7.e. Joseph's Trouble
Play 7.E., JOSEPH'S TROUBLE: FOOTNOTES
1 Lines 35–36: You need not suggest that I had any part in this [conception]
2 Lines 74–75: People are accustomed to leaving young children / at the temple for their education
3 All of them wove silk, with which to provide for themselves
Play 7.E., JOSEPH'S TROUBLE: 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.
4 hyr body is grete and she with childe. Prior to his entrance here, Joseph has been absent for “neyn monethes” (line 127); according to the Protevangelium of James 9:2, he has been working in construction (see Elliott, p. 61) and, on his return, finds that Mary is in the sixth month of her pregnancy (Elliott, p. 62, 13:1).
11–12 I myght well wyt . . . lykyng of man. That is, he might have known that a young woman would be attracted to a man in his prime, unlike himself, who is now old (see line 13), and incapable of amorous “gams” or sport (line 15). The tradition that Joseph was an old man prior to the betrothal and chosen by a miraculous intervention (as outlined in Joseph’s second monologue — see note to line 73–108 below) stems from the Protevangelium of James 9:1–2 (Elliott, pp. 60–61).
24 wytt who owe that foode. That is, he wishes to know who fathered that child. The word “owe” here and in line 32 is in the subjunctive, and could be translated as “should acknowledge (the child) as his own” (see MED ouen (v.), sense 1d).
25 Hayll, Mary. See Gabriel’s greeting at 7.c.77, and the accompanying note.
46 if thou speke thiself to spyll. That is, if you speak such that you destroy yourself, by ruining your reputation.
66 For doyll what shall I do. This line, like the monologue that follows, is clearly addressed not to Mary but to the audience. In a wagon or single scaffold staging, Joseph might potentially leave Mary behind on the stage to wander among the audience; in line 199 he claims to have “walkyd aboute lyke a fon” (or fool).
73–108 And how we met . . . . A sory man then was I. Joseph’s account of the betrothal is ultimately derived from the Protevangelium of James, but filtered through later sources such as the Golden Legend; in the Protevangelium 9.1 (Elliott, p. 60), for example, a dove miraculously flies from the rod, rather than flowers blooming much as in the biblical story of Aaron’s rod (Numbers 17:8), as narrated in York 13.32. The scene is dramatized at length, complete with flowering rod, in N-Town 10: Marriage of Mary and Joseph, part of the unique Mary Play embedded in that collection.
85 She wold none othere for any sagh. That is, she did not want any husband other than God, no matter what others told her.
118 to fynd them on. The verb “find” here is used in the sense of “provide for” (see MED finden (v.), sense 15a, which cites this line) — in this case meaning to provide for themselves, by means of their work. According to the Protevangelium 10 (Elliott, p. 61), Mary and her companions were specifically engaged in making a veil for the temple.
151–53 But Marie . . . . never so nere. These lines constitute half of a regular stanza; the other half is apparently missing. The missing lines likely referred to the need to expose Mary’s supposed adultery as a violation of the law (see Leviticus 20:10), although that would mean her death, as pointed out in lines 156–57 — lines that now seem obscure and out of place.
156 The law wyll it be so. See note to lines 151–53, above.
172 Do wa Joseph and mend thy thoght. In most sources (including Matthew 1:20–24) and medieval representations, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream as he sleeps. Although Joseph could potentially lie down immediately after he concludes his monologue, the lack of any mention of sleep or tiredness is unusual; having the angel speak directly to Joseph, on the other hand, would effectively serve to raise his stature.
179 She hase consavyd the Holy Gast. This line is faintly underlined, with “note this very” written in the right margin by a later hand; SC suggest that the word “well” might have been cut off in rebinding, and argue that the comment must “point to a theological objection” (p. 478n333); however, as mentioned in the Introduction, p. 8, it could well suggest a positive response.
214 light as lynde. That is, as light as a leaf upon a linden tree. Proverbial. See Whiting L139.
215–19 He that may . . . . my lyfys ende. In the manuscript this line is followed by “Explicit Annunciacio beate Marie,” moved in this edition to the ending of the Annunciation scene itself (see the final note to 7.c). While the original sequence might potentially have included a now-lost pageant representing the Nativity, Joseph’s final lines of prayer and benediction provide a suitable conclusion. That said, these lines could well have been followed by a song — specifically an Advent or Christmas hymn. Some important musical cues in the York manuscript, for example, were added only later (including singing both by the Angel and by Mary in the Annunciation pageant; see York 12:166, 253), and by an observer of the performance rather than by a copyist; a musical conclusion may similarly have been treated as extra-textual in the exemplar available to the Towneley scribe.
Play 7.E., JOSEPH'S TROUBLE: 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).
71 I thynk no. MS: second I crossed out before no.
116 foure. MS: iiij. EP: my.
127 Neyn. So EP. MS: ix.
179 She hase consavyd the Holy Gast. MS: this line is faintly underlined; in the right margin, a later hand has written note this very — anything further being cut off due to the page being trimmed. See Explanatory Note.