7.b. Caesar Augustus
Play 7.B., CAESAR AUGUSTUS: FOOTNOTES
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
Play 7.B., CAESAR AUGUSTUS: EXPLANATORY NOTES
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.
Play 7.B., CAESAR AUGUSTUS: TEXTUAL NOTES
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).