments, with a more positive note introduced when he recognizes that he has been translated to the valley of Josephat, where, though he does not know it yet, Mary has been buried. Personal engagement over the Passion was encouraged, but Thomas’ tone may seem to some to be out of place here just as Mary Magdalen’s lament over the Crucifixion has been viewed as out of place after the assurances of the angel at the tomb (Play 38, lines 267–87).
98–104 I will steme of my stevene and sted here a stounde . . . for to bide. Embedded stage direction; he is to seat himself “on this banke.” The dramatic purpose is obvious, since he must remain visible through the singing of the angels and the rising of Mary from her grave. Presumably he does not look up to see the angels and Mary until his next speech, beginning at line 118.
after 104 Surge proxima mea. This item does not appear in any service book and, in both versions of the music, is unique to the York cycle. The second (designated the B version by Steiner in her transcriptions appended to Wall, “York Pageant XLVI”) substitutes propera for proxima. As Wall notes, the words echo terms often used to describe the Virgin Mary and derived from the Canticle of Canticles (e.g., 2:10 and 13). Dukta translates: “Rise up, my dearest one, my dove, tabernacle of glory, container of life, heavenly temple” (Music, p. 118). The rich imagery here of dove, tabernacle, temple, even “container of life” as applied to Mary had been developed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux and was a strong presence in fifteenth-century Mariology (see the useful commentary in M. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, pp. 121–33), but in fact seems more immediately to have derived from the Golden Legend (Jacobus de Voragine, 2:95–97). John Stevens has noted that the scribe who inserted the music into the text was “perhaps one of the cantors of the cathedral” and that “he fully understood the notation he was using, with its complicated system of ligatures and coloured notes” (“Music of Play XLVI,” p. 466). For a more extended discussion of the songs in the Weavers’ pageant, see especially Rastall, Heaven Singing, pp. 121–37.
105–17 The angels then speak, in rapid fashion urging the Virgin to arise from her grave and come up with them to heaven. The terminology they use through the eighth angel’s speech — rose, lily, dove especially — is again reminiscent of the Canticle of Canticles. Iconography suggests angels supporting Mary within an aureole as she ascends to the heights of heaven, where her Son is located (see YA, pp. 105–07, and, for Torre’s description of the Virgin ascending with four angels surrounding her at the Bedern Chapel, O’Connor, “Bedern Stained Glass,” pp. 564 and 567).
after 117 Veni de libano sponsa, veni coronaberis. The text is a direct quote from the Canticle of Canticles 4:8: “Come from Libanus [Lebanon], my spouse, come from Libanus, come: thou shalt be crowned.” The reference to the crowned bride in this Old Testament passage was regarded as foreshadowing the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin. Wall points out further connections of these words with the liturgy (“York Pageant XLVI,” p. 695).
118–23 Thomas now is to look up to see Mary (perhaps “babbe” in line 120 should read “berde,” i.e., Lady, as Beadle believes). Thomas sees her gleaming shape as she glides up, an indication of movement that is surely very gentle. He will also comment on the “melody” of the angels’ singing, here referring to Veni de libano. This will lead to Mary’s notice of him in the following lines and her command “do way all thi doutes” (he is still temperamentally doubting Thomas).
131–43 Exchanging “thy” for “my,” Thomas repeats Mary’s line, and then continues with a set of “Hail” verses to complete the thirteen-line stanza. These lines contain entirely conventional terminology in praise of the Virgin, regarded as most worthy of women, the second Eve, the remedy for human misery, and one who will intercede at the throne of the Most High for those who are devoted to her. She must be suspended above the earth at this time and remain so until line 200, after which she must very slowly be taken up as the dialogue continues.
166–67 I schall thee schewe / A token trewe. In response to Thomas’ complaint in lines 164–65 that his fellow apostles will not believe him. The token will be her “girdill” (line 169), which she must toss down to him. If this is to be done effectively, he must catch it.
170–78 Mary is compared to a tree, from “reverent rote” to “floure” and ”frewte.” There is a hint here of Jesse tree iconography in which she emerges at the top with the fruit of her womb, Jesus.
185–91 in sightte of my Sone ther is sittand . . . grace. She will “knele to that comely,” her Son, Jesus, in support of her followers, even when they have fallen into despair, if they beg her help. And she will prevail: “He schall graunte thame ther grace.”
193 womanne in childinge. As noted in commentary to Play 44, lines 143–50, prayers to the Virgin were believed to be particularly efficacious and especially needed at childbirth. A relic of her girdle at Westminster was lent out to women in childbirth.
202–08 Thomas’ farewells are spoken as Mary is received into heaven, and these again are laden with conventional Marian imagery.
after 208 Veni electa mea et ponam in te tronum meum / Quia concupivit rex speciem tuam. A liturgical text, a Matins responsory for the feast of the Assumption in the Use of York, in this case celebrating Mary’s arrival in heaven; see Rastall, “Heaven: The Musical Repertory,” p. 186. Dutka translates: “Come, my chosen one, and I will place you on my throne because the king greatly desires your beauty” (Music, p. 120). She is the elect bride of the Canticle of Canticles, the Sponsa united with the Sponsus, and, as the chosen one, will be placed on a throne beside the Sponsus who is Jesus.
218 God saffe you in feere. Thomas now comes to the disciples and greets them. There are four, not the eight specified in the Ordo paginarum. He is cheerful, but they react negatively immediately on account of their sorrow at the loss of Mary; see Andrew’s charge that he is bragging and boasting (line 226). They are the ones who now need to see a physical sign, which he will finally show at line 248. Since they will require more physical evidence, they will visit the tomb and search it only to find that the “glorious and goodely is gone fro this grave” (line 262).
282–83 Nowe knele we ilkone / Upponne oure kne. Embedded stage direction, followed by the apostles’ brief prayer to Mary in heaven, and then their departure to their various places of evangelizing, with Thomas having the final speech (lines 300–12).
Play 45, THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN (THOMAS APOSTOLUS): 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).
Title Thomas Apostulus. Reg: written as title, but also serving to designate speaker.
40 thei. . . ther. So RB; Reg, LTS: the . . . the.
47 were. So LTS, RB; Reg: we.
62–63 Reg: added by Scribe B in left margin.
104 Music for Surge proxima follows in Reg.
117 Music for Veni de Libano follows in Reg.
132 in. So LTS, RB; Reg: an.
187 who. This edition Reg, LTS: what; RB: who in.
189 swynke. So RB; Reg, LTS: synke.
208 Music for Veni electa mea follows in Reg.
236 has of-turned. So RB; Reg, LTS: of has turned.
250 message. So RB; Reg, LTS: messages.
256 Line misplaced in Reg (following line 258 in Reg).
312 Reg: songs follow, with music: Surge propera [sic] mea (second version), and Veni de Libano (second version).
Play 45, THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN (THOMAS APOSTOLUS): EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:82.
Footnote 2 Personal communication from Richard Rastall; he had previously suggested dating the music between 1430 and 1450 (Heaven Singing, p. 134).
Footnote 3 See YA, pp. 185–92, for discussion and a list of instruments in the parish churches, Minster, and other locations that will show the majority played by angel instrumentalists. See also Remnant, “Musical Instruments.”
Footnote 4 See also Remnant, “Musical Instruments,” pp. 174–75.
Footnote 5 Palliser, Tudor York, pp. 208–11.
Go To Play 46, The Coronation of the Virgin