26. The Ascension
PLAY 26, THE ASCENSION: FOOTNOTES
1 The ascension of the Lord, etc.
2 Here he withdraws
3 Who bore witness of my resurrection
4 Here he withdraws from them
5 Then he goes to the ascending device (see note)
6 And so he ascends with the angels singing “I ascend to my Father” (see note)
7 Lines 400–01: My flesh quakes like a leaf on the linden tree / to avoid the torments, [which are] sharper than thorns
8 And bade me to seek always to please you
9 And heartily in haste we should salute that gracious one
10 There was never a maiden so honorable here on earth
11 Lines 434–35: But respond to our questioning, or else we might rave / Unless you clearly guide us, so gladly would we understand
12 Preach thus to the people who are of the greatest worth
PLAY 26, THE ASCENSION: EXPLANATORY NOTES
The primary biblical source for the ascension of Jesus into heaven, forty days after the resurrection (see lines 16–17), is Acts 1:1–14, although the event is also mentioned in Mark 16:19 and Luke 24:50–52. In the latter passage, Jesus is said to lead his disciples to where the Ascension takes place, as he does in both the Chester and N-Town versions of the episode; like its York counterpart, the Towneley Ascension play requires no such change of scene, but does apparently require machinery to lift Jesus into heaven on a cloud — a moment that was evidently spectacular (see note below to 281, s.d.). Before that, much as in the Thomas play (and likewise contrary to the biblical account), Jesus twice suddenly appears and disappears before the disciples (here including Mary, based on her presence in Acts 1:14 immediately following the ascension). While the play lacks an ending, due to the missing leaves that also contained the beginning of the Judgment play (see the Introduction, p. 9, for further discussion), the action seems substantially complete. On the other hand, the “etc.” of the play’s title in the MS could possibly imply that the play went on to deal with an additional event, such as the choosing of an additional apostle to replace Judas Iscariot — an event likewise recounted in Acts 1 and briefly dramatized in the N-Town Ascension pageant — or even Pentecost (see note to line 15 below), recounted in Acts 2 and the subject of separate plays in N-Town, Chester, and York. The versification of the play is highly varied but without any discernible pattern or compositional layers, likely pointing to heavy editing and rewriting over time as well as to diverse source materials.
Before 1 Jude [character]. See note to line 437 below.
15 The Holy Gost, brethere, ment he. That is, he prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit; see lines 33–35, where he (again) does so. (For “ment,” see MED menen (v.), sense 3d.) The descent of the Holy Spirit, commemorated as the feast of Pentecost (known as Whitsuntide in England, and the occasion of the biblical plays in Chester), occurred nine days after the ascension.
21 In Bethany here let us abyde. See Luke 24:50. Bethany — the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and site of several events recounted in the gospels — was located east of Jerusalem, on the eastern slopes of Mount Olivet (the Mount of Olives) where the ascension was said to occur; see Acts 1:12 and the note to line 45 below.
45 Abide me here right on this hill. They are ostensibly already on Mount Olivet rather than in Bethany, proper.
120-36 My peasse . . . . is endid fully. See John 14:27–29.
137-73 Ye have bene . . . . in alkyn landys. This monologue is largely based on Mark 16:14–18 — one version of what is known as “the Great Commission” to spread the gospel (see also Matthew 28:16–20).
190-91 Farlee may we fownde and fare / For myssyng of oure master Jesus. In fear we may depart and go, because of the absence of our master, Jesus. The OED cites this line in defining farly as an adverb meaning “Far, to a great extent or distance.” However, the term is a form of ferli (see MED ferli (adj.) and ferlien (v.)), here meaning “fearful,” in reference to the sorrow and threats that Peter mentions in this speech (lines 193–95).
198 Mowrnyng makys us masid and mad. See York 41.98, in which Thomas states, “Mornyng makis me mased and madde.”
258-61 Bot John . . . . She is thi moder and thou hir childe. See 20:521–24 and John 19.26–27.
274-75 In his howse . . . for you now. See John 14:2.
281, s.d. Tunc vadit ad ascendendum. The ascension requires stage machinery (the ascendendum or “ascending thing” of the stage direction) involving the representation of a cloud (see lines 336, 389, and 425) in or on which Jesus rides up to heaven and out of sight, on the basis of Acts 1:9 (see SC p. 630n281+SD). A 1433 York Mercers’ Indenture listing stage properties pertaining to their production of the Doomsday pageant includes “a brandreth [grate] of Iren [th]at god sall sitte vppon when he sall sty vppe to heuen With iiij rapes at iiij corners” (that is, one rope at each corner of the grate) as well as “a cloud & ij peces of Rainbow of tymber” for him to sit on (REED: York, p. 55, lines 34–35, 27–28).
289, s.d. Ascendo ad patrem meum. These are the first words of an ecclesiastical antiphon for the feast of the Ascension, sung here by two angels; it is sung by one angel in York (42.176, s.d.), and by Christ himself in Chester (20.104, s.d.), as he is greeted by four angels.
292-95 Hevyn behold and se . . . . Where he syttys in majesté. SC suggest that Jesus should go to “his place on the heaven scaffold at the right hand of God the Father” (p. 631n290–303). However, the text itself gives no evidence of a visible heaven but rather draws attention to the ascension itself — “How Jesus up can weynde” (line 293) — and to the cloud in which he ascends (see note above to 281, s.d.). Medieval visual representations of the ascension typically just show Jesus’ feet above the heads of the disciples, below a curtain-like cloud.
308-39 For it is thurgh his myght / That all thing may. That is, this is done through the might of him who can do all things.
336 A clowde has borne my chylde to blys. Mary repeats this line verbatim in her next speech (line 389) — along with an appeal first to Jesus not to leave her with his enemies, and then to John to help her (lines 338–43 and 396–403) — possibly indicating duplication due to incomplete editing of the original text.
354-55 Where is Jesus, oure master dere / That here with us spake right now. SC question Matthew’s apparent ignorance given his presence at the ascension along with the rest, and suggest a connection to the scribal error just prior to these lines (see Textual Note 26.354 and SC p. 631n354). However, Matthew’s question is in regard to where exactly Jesus has gone: if neither he nor the audience can see Jesus at this point (see note to lines 292–95 above), the question makes more sense, although it would arguably indicate a lesser degree of faith than Mary demonstrates (see line 390 and note below). While Bartholomew does not question the ascension itself, he does ponder how far Jesus has gone from them; see lines 366–74. On the other hand, as already noted (see note to line 336 above), the text may well suffer from incomplete editing, including lines that were to have been removed; these lines would be more suitable immediately following the ascension, after line 297 — the last line in a previous series of quatrains.
362-87 A more mervell men . . . . that is right. These two stanzas are written in the 13-line “bob and wheel” stanza.
367 And yit longere I trowe he will. That is, I believe that Jesus will go farther still away from us than he is now.
372 he stevynd up so sodanly. See also line 379. The emphasis on the suddenness of the ascension likely indicates swift action, in contrast to the lengthy scene in Chester 20, which has Jesus sing as he rises, and converse with four angels.
379-80 So sodanly he was uphent / In flesh and fell fro erthe up here. That is, he was so suddenly taken up bodily from earth above here.
390 Now bot that I wote wheder is he. That is, if I did not know where he was. See note to lines 354–55 above.
393 It is the fourt of all my joyes. The “Joys of the Virgin Mary” are variously enumerated, there being as many as fifteen; however, the ascension of Jesus is frequently counted the fourth of five, the others being the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection, and the Assumption (of Mary into heaven) yet to come.
394 light on thi body. That is, may your body shine with radiance.
413 More comforth bot my son can I none crave. That is, I could ask no greater comfort than your (John’s) presence, except the presence of my son.
414-15 So covers thou my care and carpys unto me, / Whils I thee se, ever am I safe. That is, you speak to me so caringly that, as long as I see you, I feel completely safe.
427 semely in shrowde. Mary often wears a nun’s habit in medieval visual representations.
437 Jude. This character has no speaking role, and his absence would not be missed in performance, as few characters are clearly identified in the dialogue. Famously considered the patron saint of lost causes, this disciple is known both as Jude (or Judas, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot) and as Thaddeus (“Thadee” in the Towneley Conspiracy play; see 17.392), given the discrepancy between the names as given in Matthew 10:2–4 and Mark 3:14–19 as opposed to Luke 6:13–16 and Acts 1:13.
446-47 Sekys to thare savyng, ye apostilles aleven, / To the Jues of Jerusalem as youre way lyse. That is, seek the salvation of those who are most worthy (line 445), you eleven apostles, as you make your way to the Jews of Jerusalem.
PLAY 26, THE ASCENSION: TEXTUAL NOTES
The edition by Stevens and Cawley for the Early English Text Society, along with the facsimile edition that they likewise co-edited, remains the chief source for analysis of the Towneley manuscript and its various textual annotations, corrections, marginalia, and other particularities. Unlike theirs, the current edition makes no note of most minor corrections, such as an obviously misplaced and crossed-out letter before a correctly written word, except where these might potentially affect understanding of the established text.
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).
1-2 Brethere all that . . . may I noght. MS: the first two lines are written in a formal variant of the main Anglicana hand.
5 John (speech heading). MS: Iohannes Apostolus.
64 If we mowrne now in oure mynde. So MS; however, as SC note (p. 629n64), the word now may be erroneously repeated from the previous line.
113-39 Herkyns to me . . . . rysyng can prefe. MS: a long strip has been cut from the leaf at the margin, but no visible text has been affected.
152 Who baptym will abyde. MS: above this line in the top margin a later hand has written Be yt known.
162 Tokyns forsothe shall bene. MS: following this line a later hand has written Our name allso to, another word (possibly teach) being smeared and illegible. The same hand has written for I wyll below line 165.
175 Jerosolyme cité. MS: Jerosolyme, emended for rhyme.
190-97 Farlee may we . . . . mowrne we may. SC inadvertently print these two quatrains as one stanza.
212 At oure mette I wold we wore. MS: in the left margin beside this line a late hand has written Our.
289, s.d. Ascendo ad patrem meum. So EP, SC. MS: ancendo, likely an accidental carryover from angelis in the same stage direction.
354 Where is Jesus oure master dere. Before this line in MS, at the top of the page and crossed out in black, is written Certys lady thou says full wele : he will us, repeating lines 222–23, likewise assigned to Matthew.
358 We thynk it. MS: before this line the name Thomas — evidently repeating the speech heading — has been lightly erased and crossed out in red.
After 411 MS: the signature “S[i]” in the bottom right-hand corner (partly cropped in the margin) is written in red. The rest of this signature is missing, having been cut out of the MS at some point.
412 Glad am I John whils I have thee. MS: above this line in the top margin a later hand has scrawled what looks like P Haw along with some indecipherable letters.
421 prowde. The last three letters in the MS are disfigured, and very close to the binding, but still visible.
438 And. MS: And and.
451 Or els be thay dampned as men full of vyce. MS: this is the last line on a full page of writing, the verso of the first leaf of a gathering (signature S; see note After 411 above); the rest of this gathering is missing.