Play 16, THE CONSPIRACY: FOOTNOTES
1 Here begins Lazarus
2 Lines 28–29: No treatment will help him; / sleep is of no advantage to him
3 And Jesus wept, saying (John 11:38)
4 Lines 161–62: Many ugly beasts are ready to reduce you to bones
5 Lines 198–99: Remember that you fare as the wind does; / this world is profitless and will vanish
6 Here ends Lazarus
Play 16, THE CONSPIRACY: 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 Lazarus play, written in the hand of the main scribe, is chronologically misplaced at the end of the manuscript, on five full pages following the Judgment (but before the Judas fragment in a different hand); its placement may be due to its being a late and unexpected addition to the collection of exemplars, from an independent source. As SC explain in a lengthy headnote to the play, some critics have suggested that the placement was intentional, citing the lack of any indication in the MS that the play belongs elsewhere (although see the Introduction, p. 9, regarding the unusually rubricated signature L), along with what are seen as problematic features of the play itself, notably the long concluding sermon by Lazarus, following the effective disappearance of Jesus from the play (p. 646–47). It is indeed difficult to imagine a sequence of Passion plays following this play and its sermon; however, once the assumption of sequential, processional production is removed, the play appears far less problematic. Other surviving Lazarus plays differ in notable ways: York pairs the raising of Lazarus with the encounter with a woman taken in adultery, and Chester pairs it with the healing of a blind man, while nearly half of the N-Town version is taken up with Lazarus’ illness and death, and the reactions of friends and family. A closer parallel in the N-Town collection would be the Death of Herod, which similarly ends with a moralizing sermon by Death (N-Town 20.246–84). Yet the Towneley Lazarus seems clearly built for independent production, at least as it stands. The play was likely compiled from more than one source: the biblical first half of the play, based on John 11:1–44, is written largely in couplets; the sermon is more varied but written mostly in an unusual 14-line stanza with concatenation (see note to line 119 below), and an 8-line stanza with a refrain, “amende thee whils thou may,” which likely comes from a separate poem.
Before 1 Thomas [character]. None of the disciples is named in the MS dialogue, so they may have been unidentifiable to the audience (although Peter might carry an obvious symbol such as keys); the three effectively stand in here for all twelve. However, Thomas is the sole disciple actually named in the gospel (John 11:16), which accounts for his being specifically named as a character along with Peter and John, the two most prominent of the disciples.
8 The Jues halden you for thare fo. See John 11:8. While this reference to “the Jews” in opposition to Jesus and his disciples (all Jewish, but not currently in Judea) is biblical, the next is not, advising distrust of “the Jue” (line 11). Overall, though, the dialogue adheres closely to its gospel source.
12 many day sen thou thaym knewe. That is, you have known them for a long time.
52–57 I am rysyng and I am life . . . . trowys thou this. See John 11:25–26.
61 Mawdlayn. Medieval tradition identified Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (and with other women from the gospel accounts as well).
84 laide under yonde stone. While the gospel account refers to Lazarus as being buried in a cave covered by a stone (John 11:38), late medieval artistic renderings normally show a coffin-style tomb.
99–102 Take and lawse . . . . all that gere. While “sudary” could refer to a handkerchief or, more pertinently, to a winding-cloth for burial, it apparently refers here specifically to a cloth used to cover the face of the deceased (see MED sudarie (n.), sense 2), which must be removed before Lazarus speaks along with the band around his throat (line 100) that holds the sudary in place. The other cloths binding him are loosened sufficiently to allow him to walk and talk, but are not removed, as he later refers to “Sich bandys” and “sich a wyndyng clothe” (lines 152, 170) as if still bound by them.
107 When I was dede to hell I soght. Like nearly every other human being to this point, Lazarus went to hell after death (Enoch and Elijah being exceptions — see Genesis 5:24 and 4 Kings 2:11).
110 Behold and ye may se. Lazarus turns his attention here to the audience, addressing them for the remainder of the play. As SC point out (p. 649n103), this sermon on death is closely based on one by fourteenth-century Dominican John Bromyard in his influential compilation entitled Summa Predicantium.
115 no wight in wede. That is, no one. This common alliterative phrase — variations of which are used in several plays here (see for example 14.234 and 20.318) — literally means “no person in clothing” (see MED wede (n.2), sense f).
116 From dede have maide hym seese. That is, from the time that death made you cease to be. The same syntactical structure is used in line 123.
119 Youre dede is wormes coke. Your death provides nourishment for worms. That is, Death, as cook, prepares the feast for worms (see MED cok (n.6), sense 3a). The word wormes is repeated from the previous line — a pattern of concatenation that typifies the 14-line stanzas in this play, linking the octave with the sestet, and one stanza to the next in most cases; the dual concatenation suggests that these could be configured as alternating 8-line and 6-line stanzas, as occurs briefly in a section of the Crucifixion play (see note to 20.396–423).
123 Fro dede you cleke in cloke. That is, from the time that death grasps you in its clutches, but with a possible pun on “cloak,” in keeping with the reference to “array” in line 125.
132 wight. While the term is often used to refer to a human being, the wight referred to here is a worm (as in the concatenated line that follows).
135 Thare lunges and thare lightys. Both words mean “lungs” (see MED lightes (n. pl.)); the first should possibly be “livers” which is often paired with “lights” in phrases such as this.
145 pall. While used for a variety of garments, “pall” usually refers to very fine, rich cloth, often in royal purple (an expensive crimson or scarlet dye), but can also mean the cloth placed over a coffin or tomb (hence the term “pallbearer”).
146 todys shall be youre nowche. A “nouche” (or ouche) is a clasped ornament such as a buckle, or the setting for a jewel; see MED nouche; OED ouche. Toads were widely associated with evil, but also thought to have a jewel hidden in their heads — the toadstone.
148 Feyndys will you fere. This line can mean either “fiends will frighten you” or “fiends will be your companions.” Either sense, however, suggests going to hell.
158 As bees dos in the byke. According to MED, the term bike normally implies wild swarms as opposed to a hive of domestic honeybees (although see the reference to “hony-bike” in 5.a.4).
165–66 For you then sorows leste / The moste has of youre goode. That is, whoever possesses the bulk of your wealth will then be the least of your sorrows. This line begins a section decrying the greed of others after one’s death.
187–88 To by youre saules hele, / There may no man thaym shrife. That is, there is no one who can shrive — hear confession and provide absolution for — executors, even if the health of your soul depended on it. The sentiment is repeated in the lines that follow (189–91). The reason for this is evidently that executors, being inherently dishonest (line 185), would be incapable of proper confession; lines 192–93 state that they will always swear falsely, claiming you owed more than you possessed (and thus gaining your wealth for themselves). Wills were regularly used to dispose of wealth in ways that would benefit the soul of the deceased, through intercessory masses and prayers, charitable donations, or even restitution for past wrongs, all of which thus depended on the honesty of the executor. Similar complaints abound; see for example the tales of avarice in Robert of Brunne’s Handlyng Synne, pp. 200–09.
203 Agane thou go anothere gate. That is, as protection against that time when you will take a different path, to your death.
206–08 For if all the goode . . . . mende thi state. For even if all the goods that you accumulated in life were to be distributed on your behalf after your death, this would not help your case in heaven — that is, it is what you do and how you live during your life that matters. See the note to lines 187–88 above.
211 As is the stede standyng in stall. The term stall can refer to a seat or position of rank and dignity (MED stal(le (n.), sense 1c) as well as to a place for a single horse to stand (sense 1a); and the horse is notably a steed, a great stallion — a horse of great value and revenue, as opposed to a mere palfrey or riding horse.
Play 16, THE CONSPIRACY: 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).
Before 1 Incipit Lazarus. This title is at the top of the page in the MS, the Judgment play having ended at the bottom of the previous page, with no indication of the play being misplaced or out of chronological order; see headnote to this play in Explanatory Notes.
3–4 To Betany will . . . is oure freynde. MS: these two lines are reversed, with the letters b and a in the hand of the main scribe in the left margin beside them, indicating the correct order.
11 trist thou not on the Jue. So EP, SC. MS: trist thou on the Iue.
14 till. MS: another hand has written an additional e after this word.
59 mysprase. MS: the letters a and e are very worn.
83 fourt. So EP. MS: iiij.
117 The. MS: Ne. The repetition of Ne in the previous lines would have allowed an easy slip here, particularly given the relatively obscure syntax of the previous line.
219 tene. So SC. MS: tyme.
After 237 Explicit Lazarus. The explicit is in a different sixteenth century hand from that of the main scribe. Below this yet another hand has written Finis (“The End”), framed in black, possibly at a time when this was indeed the last page of writing in the manuscript; the play as it stands is followed by the Judas fragment (included here as an Appendix).