20. The Crucifixion
Play 20, THE CRUCIFIXION: FOOTNOTES
1 The pageant of the cross follows
2 What is written, I have written
3 Here ends the crucifixion of Christ
Play 20, THE CRUCIFIXION: 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).
With its mix of styles and stanza forms, the Crucifixion appears to be a composite play, edited together from diverse original sources either for reading purposes or for independent performance, much like the Conspiracy (which likewise differs in its incipit and explicit) and the Scourging. The image of Christ crucified is of course central to late medieval devotional practices, and these have strongly influenced the current work; Jesus is left hanging on the cross for close to 500 lines — far longer than in York (where the Crucifixion and the Death and Burial are separate pageants) or Chester — while Jesus’ mother Mary and his disciple John utter traditional lyrical laments. However, the presence of the two thieves, crucified alongside Jesus according to all gospel accounts, goes unnoted, and the burial is referred to but not staged. The torturers gamble for the robe of Jesus, but differently than in the play of the Dice that follows.
23 Prynce of all Jury. As in some other plays (see for example 17.180), Pilate in these stanzas is represented not merely as complicit with the Jewish enemies of Jesus but also, ahistorically, as Jewish rather than Roman, although he also swears “by Mahownys bloode” in line 14.
29 All peasse. Much like Pilate before him (line 1 here, and both in the Conspiracy and in the Scourging), the Torturer enters with a call for peace, typical of opening speeches; this may once have been the opening line of a play written entirely in a 6-line stanza form (rhymed aabccb), to which Pilate’s speech and much else has been added. Regardless, it is likely that the torturers, along with Jesus carrying the cross, enter through the audience in order to get to Calvary (which they reach only at line 83), making this cry for peace an appropriate, even necessary means of getting attention and silencing the audience.
68 here oone to the othere syde. Torturer 2, like Torturer 1, has a cord or leather thong with which to fasten Jesus to the cross. While binding his wrists to the cross ostensibly makes the nails appear redundant (historically placed through the wrist, although traditionally represented as through the palms), this is necessary to help the actor remain in place particularly during the lifting of the cross.
86–88 Yee, for as modee . . . . had the rake. Yes, for as sad as he can look, he would have played another trick if he had had the opportunity. SC paraphrase these lines as meaning, “For, as arrogant as he looks, he would have played another trick [i.e. behaved quite differently], if he had been put on the rack” (p. 576n86–8), although “to have the rake” means “to have the opportunity” to do something (MED rake (n.3)). Interestingly, while the Torturers have been stressing his pride in previous lines (see lines 47, 54, and 69) “moody” in this context could also mean “distressed" or “sorrowful” (see MED modi (adj.), sense 2b), befitting the traditional “Man of Sorrows” image.
92 Ye must just in tornamente. The idea of Jesus as warrior or knight is central to various works, including The Dream of the Rood, one of the oldest poems in English, but the specific metaphor of the crucifixion as jousting at a tournament is also used in Passus 18 of Langland’s Piers Plowman.
100 sett. The seat is the cross, or more specifically the sedile, a small post or projection on the upright beam that allows Jesus, or rather the actor, to sit rather than hang, here metaphorically treated as the saddle (line 102) on his palfrey (see line 114 and note). The sedile (sometimes referred to as a cornu or horn) is mentioned in a number of different Latin sources, including works by Tertullian and Justin Martyr; the footrest more commonly pictured in medieval art was not likely a feature of Roman crucifixion, but is a practical necessity in theater.
103 For fallyng be thou bold. That is, do not fear falling; he will be securely fastened to the cross (see lines 116–17).
104 I hete thee well tho bydys a shaft. I promise you sincerely that you will suffer a lance. This continues the jousting metaphor and anticipates the spearing of his side by the “blind knight” Longeus (see lines 651–62).
105–06 Bot if thou sytt well, thou had better laft / The tales that thou has told. That is, unless you remain firmly seated, you would be better off having dispensed with those stories you told — specifically, of being king, a position he will (they assume) lose in losing this 'joust.'
114 And wyn apon youre palfray sone. And mount your horse without delay (see also line 201). A palfrey is not a war horse suitable for jousting, but a regular saddle-horse such as a lady might ride. In the York Crucifixion play, Jesus lays himself down on the cross (see York 35.75–76); here, given the lack of comment, he may be placed on the cross by the torturers, but without resistance — being “led as a sheep to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).
119–99 Knyt thou a knott . . . . clynke it right. The stretching of Jesus’ limbs to reach pre-bored holes on the cross is commonplace in meditative traditions, and is dramatized in York, Chester, and N-Town as well. The right hand is traditionally fastened first (as explicitly noted in a stage direction in the Chester version; see Chester 16A.After 192). Having realized that the holes are too far apart, they pull one arm into place (line 125); Torturer 2 ties it there (lines 125–28), and Torturer 3 hammers in the nail (see lines 131–37). Torturer 2 then goes to hold down the knees (line 140) while the others pull the left hand to the bore-hole, but he quickly thereafter joins them at the second bore-hole to hold the nail in position (see lines 150–54). They then attempt to draw the legs down. Initially they all pull together (lines 162–68), but they ultimately take turns before managing to align his feet with the borehole, at which point Torturer 4 hammers in the nail (see lines 195–99). Finally they go raise the cross together. (SC p. 577n119–99 give a notably different summary of the action in these same lines; see also note to line 150 below.)
123–24 It wantys . . . Othere half span and more. That is, as everyone can see, his hand falls short of the bore-hole for the nail by at least half a span (a span being the widest distance between the tips of one’s thumb and little finger — roughly 9 inches or 23 cm).
144 That was well drawen, that that. That was well-pulled, that thing there. Torturer 4 goes on for four more lines about just how well-pulled it was, evidently taking the credit himself (and will later blame others for not pulling properly — see lines 170–72). Here Torturer 1 is giving orders, but apparently doing little more than that, while Torturer 2 is holding down Jesus’ knees (line 140[b]; see note to lines 119–99 above). In line 143, Torturer 3 tells someone else to pull, likely Torturer 4; he himself may be otherwise occupied, holding the already fastened arm in place, or perhaps sitting on that arm while pushing the other toward the bore-hole.
150 take the bore. That is, hold the nail to ensure that it goes into the prebored hole (see MED taken (v.), sense 1c; see also lines 195–96 and note. SC understand this phrase to refer to boring a hole at the “marke” (lines 146, 190; see SC p. 577–78n119–99, and p. 661 bore (n.2)), in accordance with the MED, which cites this line in support of its definition for taken as meaning “to build (sth.), construct, make” (sense 42a). However “marke” likewise refers to the bore-hole itself, as in York 35.109, where one of the torturers complains that the “marke amisse be bored.” The pulling and stretching of Jesus is necessary only if the holes are pre-bored, as in other accounts and dramatic representations.
159 Felowse, fest on fast youre hende. That is, fellows, grab hold tightly with your hands.
161 by this wedyr. That is, by heavens — a mild oath.
165 draw we ilka syn from syn. That is, pull his sinews apart, by tugging his legs toward the bore-hole.
167–69 Nay, felowse, this is no gam . . . . So mekill have I asspyed. Pulling together has clearly been unsuccessful, so they will make individual attempts. Torturer 4 goes on to state that their failure was due to someone seeking “ease” by jerking on the rope (lines 171–72), suggesting that when they pulled together they suddenly and simultaneously tumbled backward.
189 Pull therat with somkyn gyn. Torturer 1 is now taking his turn at pulling the rope. While “gin” here could simply mean “skill” or “strategem” — that is, Torturer 2 is telling him to pull on the rope in a different, more skillful way, since everyone else has been unsuccessful — it is also possible that some type of mechanical contrivance or tool is to be used here, such as piece of wood around which the cord is fastened to facilitate the pulling. See MED gin(ne (n.), sense 3.
195–96 Which of you can best dryfe, / And I shall take the bore. That is, whichever of you can best hammer, while I hold the nail in place at the bore-hole (see note to line 150 above). Torturer 4 offers to do this in the next line.
216–17 For hym that all this warld weldys, / Put fro thee with thi hande. That is, by the almighty creator — meaning Mahound (see line 181) rather than the one they are crucifying — push it with your hand. The cross is leaning to one side (line 215[b]) and in danger of falling over.
226 gape agans the son. That is, gape at the sun, referring to Jesus’ openeyed, open-mouthed (but silent) expression of pain after the cross is jarringly dropped into the mortise.
227 war thi crowne. Watch your crown — that is, the crown of thorns, which might well slip as the cross falls into place. The line gives an opportunity for Torturer 1 to push at the crown with a stick if necessary, and otherwise serves as mockery.
230 Shog hym well and let us lyfte. In order to ensure that the cross is securely placed in the mortise they will (following line 231) lift up the cross and let it fall once more. They will — extraordinarily — do this yet again, just for painful effect; see lines 305–10.
233–96 I pray you pepyll . . . . have thus spylt. The lament or reproach from the cross is a common lyrical subject in the later Middle Ages; this particular six stanza lament, along with the three stanza continuation at lines 503–35, may be adapted from such a lyric. Ultimately modeled on a verse from the biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah (1:12, “O all ye that pass by . . .”), the lament takes up themes that are central to affective piety, such as the specific pains that the sinless Jesus has suffered on account of human sin; the audience, as representative of all humankind, is deemed responsible even for the hammer blows that, in the context of this play, they have just witnessed. The couplet that follows Jesus’ lines was likely once part of a regular 6-line stanza, but clearly responds to a similar evocation of Luke 23:34; see lines 292–95 and note.
241–43 My mayn, my mode, my myght . . . . none bot care. That is, all my strength — physical and emotional — has been reduced to a sorrowful spectacle, and the only comfort is grief.
255–60 All creatoures . . . . his shuder bone. See Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58.
274 Se thus thi wekydnes. This stanza like the next is irregular; a line appears to be missing just before or after this one (and rhymed with “wekydnes”).
281–85 Thus by I Adam blode . . . . for to wyn. Through his passion, Christ buys Adam’s blood — his sinful descendants — with his own, seeking no gain or profit for himself. A line appears to be missing just before or after line 281 (and rhymed with “blode”); see the note to line 274 above.
290 all byspytt me spytusly. See Matthew 27:30, and the Scourging 19.81.
292–95 Bot Fader . . . . Thay wote not what thay doyn. See Luke 23:34. The couplet that follows these lines, shared by two torturers, was likely once part of a regular stanza, but clearly serves as a response to what Jesus has just said; the lyrical lament from the cross here might well have replaced four lines of a regular 6-line stanza comprised of a similar paraphrase of the well-known verse from Luke.
305–06 Lyft us this tre . . . and let it into the mortase fall. See line 230 and note.
311–44 Alas the doyll . . . . thus fare. The lament of Mary below the cross is another popular lyric subject and, like that of Jesus earlier, appears to have been derived from an independent source, which likely included the continuation of the lament in lines 367–82 (and possibly also lines 453–60, attributed to John, and written in the same stanza form). Mary and the disciple John are regularly depicted together at the crucifixion based on John 19:25–27 (see the note to lines 520–24 below), which nonetheless mentions Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleophas as well (see note to 19.363). Although the exchange between Mary and John is likely derived from a different source from Mary’s lament, or planctus, Frank Napolitano (“Discursive Competition”) has shown how this planctus leads to a competitive exchange with John that is then resolved by Jesus, which indicates a deliberate dramaturgical principle behind the interwoven additions.
317–18 In warld, son, were never we / So wo as I in wede. That is, there was never, my son, a person (see MED wie, (n.), sense a) more woeful as I am. This variation of the alliterative phrase “wight in wede” (see note to 16.115) may indicate that Mary is wearing a garment akin to “widow’s weeds” (which could be white rather than black) to indicate mourning.
380 Whi will thou fare me fro. This line serves as a sort of refrain through her speech; see lines 411 and 417, also 446.
385–90 Me mynnys . . . . shuld it be. See for example Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 20:19. This stanza is very similar in form to the 13-line 'bob and wheel' stanza.
396–423 Mi sorow . . . . bayll will brest. These alternating 8- and 6-line stanzas could be configured as 14-line stanzas of the sort used in much of the Lazarus play (see note to 16.119), as is done in SC (p. 299, lines 396–423).
405–07 His robe is . . . . shapen with my sydys. The flesh of Jesus, shaped in Mary’s womb (“sydys”), is now torn like a garment, alluding to his seamless robe or “mantyll” (line 558) that will not be torn but gambled for later in the play; see lines 560–68 and note below). The seamless robe itself was often seen as a symbol of the mystical, indivisible body of Christ.
446 frely foode. See note to 7.d.85. Four lines from the original stanza may be missing just prior to this line, the stanza being otherwise the same in form as the two previous.
461–80 Alas dede . . . . lyf no more. These two stanzas constitute an apostrophe or address to death personified, ending in a prayer for death.
474 Sen I had childer none bot oone. That is, since I had no other children but this one. Two lines may be missing from this stanza, which otherwise resembles those immediately before and after.
481 Gabriell, that good / Some tyme thou can me grete. Mary addresses the (absent) angel Gabriel, referring to the Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38 and play 7c).
512 To lowse that bon was are. That is, to free those who previously were bound (in hell).
520–24 Woman . . . . thi moder mylde. See John 19:26–27. While the biblical passage does not actually name John, the identification of John with “the disciple that Jesus loved” in the gospel of John is traditional. Once Jesus names them mother and son in this way (addressing John only in line 524), they effectively vanish from the play. In the York version, Mary Cleophas explicitly asks that they lead Jesus’ mother away from the cross (see York 36.272); similar action would be appropriate here, given their silence at the death of Jesus and lack of involvement in the deposition from the cross.
536 Noght bot hold thi peasse. The regular 6-line stanza resumes here. While this stanza’s references to “drink” (see lines 537 and 539) respond to Jesus’ complaint of thirst in the preceding lines, those preceding lines may nonetheless be an interpolation, replacing a stanza that contained a similar complaint by Jesus.
539–40 Have here the draght . . . not swete. Jesus is offered a drink of vinegar from a sponge on a reed according to Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36 (vinegar and hyssop according to John 19:29). Prior to the crucifixion, according to Matthew 27:34 (see Mark 15:23, but also Psalm 69:21), he is offered wine or vinegar mixed with bitter gall to dull the pain, which he refuses; see the references to “asell” and “gall” in plays 23.277–78, 24.90, and 25.246, 526. The two offers of drink are frequently conflated.
549 That he shuld make us tempyl-les. That is, that he should destroy the temple; see Matthew 27:40.
560–68 How wold thou . . . . say not theragayn. See Matthew 27:35 and John 19:23–24. The gambling for the seamless robe of Jesus — a famous ecclesiastical relic in the Middle Ages (see note to 9.785) — is also the subject of the play of the Dice, which follows in the MS. Here Torturer 4 draws the long straw and thus claims his prize (to the chagrin of Torturer 1).
572 yond skraw. Pilate has attached a scroll to the cross above Jesus’ head; see John 19:19–20 and note to 596–97 below.
583 All is not worth a beyn. Proverbial. See Whiting B92.
589 Appolyn. Apocalypse 9:11 refers to Apollyon or Abaddon, “the destroyer,” as the angel of the abyss; in Hebrew scripture the name Abaddon is used to refer to hell. Here, his name is used as an oath.
591 I am the best Latyn wright. That is, I am the best at understanding Latin — the primary language of medieval instruction. Torturer 4 is effectively asserting that he is the most literate.
596–97 Jesu of Nazareyn / He is kyng of Jues. See John 19:19–20 and Luke 23:38, both of which also explain that the inscription is written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (see lines 584–87). However, in Western tradition the sign is conventionally represented with only the letters INRI, the acronym of the Latin inscription, Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum. According to the Northern Passion, the three languages are evident in that one line: “Nazaret was Grew, Jhesu Ebrew, / Kyng of Jues was Latyn . . .” (Codex Ashmole, lines 1594–95).
611–13 Quod scriptum scripsi . . . . theragane. The Latin here is a misquotation of John 19:22: Quod scripsi scripsi (“What I have written, I have written”). Otherwise these lines closely resemble those in York 36.114–17.
624–28 If thou be Crist . . . . all trow in thee. See Mark 15:30–32.
636 Hely, hely, lamazabatany. This line, transliterated from Aramaic in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 (usually now as Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani), is translated in the rest of this speech. Like the unnamed onlookers in Matthew 27:47 and Mark 15:35, Torturer 2 responds by stating that he must be calling on Elias — that is, the prophet Elijah — to save him (line 640).
650 I betake my saull. Jesus’ last words on the cross are taken from Luke 23:46. The dialogue here makes no reference to the unnatural darkness, earthquakes, rending of the temple curtain, or resurrection of the dead mentioned in gospel accounts as occurring simultaneously with the death of Jesus (see for example Matthew 27:51–54 and Luke 23:44–45), as mentioned in the Resurrection play (23.51–56).
655 Gar me not do bot I wote what. Do not make me do anything other than what I know I do — that is, do not trick me. The response of Torturer 3 (“Not bot put up fast”) means “[do] nothing other than to shove your spear upward, quickly,” which the Torturer ‘helps’ or forces him to do (see lines 661–62). The story of the centurion whose spear pierces the side of Christ (the last of the Five Holy Wounds, the others being caused by the nails in his hands and feet) is based primarily on John 19:34–35 as elaborated in the apocryphal but highly popular Gospel of Nicodemus, which gives him the name Longeus (see Hulme, Middle-English Harrowing of Hell, p. 63, line 625) or Longinus (based on the Greek word for a lance — this particular lance or spear being famous both in the Grail legends and as a relic in Saint Peter’s, Rome). In the Middle English translation, he is blind, but the blood that runs down his spear miraculously restores his sight (line 658) and makes him a believer. His next and final speech, lines 657–64, is in a different stanza form (4 couplets), suggesting a possible interpolation.
675 bytter tornamente. The phrase suggests “bitter torment” while extending the metaphor of the tournament from the earlier part of the play; see the note to line 92 above and also 22.386.
714 wonden and well dight. The body of Jesus is to be carefully wrapped in a linen shroud (Mark 15:46) for burial.
716–18 Bere we hym . . . . many a yere. The lines imply burial not merely near but in a church (“kyrke”), possibly a reference to an Easter sepulchre (see Sheingorn, Easter Sepulchre in England), where the sacramental host and crucifix were kept from Good Friday until Easter Sunday.
720–24 He that dyed on Gud Fryday . . . . And rose on Pasche morne. This final stanza takes the audience out of the world of the play, and — with its past-tense reference to the ostensibly subsequent resurrection — implies stand-alone rather than sequential performance.
Play 20, THE CRUCIFIXION: 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).
1–2 Peasse I byd . . . stone in wall. MS: the first two lines are written in a formal variant of the main Anglicana hand.
11 maide. MS: dr crossed out before this word.
20 yow. MS: another hand has written ow in darker ink over the original letter.
32 fals. MS: written above line in hand of main scribe.
45 Those prowde wordes shall I never forgyf. MS: a later hand has written send me in the left margin before this line, any prior letters being cropped with the edge of the page.
83 Now ar we at the monte of Calvarye. MS: the rule above this line, separating speeches by different characters, is roughly drawn in black rather than the usual red.
84 felows. So SC. MS: folows.
115 he is redy. So EP, SC. MS: he redy.
132 thar. MS: ther is crossed out before this word.
190 Torturer 3 (speech heading). MS: the speech heading (iijus tortor) is correctly placed in the middle of the line of text (given here as two separate lines) but not boxed off as is usual.
199 For to clynke. So EP, SC. MS: ffor clynke.
204 help this. So SC. MS, EP: help that this.
277 for my mys. So EP, SC. MS: for mys. Another possible reading would be for my syn.
320 luf-longyng. So SC. MS: lyf longyng.
358 syn. So EP, SC. MS: sy.
359 For theym to thole this payn. MS: below this line a later hand has copied For theym to thole payn.
374 plight. So SC. MS: pight.
396 sorow. MS: before this word socoure has been crossed out in red, with a row of black dots beneath.
430 fro. MS: the r is written over another letter.
456 sondere. So EP. SC: sonder. MS: sonder with a flourish indicating final e.
519 broght. So SC. MS: boght, likely anticipating the end of line 522.
532 unethes. So SC. MS: vnothes.
548 prophecyes. So SC. MS: prophes.
549 tempyl-les. So SC. MS: tempylles.
553–71 He lyes that . . . . art ful fayn. MS: in the right margin, parallel to the edge, a seventeenth-century hand has written Thomas Hargraues of Burnleye (see the first Textual Note to play 18 above), the top of most letters being cropped with the page.
594 And tell you what it is to say. MS: below this line in the bottom margin a later hand has written James blake bowrne by
630 God. So SC. EP: good. MS: good with the second o faintly crossed out.
669 that. So SC. EP, MS: tha.