Play 3, NOAH: FOOTNOTES
1 The pageant of Noah with his sons. Wakefield (see note)
2 Lines 25–26: Yet proudly he fled his dais (seat of honor) / and set himself next to God
3 Then he turns to his wife [saying]
4 Lines 302–03: I have one [a husband], by Mary, / that released me from confinement at childbirth
5 Lines 358–60: Unless God helps me now, / I may be thought lazy
6 Lines 363–64: In the name of the Father, and the Son, / and the Holy Ghost. Amen
7 Lines 651–52: Now the storms have ended, / and [heaven’s] floodgates have closed
8 They may tarry until they can bring something
9 Here ends the pageant of Noah; Abraham follows
Play 3, NOAH: 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 biblical source of the Noah play is Genesis 6–8; Genesis 9 includes God’s post-flood blessing and injunction to procreate, along with the sign of the rainbow as divine promise never again to destroy the earth in this way, none of which is included in the play. Genesis 9 also focuses specifically, even exclusively, on Noah and his sons, much as per the manuscript title of the play (see the note to before 1, below), whereas the previous three chapters refer to their wives as well. The play itself focuses on the belligerent relationship between Noah and his wife, who — much like her counterparts in York and Chester, but with more force and less obvious reason — refuses to board the ark. This is the first of the Towneley plays written entirely in the 13-line 'bob and wheel' stanza (arranged in the manuscript as a 9-line stanza with internal rhymes) that is associated with the putative 'Wakefield Master' — so called in part because “Wakefeld” is written beside this play’s title. However, the meaning of that inscription remains unclear.
Before 1 Processus Noe cum filiis. Wakefeld. Underneath this title, in red, is a red paragraph sign, followed by a heavy black line written over an erasure. As at the beginning of the manuscript, the relation of the name “Wakefeld” to the rest of the title is unclear; it could relate to what is now erased (also originally in red). Nor does the reference to “Noah with his Sons” reflect the emphasis of the play on Noah’s wife more than on his sons, named in the text as “Sem, Japhet, and Came” (line 206) but — like their wives — differentiated in speech headings only by number.
66 Oyle of mercy. According to a legend derived from sources such as the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (see for instance Hulme, Middle-English Harrowing of Hell, pp. 100–02, lines 1249–80), Adam sends his son Seth to Paradise to retrieve a few drops of the oil of the Tree of Mercy to relieve the pain of death, but Seth is told that he will have to wait until the end of times; in some versions (see Hulme, p. l) he returns instead with seeds from the Tree of Life, which grow into a tree, ultimately producing wood for the Ark, for Moses’ rod that opened the way to cross the Red Sea, and for Jesus’ cross.
75–77 Som in pride . . . . and lechery. These lines name the traditional seven deadly sins, which are dealt with more fully in the Judgment play; see especially 27.443-46 and note.
79–82 Therfor I drede . . . . without any repentance. SC read these lines as meaning “Therefore I dread that God will take vengeance on us [who] are now ruined because of sin without repentance” (SC p. 448n79–82; see MED alod (pred. adj.), citing this instance); however, the lines can be read simply as stating a fear that God will take vengeance on all because sin is now, generally, unrepentantly sanctioned or commended — that is, allowed (see MED allouen (v.)).
83 Sex hundreth yeris and od. According to Genesis 7:6, Noah was 600 years old at the time of the flood itself; in the York plays, Noah refers to his having taken a century to build the ark (York 9.133–34), suggesting that he started this work around the time that his sons were born (see Genesis 5:31).
157 Hym to mekill wyn. That is, to increase his joy, or to his great joy (or profit).
180 Thre hundreth cubettys. A cubit, an ancient and biblical rather than medieval measurement, was roughly the length of a human forearm; the ark ‘built’ in performance would have been far smaller in its dimensions, and likely prefabricated for swift assembly (see note to line 362 below).
188 Thre chese chambres. That is, three tiered rooms, or three stories, following Genesis 6:16; see also line 406, and OED chess (n.2).
192–95 Make in thi ship . . . . ther must be. This passage goes beyond the biblical description of the ark (see Genesis 6:14–16) in its specification of interior details including “parloures,” or private chambers, and “houses of offyce” — a term that normally refers to latrines, or storehouses, but which in this context likely means stables (as glossed by SC p. 683) for the “beestys.”
219 Of ich kynd beestys two. See Genesis 6:20; Genesis 7:2–3 specifies taking aboard seven pairs of all ritually clean (and thus edible) animals, and of all birds, and two of everything else.
273, s.d. Tunc perget ad uxorem. Noah’s wife is unnamed and barely mentioned in the biblical account, but is often treated in medieval sources (including Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale) as the archetypal shrewish wife.
290 Stafford blew. “Stafford blue” is a type of blue cloth, but here punningly signifies bruising from a beating with a staff.
300 We women. The wife here addresses the women in the audience (see lines 567–68), but perhaps also her sons’ wives, who speak in lines 512–22.
303 That lowsyd me of my bandys. During the conventional month-long 'lying in' following birth, also known as “our Lady’s bands,” sexual and other activity was not permitted, making this at least potentially a time of rest and social pleasure, in the exclusive company of women.
315 By my thryft. That is, by my luck, or, as I hope to prosper — a common oath.
318 Gill. Gill (or Jill) may be the wife’s name (see also the second Shepherds play, where it is the name of Mak’s wife), but is also a contemptuous nickname for a woman, and homonymous with the word for guile or deceit (see MED gile (n.3)). The language that follows clearly indicates a physical fight.
322–23 I shal not in thi det / Flyt of this flett. That is, she will not lose this fight. The following lines indicate further physical action: reference to a “languet,” a thong used to tie up men’s hose (MED langet (n.), sense c), could mean that she kicks him with her shoe or that she hits him with something else — “languet” (literally “little tongue” in French) can also refer to the projecting sides of a spade (see OED languet (n.), etymology and sense 2b).
329 Godys pyne. That is, anachronistically, Christ’s passion or suffering.
359–60 I may sit downe daw / To ken. “To sit down” here means “to put up with,” while a “daw” is a fool or, in this context, a sluggard, and “to ken” means “to make known” — hence, “I may have to put up with being known as a lazy fool.”
362 wrightry. In the York pageant of the building of the ark, produced by York’s Shipwrights, Noah’s professed ignorance of “shippecraft” (York 8.67) is followed swiftly by a fairly detailed technical description of his work and tools. The ark itself, however, was likely prefabricated, as suggested here by Noah’s measurement of the length, breadth, and height of the ark (lines 373–77) even before he casts off his gown to begin work (lines 378–79).
363–64 In nomine patris, et filii, / Et spiritus sancti. Amen. Noah’s anachronistic use of the Trinitarian formula, adopted from Matthew 28:19, emphasizes the concept of the Trinity as pre-existing the birth of Jesus; see also 1.5–6, and 15.185–90.
391–93 The top . . . . and the castell. The “top” is a platform on a mast; the “castle” is any tall structure on the deck.
430–31 garn on the reyll / Other. Noah refers to having other plans than fleeing alone, as his wife has just suggested (lines 428–29), but his spinning metaphor is apt. Noah’s wife will later be seen spinning actual yarn with a spindle and reel (see lines 488–90 and 528–29), and is likely holding if not already using her distaff (or “rok,” line 490) which holds the unspun fibers. The distaff is also a traditional symbol of Eve.
464 Brether, sam. The word “sam” could be parsed here either as an adverb (“Brothers together” — see line 457: “Trus sam”) or as an imperative verb (“Brothers, come together”).
491 Well were he myght get me. That is, one would have to be lucky to catch me.
499–500 the planettys seven / Left has thare stall. Even the planets in the heavens (see 1.50–51) have left their position (orbiting around the earth) under the power of this flood from heaven.
505–06 Full sharp ar thise showers / That renys aboute. SC (p. 708) gloss showers here as “attack (of pain), pant” (see MED shour (n.), sense 4), which is possible, although the more usual meaning, of rain showers, seems more likely here (but see 9.140 and 26.401).
510 go cloute thi shone. Proverbial. See Whiting S259.
527 Set I not a pyn. I do not set the value (of the gain or loss of your fellowship) as high as that of a pin — that is, our relationship is worthless. Proverbial. See Whiting P212.
528–530 This spyndill will . . . . styr oone fote. The wife asserts that she will wind the spun yarn off the spindle, and onto the reel, before she leaves the hill.
531 Peter, I traw we dote. By Saint Peter, I think that we are — or that she is — acting foolishly.
543–44 I will not . . . Go from doore to mydyng. That is, I will not take a single step at your bidding. The term “midden” can refer either to an outdoor toilet or to a dump for kitchen refuse (see MED midding (n.) and OED midden (n.)).
554 Wat Wynk. This mocking alliterative nickname (compare “Nicholl Nedy” at line 585) could be translated as “Sleepy Walt” (“Wat” being a short form of Walter; see also MED winke (n.)).
562–65 Might I onys . . . . penny doyll. That is, if only I could be a widow, I would happily pay to have mass said on behalf of your soul; see the note to 9.361–64.
567 on this sole. The word sole here could refer to any level site, as glossed by SC (p. 710; see MED sole (n.), sense 2d, citing this line but with a question mark); however, it likely refers to the floor or foundation of a building (OED sole (n.1), sense 3a, also citing this line), suggesting indoor performance.
585 Nicholl Nedy. See note to line 554, above.
587 Begynnar of blunder. The phrase alludes to Eve; see the note to lines 430–31 above.
603 Thise ar so hidus. A word may be missing here. SC emend the line to read “Thise [weders] ar so hidus,” (p. 42) citing a similar line in the second Shepherds play (9.83).
611 the seven starnes. While the planets (including the sun and moon; see lines 499–500 as well as 1.50–51 and note) were sometimes referred to as the “seven stars” (as glossed by SC p. 713, starne), the likely reference here is to the Pleiades constellation, also known as the Seven Sisters, and used for nighttime navigation.
636–37 This travell I expownd / Had I to tyne. That is, this effort is wasted.
661 Thre hundreth dayes and fyfty. According to the biblical account, the flood began “in the second month, in the seventeenth day of the month” (Genesis 7:11) and, including the forty days of rain, lasted just over a year: “In the second month, the seven and twentieth day of the month, the earth was dried” (Genesis 8:14). See also the note to lines 690–91, below.
666 Now long shall thou hufe. SC emend to “How long shall thou hufe?” (p. 44). However, the next lines imply that Noah uses an oar to sound the depth, in which case the wife may simply be telling him that, unless he uses a line as she suggests (line 667), he can expect to be there for a while due to the (presumed) depth of the water.
674 hyllys of Armonye. Genesis 8:4 refers in Hebrew to the mountains of Ararat, which the Vulgate translates as “montes Armeniae.”
690–91 For this is the fyrst day / Of the tent moyne. According to Genesis 8:5–6, the tops of mountains appear “in the tenth month, the first day of the month,” but the raven is sent out much later, “after that forty days were passed,” where here it apparently happens immediately.
700 Dowfys, oone or two. In the biblical account, Noah sends out a single dove, but three times, at seven-day intervals: the dove returns with an olive branch in its beak only the second time (Genesis 8:11), and fails to return from the third flight. Reference here to more than one dove appears to be an accommodation of rhyme; subsequent lines (729–45) refer only to one, specifically female dove — likely a prop, as stage directions make clear for some plays, including the Chester Noah pageant (see Chester, Appendix IA, 1:464), although both live and artificial birds could be used in some cases (see Meredith and Tailby, The Staging of Religious Drama, pp. 118–19).
735–36 She bryngys in her bill / Som novels new. “Novels” means “news” or “novelties;” the olive branch is not merely something new in itself, but signifies or announces a new beginning.
Play 3, NOAH: 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 Processus Noe cum filiis. Wakefeld. MS: below this is a red paragraph mark followed by a black line over an erasure — see Explanatory Note.
51–59 feynd . . . . glotony . . . . securly . . . . full . . . . for. MS: a space has been left before each of these words due to an imperfection in the vellum affecting the odd-numbered lines.
62 and. So SC. MS: in.
101 And kepe me from syn. MS: Ioh written in a later hand in the margin beside this line, and crossed out.
188 chese. So EP, SC (as per line 406: Thre ches chambre). MS: chefe.
265 My wife will. So Surtees, EP, SC. MS: My will.
436 He has for oure seyll. A word may be missing after has. SC add behete (“promised”), citing a similar construction at line 622.
586 thee. MS: inserted above the line.
603 This ar so hidus. See Explanatory Note.
640 fyfteyn. So EP. MS: xv.
661 Thre hundreth. So EP. MS: CCC.
666 How. So SC. MS: Now.