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7.b. Caesar Augustus


1 Here begins Caesar Augustus

2 Men know that knight to be a wise man

3 Lines 187–88: And also I advise that you order, by proclamation, / that fair friend into exile

4 Here ends Caesar Augustus


ABBREVIATIONS: Chester: The Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. Lumiansky and Mills (1974); CT: The Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson (1987); DSL: Dictionary of the Scots Language; Elliott: The Apocryphal New Testament, ed. Elliott; EP: The Towneley plays, ed. England and Pollard (1897); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (“the Towneley manuscript”); N-Town: The N-Town Plays, ed. Sugano (2007); OED: Oxford English Dictionary; REED: Records of Early English Drama; SC: The Towneley Plays, eds. Stevens and Cawley (1994); s.d.: stage direction; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).

The sequence of Nativity-related plays in the Towneley manuscript is famously disordered: the incomplete Prophets pageant is followed not only by a blank leaf (see the final note to 7.a) but also by the Pharaoh play, which should precede it; there are two Shepherds plays, but no Nativity itself. Moreover, the works that immediately precede those two Shepherds plays, including the Prophets but excluding the Pharaoh play, appear to constitute a separate, cohesive sequence. These works are written mostly in variations of the same tailrhyme stanza form (rhymed aabaab or aabccb), probably by a single author; prior to the compilation of the manuscript, they likely formed a single play, divided into short pageants or scenes, possibly for processional performance. However, the sequence as a whole could easily have been performed by five actors taking multiple roles, including four men, one of whom would play the role of Elizabeth (who is twice said to have conceived “in elde” — see lines 7.c.135 and 7.d.11), and a boy who would play Sibyl, Mary, and the messenger. The original sequence could conceivably have concluded with a now-lost Nativity pageant, but might well have been performed as an Advent play, as is, with an ending that looks forward to the ecclesiastical celebrations of Christmas rather than dramatizing that central event.

Reconstituting the sequence, however, requires more than removal of the misplaced Pharaoh play. According to the text as it stands in the manuscript, Elizabeth would have to be more than nine months’ pregnant by the time of her visit with Mary (see the final note to 7.c). The Joseph’s Trouble episode, treated in the manuscript as part of the Annunciation play, was likely a separate pageant and intended to follow rather than precede the Salutation. Its misplacement can be explained by the existence of a series of exemplars that were unbound, untitled, and thus easily confused: according to this scenario, the original Prophets pageant, possibly already damaged and incomplete, was accidentally copied prior to the Pharaoh play, while the Joseph’s Trouble pageant was copied as if part of the Annunciation, and followed by the Salutation. The Salutation (rather than the Joseph’s Trouble pageant) might originally have been part of a single pageant along with the Annunciation (as occurs in York); it is perhaps significant that these two pageants together (with a total of 244 lines) are almost exactly the same length as Caesar Augustus (240 lines) and only slightly longer than Joseph’s Trouble (219 lines).

The Caesar Augustus pageant, too, may be misplaced, as Stevens and Cawley argue (SC p. 472): tradition (as recorded in the Golden Legend of Jacob de Voragine 1:40) held that Caesar learned of the birth of Christ on the day of the Nativity; however, the same tradition held that Caesar raised an altar in his honor, whereas this Emperor is conflated with King Herod in seeking to kill Christ as a rival. Moreover, Christ explicitly has not yet been born in this play (see line 7.b.71). The pageant could very effectively be placed between the Salutation and Joseph’s Trouble, filling the time gap between these episodes; however, it remains entirely possible that the pageant should follow The Prophets, and to precede the Annunciation, as it does in this edition.

5 Thys brand abowte youre nekys shall bow. The use of the word “bow” here suggests that Caesar’s sword is curved like a scimitar, a weapon associated with the Saracens, thus serving as to identify Caesar as an enemy of Christianity. This is the only extant English play that focuses entirely on Caesar, and it represents him entirely as a villain, unlike the Chester Nativity, which briefly dramatizes his encounter with the Sibyl (see the note to the Sibyl’s lines following 7.a.162).

9 Mahowne. That is, Muhammad represented as a false god (see note to 6.410). Such invocations, while common in medieval biblical drama, are unusually frequent in this play (as in the play of the Dice, see the note to 21.69); see also lines 122, 127, 140, 148, 151, 162, 208, 226, and 238.

16 I may bynd and lowse of band. In Matthew 18:18, Jesus refers to his disciples having power to bind and loose both on earth and in heaven, and in Matthew 16:19 he uses the same words in specific reference to Peter, traditionally understood as the foundation of papal authority in the Catholic church.

24 And therto here my hand. The line requires a gesture of making a vow, such as a raised hand, or possibly placing his hand on his sword (see line 5 and note) as if to swear by it.

80 snoke-horne. The OED includes this otherwise unattested term as possibly meaning “a sneaking fellow” on the basis of the gloss in EP, while the MED, likewise citing this line, redefines it questioningly as “?one who snuffles into a horn, one who blows a horn, i.e., a worthless person” (MED snoken (v.), sense b). Yet the MED (but not the OED) also includes an entry for snoke (n.), which it defines (citing the Promptorium Parvulorum) as meaning “mucus.” The “horn” here would appear to be the snuffling instrument, namely, the nose. Caesar is mocking the idea of a “snot-nose” child as his “sovereign” (line 81).

94 all the bost men of hym blowys. That is, however much people might boast about him (see MED bost (n.), sense 6).

97 Lyghtfote. The Messenger’s name is appropriately a synonym for “speedy.”

127 Mahowne thee save and se, Syr Syryne. The Messenger has ostensibly traveled a notable distance since the end of the previous stanza, but may simply have left the stage area representing Caesar’s palace in order to meet with Sirinus — that is, the historical Quirinius (or Cyrenius), governor of Syria (including Judea), who is named in Luke 2:2 in connection with a census ordered by Caesar Augustus. He returns to that same stage area by line 139.

139 All redy, lord, at youre byddyng. The Messenger again addresses the Emperor; Sirinus in the meantime must prepare to make his way to this same location, addressing the Emperor at line 151, while the Messenger ostensibly rests nearby (see line 150).

152 lord of lordys. The epithet is applied to Christ in Apocalypse 17:14. Here, it indicates Sirinus’ blasphemy.

155–56 Besyde myself here sytt thou shall; / Com up. The staging apparently requires two thrones, possibly on a raised dais, although the Emperor may simply be speaking from onstage to Sirinus who is at ground level. The retinue to which Sirinus refers in line 153 may be represented by the audience surrounding the stage, as well as the onstage actors including the Messenger and two Counselors who spoke earlier.

164–66 a qweyn . . . . crowned kyng. While “qweyn” is here used in a derogatory sense, meaning “whore” (see MED quene (n.1)), the term also draws attention to Mary’s traditional status as Queen of Heaven (see MED quene (n.2)), mother to the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (see Apocalypse 17:14, and line 152 and note, above).

185 And byd that boy be done to dede. This threat to murder Jesus draws a parallel with the massacre attributed to Herod (see play 12) as means to the same end, and ultimately with the crucifixion.

188 belamy. This reference to a “fair friend” (bel ami in modern French) is clearly sarcastic.

190–98 Byd ych man . . . . make you trowage. See Luke 2:1–2 (and the note to line 127 above). Here the biblical census is represented as being rooted in perceived rivalry with the coming Messiah: paying the requisite poll tax will be taken as proof of loyalty to Caesar.

213 To hold holly on me. That is, to side with or cling to (see MED holden (v.), sense 24b) Caesar as their feudal lord, depending on him for their lives and possessions alike.


ABBREVIATIONS: EP: The Towneley Plays, ed. England and Pollard (EETS, 1897); Facs: The Towneley Cycle: A Facsimile of Huntington MS HM 1, ed. Cawley and Stevens; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (base text); SC: The Towneley Plays, ed. Stevens and Cawley (EETS, 1994); s.d.: stage direction; Surtees: The Towneley Mysteries, ed. Raine; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).

94 bost. So SC. MS: best. SC emends the MS reading to bost on the basis of similar phrasing in the play of Herod the Great (12.58, incorrectly cited by SC as line 39, its numbering in editions using a 9- rather than 13-line stanza form; see SC p. 473n94).


[fol. 25v]




[fol. 26r]





















































[fol. 28r]








Emperor (Caesar Augustus)
Counselor 1
Counselor 2
Messenger (Lightfoot)

Incipit Cesar Augustus. 1

Be styll, beshers, I commawnd yow
That no man speke a word here now
Bot I myself alon,
And if ye do I make a vow
Thys brand abowte youre nekys shall bow;
Forthy be styll as ston.

And looke ye grefe me noght
For if ye do it shall be boght,
I swere you by Mahowne.
I wote well if ye knew me oght,
To slo you all how lytyll I roght,
Ston styll ye wold syt downe.

For all is myn that up standys:
Castels, towers, townys, and landys
To me homage thay bryng,
For I may bynd and lowse of band.
Everythyng bowys unto my hand;
I want none erthly thyng.

I am lord and syr over all.
All bowys to me both grete and small,
As lord of every land
Is none so comly on to call.
Whoso this agane-says fowll shall befall,
And therto here my hand.

For I am he that myghty is,
And hardely all hathennes
Is redy at my wyll,
Both ryche and poore, more and les,
At my lykyng for to redres,
Whether I wyll save or spyll.

Cesar August I am cald.
A fayrer cors for to behald
Is not of bloode and bone;
Ryche ne poore, yong ne old,
Sych anothere as I am told
In all thys warld is none.

Bot oone thyng doys me full mych care:
I trow my land wyll sone mysfare
For defawte of counsell lele.
My counsellars so wyse of lare,
Help to comforth me of care;
No wyt from me ye fele.

As I am man moost of renowne,
I shall you gyf youre waryson
To help me if ye may.
To counsell you, lord, we ar bowne,
And for no man that lyfys in towne
Wyll we not let, perfay.

Youre messyngere I reede ye call
For any thyng that may befall.
Byd hym go hastely
Thrughout youre landys overall,
Amang youre folk both grete and small
Youre gyrth and peasse to cry.

For to commaunde both yong and old
None be so hardy ne so bold
To hold of none bot you;
And whoso doth, put them in hold
And loke ye payn theym manyfold.
I shall, I make a vowe.

Of thys counsell well payde am I;
It shall be done full hastely
Wythouten any respytt.
My lord, abyde awyle, for why
A word to you I wold cleryfy.
Go on, then, tell me tytt.

All redy, lord, now permafay.
Thys have I herd syn many day
Folk in the contré tell,
That in this land shuld dwell a may
The which sall bere a chylde, thay say,
That shall youre force downe fell.

Downe fell? Dwyll, what may this be?
Out, harow, full wo is me.
I am full wyll of reede.
A, fy and dewyls. Whens cam he
That thus shuld reyfe me my pawsté
Ere shuld I be his dede?

For certys then were my worshyp lorne
If sych a swayn, a snoke-horne,
Shuld thus be my suffrane.
May I wyt when that boy is borne
In certan, had the dwyll hit sworne,
That gadlyng shuld agane.

Do way, lord, greyf you not so.
Youre messyngere ye cause furth go
Aftyr youre cosyn dere
To speke with you a word or two;
The best counsell that lad to slo
Full soyn he can you lere.

For a wyse man that knyght men know. 2
Now I assent unto thi saw;
Of witt art thou the well.
For all the bost men of hym blowys,
He shall never dystroy my lawes
Were he the dwyll of hell.

Com, Lyghtfote, lad: loke thou be yare
On my message furth to fare.
Go tytt to Syr Syryn.
Say sorow takys me full sare;
Pray hym to comforth me of care
As myn awne dere cosyn,

And bot if thou com agane tonight,
Look I se thee never in syght
Neverwhere in my land.
Yis certys, lord, I am full lyght.
Or noyn of the day I dar you hyght
To bryng hym by the hand.

Yai, boy, and as thou luffys me dere
Luke that thou spy both far and nere
Over all in ych place,
If thou here any saghes sere
Of any carpyng far and nere
Of that lad where that thou gase.

All redy, lord, I am full bowne
To spyr and spy in every towne
After that wykkyd queyd.
If I here any runk or rowne
I shall fownd to crak thare crowne
Over all in ylka stede.

And therfor, lord, have now good day.
Mahowne he wyse thee on thi way
That weldys water and wynde,
And specyally here I thee pray
To spede thee as fast as thou may.
Yis, lord, that shall ye fynde.

Mahowne thee save and se, Syr Syryne.
Cesar, my lord and youre cosyn,
He gretys you well by me.
Thou art welcom to me and myn.
Com nere and tell me tythandys thyn
Tyte, what thay may be.

My lord prays you as ye luf hym dere
To com to hym, if youre wyll were
To speke with hym awhyle.
Go grete hym well, thou messyngere;
Say hym I com and that right nere
Behynd thee not a myle.

All redy, lord, at youre byddyng.
Mahowne thee menske, my lord kyng,
And save thee by see and sand.
Welcom, bewshere: say, what tythyng?
Do tell me tyte for anythyng,
What herd thou in my land?

I herd nothyng, lord, bot goode.
Syr Syryn that I after yode
He wyll be here this nyght.
I thank thee by Mahownes bloode.
Thise tythyngys mekyll amendys my mode.
Go rest, thou worthy wyght.

Mahowne so semely on to call
He save thee, lord of lordys all
Syttyng with thi meneyé.
Welcom, Syr Syrynne, to this hall.
Besyde myself here sytt thou shall;
Com up belyf to me.

Yis, lord, I am at youre talent.
Wherfor, syr, I after thee sent
I shall thee say full right,
And therfor take to me intent:
I am in poynt for to be shent.
How so, for Mahownes myght?

Syr, I am done to understand
That a qweyn here in this land
Shall bere a chyld, I wene,
That shall be crowned kyng lyfand
And all shall bow unto his hand.
Thise tythyngys doth me teyne.

He shall commaunde both ying and old;
None be so hardy ne so bold
To gyf servyce to me.
Then wold my hart be cold
If sich a beggere shold
My kyngdom thus reyf me.

And therfor, syr, I wold thee pray
Thy best counsell thou wold me say
To do what I am best;
For securly, if that I may,
If he be fonden I shall hym slay
Aythere by eest or west.

Now wote ye, lord, what that I reede.
I counsell you as ete I brede
What best therof may be:
Gar serche youre land in every stede
And byd that boy be done to dede
Who the fyrst may hym see.

And also I rede that ye gar cry
To fleme wythall that belamy 3
That shuld be kyng with crowne.
Byd ych man com to you holly
And bryng to you a heede penny
That dwellys in towere or towne.

That this be done by the thyrde day,
Then may none of his freyndys say
Bot he has mayde homage.
If ye do thus, syr, permafay
Youre worship shall ye wyn for ay
If thay make you trowage.

I thank you, syr, as myght I thé,
For thyse tythyngys that thou tellys me;
Thy counsell shall avayll.
Lord and syre of this cowntré
Wythouten ende here make I thee
For thy good counsell.

My messyngere, loke thou be bowne
And weynd belyf from towne to towne
And be my nobyll swane;
I pray thee as thou luffys Mahowne
And also for thy waryson
That thou com tytt agane.

Commaunde the folk holly ichon,
Ryche ne poore forgett thou none,
To hold holly on me
And lowtt me as thare lord alone.
And who wyll not thay shall be slone;
This brand thare bayll shal be.

Therfor thou byd both old and ying
That ich man know me for his kyng
For drede that I thaym spyll,
That I am lord, and in tokynyng
Byd ich man a penny bryng
And make homage me tyll.

To my statutys who wyll not stand
Fast for to fle outt of my land
Byd thaym withouten lyte.
Now by Mahowne, God all-weldand,
Thou shall be mayde knyght with my hand
And therfor hye thee tyte.

All redy, lord, it shall be done;
Bot I wote well I com not sone
And therfor be not wroth.
I swere you, syr, by son and moyne
I com not here byfore eft-none
Wheder ye be leyfe or loth.

Bot hafe good day; now wyll I weynd,
For longer here may I not leynd
Bot grathe me furth my gate.
Mahowne that is curtes and heynd
He bryng thi jornay well to eynd
And wysh thee, that all wate.

Explicit Cesar Augustus. 4

fair sirs

sword; fall; (see note)

paid for
(see note)
know; at all
slay; cared

bondage; (see note)

lack no

(see note)

certainly; heathendom

put in order


does bother me
soon fare badly
lack; loyal

knowledge; conceal

For helping me

desist, by faith



To maintain allegiance to anyone
punish; many times


because; [fol. 26v]

by my faith



[by the] Devil

at a loss for advice
fie; devils; From where
rob me of my power
Before I should be the death of him

snot-nose; (see note)

fellow should die

to go forth



boast; (see note); (t-note)

[Even if] he were

ready; (see note)



Before noon; promise

love; [fol. 27r]

hear various stories
idle talk

evil person
murmur; whisper
each place


(see note)

your news

Tell; right away

(see note)

fair sir


much; mood

(see note)

(see note)

at your disposal

pay attention; [fol. 27v]

whore; (see note)


steal from

What is best for me to do
Either in

know; advise

Make [others]
put to death; (see note)
By the first who

(see note)

without exception; (see note)
poll tax

by my faith


go at once


each and every one

depend; (see note)
submit to
sword; misery


laws; obey


go; quickly

sun and moon
willing or reluctant

prepare myself to go on my way
courteous; gracious

guide; who knows all


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