Play 8, The Building of Noah's Ark
Play 8, THE BUILDING OF NOAH'S ARK: 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 Shipwrights’ pageant is a demonstration of the craft’s skills as God orders Noah to build a ship and then informs him to go about his work. The complexity of the task seems to call for non-speaking workmen to help Noah, but in the text of the play he says, “Al be myselfe I will assaye” (line 96). As Richard Beadle suggests in “Shipwrights’ Craft,” the author of the play evidently was very familiar with clinker-built ship construction, and must have had close relations with the shipbuilders themselves. The shipwrights’ occupation went into severe decline in the course of the fifteenth century when the Ouse became less navigable due to silting and the larger seagoing ships became the norm. The text of the pageant in the Register has been extensively corrected by a later hand, identified in at least in part as John Clerke’s (see RB, pp. 420–21). The story of Noah and the Flood appears in Genesis 6–8, adapted from earlier Babylonian mythology after the return from exile of the Jews in Babylon in the fifth century B.C.E. It appears in the lessons and responsories for Septuagesima and Sexagesima. The eight-line stanza adopted in the play also is used in a number of other pageants in the cycle.
14–24 synne is nowe reynand so ryffe . . . I wille al newe. As in the biblical account, God repents that he ever made humankind on account of the wickedness of everyone except Noah, who is solemn and pure of heart (see line 33). Hence God decides to make a new beginning. Noah and his family are to be saved, the others drowned in the waters of the great Flood. This provides the motive for both the present play and the Fishers and Mariners’ pageant of the Flood which follows, but there is also a common reading of their story as foreshadowing the Last Day, dramatized as the concluding pageant in the cycle by the Mercers.
50 I am full olde and oute of qwarte. When the ark is finished, Noah will be six hundred years of age, but his argument with God over his ability as an old man to perform the task inspires some lively dialogue.
74–80 The directions for building the ship are accurately presented. The trees must be carefully selected and squared before boards and batten are cut. It is important that the seams be masterfully joined “and naylid wele” so that they do not come apart when the boat is floated. Instead of nails in the modern sense, rivets would presumably have been used; see the diagram in C. Davidson, Technology, Guilds, esp. pp. 8–9, figs. 11–12.
81–86 The ark specified by God is immensely large in size. Beadle suggests that it would have “a displacement of some 40,000 tons” (“Shipwrights’ Craft,” p. 58). No wonder it would take a hundred years to build (see lines 114–15)!
97–111 The listing of tools suggests that these were borrowed from members of the craft. Noah begins by laying on a chalk line and pretending to work on a board, then using a tool to join it to the ark, which must of course have been prefabricated. The Cornish Creacion specifies “Tooles and tymber . . . redy, with planckys to make the Arcke” (line 2254 s.d.). Since normally the interior ribs were added last, these would not be needed. Then Noah picks up a caulking tool to cement (as if with pitch) the boards to seem to make them water-tight. In the next stanza, he explains that the boards will be held in place with rivets fitted into roves (large metal washers) and flattened; these are easily seen in depictions of clinker-built ships. A set of ship builders’ tools from the wreck of Henry VIII’s Mary Rose shows mallets, augurs, measuring sticks, and other implements of the type perhaps displayed in the York play; see C. Davidson, Technology, Guilds, fig. 15.
114 A hundereth wyntres away is wente. Diller remarks about this scene that it “is remarkable for skipping a hundred years in a single line” (Middle English Mystery Play, p. 92)!
127–41 Dyverse stages must ther be . . . lyffes to laste. In the visual arts, the ark often had three levels, which were determined by the symbolism of the vessel as a representation of the Church. Like the Church at the Day of Judgment, the ark was a providentially chosen means to safety when all the world would be destroyed.
Play 8, THE BUILDING OF NOAH'S ARK: 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).
Many erasures and corrections are present in this pageant.
20 ever. Reg: erasure to remove e at end of word.
27 above. Reg: a bove, as corrected by LH.
29 noght. Reg: not written above noght by LH.
45 doo. Reg: added by LH over erasure.
59 sownkyn. Reg: letter o added in text.
74 skwyn. Reg: correction overwritten by LH.
75 betwene. Reg: corrected by LH.
81 lang. Reg: originally long (corrected).
83 strang. Reg: originally strong (corrected).
86 do. Reg: added, over an erasure, by LH.
99 Reg: must written above bud by LH.
101 gynn. Corrected by Scribe B in Reg; originally gyn.
102–03 Lines written in right margin in Reg; they had been erroneously entered after line 110 (deleted).
104 Line following is missing in Reg.
106 ever. Reg: erasure to remove final e at end of word.
110 the bowe ther. This edition; Reg, LTS: ther bowe ther; RB: ther the bowe.
113 force. Reg: an e was added as a correction.
119 bowde. Attempted emendation in Reg (to bollde).
120 nere an. Reg: corrected by LH, over erasure.
122 yit. Interlined by LH: must. Reg: correction over erasure.
124 must. Reg: correction over erasure.
126 that. Reg: interlined by LH in Reg.
sam. Reg: a final e at end of word erased.
127 must. Reg: correction by LH, over erasure.
131 fere. Reg: correction, in red ink, in right margin by Scribe B.
143 awey be. So RB; Reg: awey be away be (away be canceled).
147 Following helpe in Reg, extraneous w deleted.
Go To Play 9, The Flood