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Play 9, The Flood


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.

Fishing and fish farming in the Ouse are well documented in the civic records, but the Fishers’ craft, like that of the Mariners, also involved setting out to sea by way of Hull. Their play of the Flood, written in a fourteen-line stanza with some alliteration, required a pageant ship, perhaps fitted with animals painted on boards or some such innovation. But it is the farce involving the recalcitrance of Noah’s wife which can be traced to an Eastern legend that supports the action of the first part of the play. On the one hand, Uxor may be seen as a target of medieval anti-feminism, while on the other her weakness represents all humankind in need of salvation, for she, like every one of us, is in need of rescue from destruction.1 The Genesis account only mentions Noah’s wife’s boarding of the ark in 7:7 without hint of reluctance on her part. The Newcastle Noah, however, has the devil tempting her as a second Eve to subvert God’s plan of saving Noah’s family and subsequently the salvation of the race, and M. D. Anderson calls attention to a depiction of such a temptation in the Queen Mary Psalter.2 Noah and his family are shown in the ark, interestingly with a mast and a sail, in a panel in the Great East Window in the Minster; the hull of the ship, however, has been restored with scraps and hence is not original.3

5 worthy wiffe. Not consistent with the view of her that appears subsequently in the pageant. Noah’s piety and appreciation of his family are set against a warning from God that has already taken place (see line 12: “This world wastyd shalle be”).

15–28 My fadir Lamech . . . than was I borne. Noah’s father is not the person who was the murderer of Cain, but was a man noted for his piety. He therefore was one who already knew by “sarteyne signes” that God would take vengeance on humankind’s wickedness (lines 34–40).

145 It would appear that the rain has begun. If a stage effect were involved, as is quite likely, there is no indication of how it was produced. By line 152 Uxor’s “frendis” are already drowned in the Flood.

149 modir, mende youre moode. The first daughter encourages her mother, but the general mood of the family during the watery holocaust will generally remain solemn. Only at lines 197–98 does Uxor’s mood change to one of appreciation for being saved from the Flood through God’s grace, but by then the forty days and forty nights of rain are over (see line 183) and the waters are subsiding.

161 Wendes and spers youre dores bedene. An imbedded stage direction, implying that some openings, or at least one entry door, in the ark could be closed. Did the actors appear on the deck, or was there a large window (hardly practical) in which they could speak their lines?

170–76 The sons care for “thes catelles” and the women the “foules,” most likely a common division of labor in the York region.

190 catteraks. From the Vulgate cataractae caeli, which now have been “shut up” (Genesis 8:2).

199 caste leede. A plumb bob was cast down to sound the depth of the water, as would have been the practice among contemporary mariners. The water is still at its full height of fifteen cubits (Genesis 7:20) but is waning (line 204).

212–16 The raven is wighte . . . lande or tree. Though this bird has a bad reputation, its intelligence marks it as a choice for a reconnaissance mission to see if the time will soon come for their departure from the ark. It will not return; according to the Cursor Mundi, 1:117, this is because it fed on the flesh of the creatures drowned in the Flood — and hence could not return to the ark, a symbol of the Church. In the Cornish Ordinalia, Noah predicts in advance that if the raven finds carrion it will not come back to him (Ancient Cornish Drama, 1:82–85). Thus the raven was cursed and its color changed from white to black.

237–60 Thou doufe . . . now may we synge. A dove is then sent out, and brings back a token; see Genesis 8:8–11. The token is an “olyve braunche,” a sign that Noah and his family will “be saved.”

264 The hillis of Hermony. Noah’s first sight of land, but a pun is implied, since harmony is returning to the cosmos.

266, s.d. Tunc cantent Noe et filii sui. A time for singing by Noah and his sons had been announced in line 260, with the inclusion of song by them in early performances confirmed by this late stage direction. Rastall suggests a procession by the family from the ark (Heaven Singing, p. 243).

278 Dum dixit "penitet me." Adapted from the Vulgate (Genesis 6:7).

283 Arcum ponam in nubibus. Genesis 9:13. The rainbow will also figure in the Mercers’ Doomsday play; see REED: York, 1:55.

301 be waste with fyre. In answer to his son’s suggestion that the world might last forever, Noah explains that at last — that is, at the Last Judgment — the earth will be consumed by flames. The destruction of the world by fire appears as one of the signs of Doomsday in a panel in a window in All Saints, North Street — i.e., when, according to the caption in the glass, the time will come when “sall betyde The werlde sall bryn on ilk a syde” (Gee, “Painted Glass of All Saints’ Church,” pls. XXIII–XXIV). The Flood is connected typologically with Doomsday in Luke 17:26–27, a passage which is part of the Gospel reading for the final day of Sexagesima in the York Missal, 1:42).


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).

14 formefadres. LTS: forme ffadres; RB: forme-fadres; Reg: formed fadres.

24 As. So RB; Reg, LTS: And.

30 Reg: by LH in right margin: for ethe.

71 I FILIUS. So LTS, RB; Reg: Filius.

80 fellis. Added in Reg by LH; also, in right margin in red: fellys.

106 NOE. Reg: speech attribution added by LH.

134 had. Reg: interlined by LH.

204 wate. So LTS, RB; Reg: watir.

215 wynd. So LTS, RB; Reg: wymd.

221 mayd. Reg: corrected by LH (d interlined).

266, s.d. Tunc cantent Noe et filii sui. Reg: stage direction inserted in right margin by LH.

270 knwe. So Reg, RB; LTS: kn[e]we.

288 wast yt. So RB; Reg, LTS: wastyd.

294 Reg: line added at right by LH, replacing misplaced In ses (canceled).


Footnote 1 See C. Davidson, From Creation to Doom, pp. 51–52.

Footnote 2 Davis, ed., Non-Cycle Plays, pp. 22–23 and 28–29; Anderson, Drama and Imagery, p. 108; Stanton, Queen Mary Psalter, fig. 25.

Footnote 3 French, York Minster: The Great East Window, p. 53.

The Fysshers and Marynars

































































NOYE   That Lord that leves aylastand lyff,
I love thee ever with hart and hande
That me wolde rewle be reasonne ryffe,
Sex hundereth yere to lyffe in lande.
Thre semely sonnes and a worthy wiffe
I have ever at my steven to stande.
Bot nowe my cares aren keene as knyffe
Bycause I kenne what is commaunde.
Thare comes to ilke contré,
Ya, cares bothe kene and calde.
For God has warned me
This worlde wastyd shalle be,
And certis the sothe I see,
As formefadres has tald.

My fadir Lamech who, likes to neven,
Heere in this worlde thus lange gon lende,
Sevene hundereth yere seventy and sevene,
In swilke a space his tyme he spende.
He prayed to God with stabill stevene
That he to hym a sone shuld sende,
And at the laste ther come from heven
Slyke hettyng that hym mekill amende
And made hym grubbe and grave,
As ordand faste beforne,
For he a sone shulde have,
As he gon aftir crave;
And as God vouchydsave
In worlde than was I borne.

When I was borne Noye named he me
And saide thees wordes with mekill wynne;
“Loo,” he saide, “this ilke is he
That shalle be comforte to mankynne.”
Syrs, by this wele witte may ye,
My fadir knewe both more and mynne,
By sarteyne signes he couthe wele see
That al this worlde shuld synke for synne.
Howe God shulde vengeaunce take,
As nowe is sene sertayne,
And hende of mankynde make
That synne wold nought forsake,
And howe that it shuld slake,
And a worlde waxe agayne.

I wolde God itt wasted were
Sa that I shuld nott tente thertille.
My semely sonnes and doughteres dere,
Takis ye entent unto my skylle.

I FILIUS    Fader, we are all redy heere
Youre biddyng baynly to fulfille.

NOE   Goos calle youre modir, and comes nere,
And spede us faste that we nought spille.

I FILIUS    Fadir, we shal nought fyne
To youre biddyng be done.

NOE   Alle that leves under lyne,
Sall, sone, soner passe to pyne.

I FILIUS    Where are ye, modir myne?
Come to my fadir sone.

UXOR    What sais thou, sone?

I FILIUS                                  Moder, certeyne
My fadir thynkis to flitte full ferre.
He biddis you haste with al youre mayne
Unto hym that nothyng you marre.

UXOR   Ya, good sone, hy thee faste agayne
And telle hym I wol come no narre.

I FILIUS   Dame, I wolde do youre biddyng fayne,
But yow bus wende, els bese it warre.

UXOR   Werre, that wolde I witte.
We bowrde al wrange, I wene.

I FILIUS   Modir, I saie you yitte,
My fadir is bowne to flitte.

UXOR   Now, certis, I sall nought sitte
Or I se what he mene.

I FILIUS   Fadir, I have done nowe as ye comaunde:
My modir comes to you this daye.

NOE   Scho is welcome, I wele warrande;
This worlde sall sone be waste awaye.

UXOR   Wher arte thou, Noye?

NOE                                          Loo, here at hande.
Come hedir faste, dame, I thee praye.

UXOR   Trowes thou that I wol leve the harde lande
And tourne up here on toure deraye?
Nay, Noye, I am nought bowne
To fonde nowe over there fellis.
Doo barnes, goo we and trusse to towne.

NOE   Nay, certis, sothly than mon ye drowne.

UXOR   In faythe, thou were als goode come downe
And go do somwhat ellis.

NOE   Dame, fowrty dayes are nerhand past
And gone sen it began to rayne.
On lyffe sall no man lenger laste
Bot we allane, is nought to layne.

UXOR   Now, Noye, in faythe thee fonnes full faste.
This fare wille I no lenger frayne;
Thou arte nere woode, I am agaste.
Farewele, I wille go home agayne.

NOE   O, woman, arte thou woode?
Of my werkis thou not wotte;
All that has ban or bloode
Sall be overeflowed with the floode.

UXOR   In faithe, thee were als goode
To late me go my gatte.

We owte, herrowe!

NOE                     What now, what cheere?

UXOR   I will no nare for no kynnes nede.

NOE   Helpe, my sonnes, to holde her here,
For tille hir harmes she takes no heede.

II FILIUS   Beis mery, modir, and mende youre chere.
This worlde beis drowned, withouten drede.

UXOR   Allas that I this lare shuld lere.

NOE   Thou spilles us all, ille myght thou speede.

III FILIUS   Dere modir, wonne with us,
Ther shal nothyng you greve.

UXOR   Nay, nedlyngis home me bus,
For I have tolis to trusse.

NOE   Woman, why dois thou thus
To make us more myscheve?

UXOR   Noye, thou myght have leteyn me wete.
Erly and late thou wente theroutte
And ay at home thou lete me sytte
To loke that nowhere were wele aboutte.

NOE   Dame, thou holde me excused of itt;
It was Goddis wille, withowten doutte.

UXOR   What, wenys thou so for to go qwitte?
Nay, be my trouthe, thou getis a clowte.

NOE   I pray thee, dame, be stille.
Thus God wolde have it wrought.

UXOR   Thow shulde have witte my wille
Yf I wolde sente thertille,
And Noye, for that same skylle,
This bargan sall be bought.

Nowe at firste I fynde and feele
Wher thou hast to the forest soght,
Thou shuld have tolde me for oure seele
Whan we were to slyke bargane broght.

NOE   Now, dame, thee thar noght drede a dele,
For till accounte it cost thee noght;
A hundereth wyntyr, I watte wele,
Is wente sen I this werke had wrought.
And when I made endyng,
God gaffe me mesore fayre
Of every ilke a thyng;
He bad that I shuld bryng
Of beestis and foules yynge,
Of ilke a kynde a peyre.

UXOR   Nowe, certis, and we shulde skape fro skathe
And so be saffyd as ye saye here,
My commodrys and my cosynes bathe,
Tham wolde I wente with us in feere.

NOE   To wende in the watir it were wathe:
Loke in and loke withouten were.

UXOR   Allas, my lyff me is full lath,
I lyffe overelange this lare to lere.

I FILIA   Dere modir, mende youre moode,
For we sall wende you with.

UXOR   My frendis that I fra yoode
Are overeflowen with floode.

II FILIA   Nowe thanke we God al goode
That us has grauntid grith.

III FILIA   Modir, of this werke nowe wolde ye noght wene
That alle shuld worthe to watres wan.

II FILIUS   Fadir, what may this mervaylle mene,
Wherto made God medilerth and man?

I FILIA   So selcouthe sight was never non seene
Sen firste that God this worlde began.

NOE   Wendes and spers youre dores bedene,
For bettyr counsell none I can.
This sorowe is sente for synne;
Therfore to God we pray
That he oure bale wolde blynne.

III FILIUS   The kyng of al mankynne
Owte of this woo us wynne,
Als thou arte Lorde, that maye.

I FILIUS   Ya, Lorde, as thou late us be borne
In this grete bale, som bote us bede.

NOE   My sonnes, se ye mydday and morne
To thes catelles takes goode hede.
Keppes tham wele with haye and corne;
And women, fanges these foules and feede
So that they be noght lightly lorne
Als longe as we this liffe sall lede.

II FILIUS   Fadir, we are full fayne
Youre biddyng to fulfille.
Nine monethes paste er playne
Sen we wer putte to peyne.

III FILIUS   He that is most of mayne
May mende it qwen he wyll.

NOE   O, barnes, itt waxes clere aboute,
That may ye see ther wher ye sitte.

I FILIUS   I, leffe fadir, ye loke thareowte
Yf that the water wane ought yitt.

NOE   That sall I do withowten dowte,
For be the wanyng may we witte.
A, Lorde, to thee I love and lowte,
The catteraks I trowe be knytte.
Beholde, my sonnes al three,
The clowdes are waxen clere.

II FILIUS   A, Lorde of mercy free,
Ay lovyd myght thou be.

NOE   I sall assaye the see
How depe that it is here.

UXOR   Loved be that Lord that giffes all grace
That kyndly thus oure care wolde kele.

NOE   I sall caste leede and loke the space
Howe depe the watir is ilke a dele.
Fyftene cobittis of highte itt hase
Overe ilke a hille fully to feylle,
Butte beese wel comforte in this casse,
It is wanand, this wate I wele.
Therfore a fowle of flight
Full sone sall I forthe sende
To seke if he have sight
Som lande uppon to light;
Thanne may we witte full right
When oure mornyng sall mende.

Of al the fowles that men may fynde,
The raven is wighte and wyse is hee.
Thou arte full crabbed and al thy kynde,
Wende forthe thi course, I comaunde thee,
And werly watte and yther thee wynd,
Yf thou fynde awdir lande or tree.
Nine monethes here have we bene pyned,
But when God wyll, better mon bee.

I FILIA   That Lorde that lennes us lyffe,
To lere his lawes in lande,
He mayd bothe man and wyffe,
He helpe to stynte oure striffe.

III FILIA   Oure cares are kene as knyffe,
God graunte us goode tydand.

I FILIUS   Fadir, this foule is forthe full lange,
Uppon sum lande I trowe he lende,
His foode therfore to fynde and fange:
That makis hym be a fayland frende.

NOE   Nowe, sonne, and yf he so forthe gange
Sen he for all oure welthe gon wende,
Then be he for his werkis wrange
Evermore weried withowten ende.
And sertis for to see
Whan oure sorowe sall sesse,
Anodyr foule full free
Owre messenger sall be.
Thou doufe, I comaunde thee,
Owre comforte to encresse.

A faithfull fewle to sende art thow
Of alle within there wanys wyde.
Wende forthe, I pray thee, for owre prowe,
And sadly seke on ilke a side
Yf the floodes be falland nowe
That thou on the erthe may belde and byde.
Bryng us som tokenyng that we may trowe
What tydandes sall of us betyde.

II FILIA   Goode Lorde, on us thou luke,
And sesse oure sorow sere
Sen we al synne forsoke
And to thy lare us toke.

III FILIA   A twelmothe bott twelve weke
Have we be hoverand here.

NOE   Now barnes, we may be blithe and gladde
And lowe oure Lord of hevenes kyng.
My birde has done as I hym badde,
An olyve braunche I se hym brynge.
Blyste be thou fewle that nevere was fayd
That in thy force makis no faylyng.
Mare joie in herte never are I hadde,
We mone be saved, now may we synge.
Come hedir my sonnes in hye,
Oure woo away is wente.
I se here certaynely
The hillis of Hermony.

I FILIUS   Lovyd be that Lord forthy
That us oure lyffes hase lente.

Tunc cantent Noe et filii sui, etc.

UXOR   For wrekis nowe that we may wynne,
Oute of this woo that we in wore,
But Noye, wher are nowe all oure kynne
And companye we knwe before?

NOE   Dame, all ar drowned, late be thy dyne,
And sone thei boughte ther synnes sore.
Gud lewyn latte us begynne
So that we greve oure God no more;
He was greved in degré
And gretely moved in mynde
For synne, as men may see,
Dum dixit “penitet me.”
Full sore forthynkyng was he
That evere he made mankynde.

That makis us nowe to tole and trusse,
But sonnes, he saide, I watte wele when,
Arcum ponam in nubibus,
He sette his bowe clerly to kenne
As a tokenyng bytwene hym and us
In knawlage tille all Cristen men
That fro this worlde were fynyd thus,
With wattir wolde he nevere wast yt then.
Thus has God most of myght
Sette his senge full clere
Uppe in the ayre of heght;
The raynebowe it is right,
As men may se in sight
In seasons of the yere.

II FILIUS   Sir, nowe sen God oure soverand Syre
Has sette his syne thus in certayne,
Than may we wytte this worldis empire
Shall evermore laste, is noght to layne.

NOE   Nay, sonne, that sall we nought desire,
For and we do we wirke in wane,
For it sall ones be waste with fyre
And never worthe to worlde agayne.

UXOR   A, syre, owre hertis are seere
For thes sawes that ye saye here,
That myscheffe mon be more.

NOE   Beis noght aferde, therfore,
Ye sall noght lyffe than yore
Be many hundereth yhere.

I FILIUS   Fadir, howe sall this lyffe be ledde
Sen non are in this worlde but we?

NOE   Sones, with youre wiffes ye salle be stedde
And multyplye youre seede sall ye.
Youre barnes sall ilkon othir wedde
And worshippe God in gud degré.
Beestes and foules sall forthe be bredde,
And so a worlde begynne to bee.
Nowe travaylle sall ye taste
To wynne you brede and wyne,
For alle this worlde is waste.
Thez beestes muste be unbraste,
And wende we hense in haste
In Goddis blissyng and myne.
lives; everlasting life
by plenteous reason
handsome; (see note)
word (command)
know; commanded
every country
sharp; cold (distressing)

forefathers; told; (t-note)

appropriate to mention; (see note)
(i.e., lived so long)

steady voice

Such a promise; improved [his status]
delve; dig
ordained firmly; (t-note)


great joy; (t-note)

well understand
certain; could well

seen definitely

rise up

were destroyed
attend thereto

notice of; reason


hurry; die

rest (stop)

lives under linen (i.e., everyone)
son, sooner; pain (perish)

right away

flee; far


must go; it will be worse

Worse; know
jest; think


(i.e., make speed)
Until; means


Think; will leave; dry land
go up; such disarray
attempt; hills; (t-note)
children, go


alone; (i.e., this is clear)

act irrationally
matter; question
almost mad

do not understand

let; way

nearer; need



lore; learn

destroy; (t-note)


I must go home
[household] equipment; gather

allowed me [to] know



known my wishes


such a

dread nothing



each species; pair

escape harm
gossips; both

perilous; (see note)
(i.e., get in here)

teaching; learn

(see note)



pass under; dark


Go and close (spar); now; (see note)



sorrow; help us bid (offer)

(see note)

care for


are passed plainly


As you may


by; know
praise and worship
floodgates [of heaven]; closed; (see note)


suffering; alleviate

lead; (see note)

be well comforted
waning; know well; (t-note)


strong/white; (see note)

carefully know; hither make your way; (t-note)
in severe discomfort
might it be




bird; long
believe; has landed
take up

good has gone


dove; (see note)

our good
soberly seek everywhere

build; abide
token; rely upon

cease; many


but (except for)
been hovering (idle)

happy and glad
love (praise)

Blessed; deceptive

More; before

Armenia; (see note)


Then Noe and his sons should sing; (see note); (t-note)

disasters; redeem

knew; (t-note)

(i.e., be quiet)
recently they paid for
Good living let

Then [God] said, “It repenteth me.”; (see note)
he was sorry

toil; heave

I will set the rainbow in the clouds; (see note)
rainbow; know

destroy; (t-note)

air on high



(see note)
(i.e., exist as a world)


live then so long

living together


travail; experience


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