21. The Dice
Play 21, THE DICE: FOOTNOTES
1 Here begins the pageant of the dice
2 Lines 1–13: You who stand by, perceive / That I am of marvelous worth. / Know this: / I will kill you unless you are silent. / Learn, all of you, / That I am of divine nature / And majesty; / Do not injure me by speaking, / This I command. / [Being] neither talkative / Nor derisive, / Demand peace / While I am speaking
3 Lines 35–36: I govern the laws / Of the Jews
4 Lines 49–50: Unless you bare your heads in this place
5 Dear sirs, stop searching [for words] and see that you are silent
6 For you shall give up that prize; you need not plead
7 Yet go no further on account of nothing that belongs to you
8 And I serve no manner of man but myself
9 I am given a rag that is suitable for no one
10 With all the displeasure of the will and might of Mahowne
11 Now are we obliged, since you ordered us to withhold, on your hood (see note)
12 And I am glad of that game: one try — who shall begin?
13 And I have seen as great a man fail to keep his promise
14 Eight? Ah, by God’s arms that is poor. What was wrong with me?
15 Loyal to our law, who will lie for no person
16 Lines 365–66: Sir, since you have won this wager, will you of your great goodness grant this garment to me?
17 Because you threaten me so fiercely, as if it were triple the worth
18 Many thanks and [good] remembrance, and this shall be kept in mind
19 God keep you, sirs (Dieu vous garde, monseigneurs)
20 Here ends the pageant of the dice
Play 21, THE DICE: 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).
Gambling for the robe of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospel accounts, and explicitly cited as fulfillment of prophecy (based on Psalm 21:19) both in Matthew 27:35 and in John 19:23–24, the latter being the source for the idea that the robe is seamless (see lines 296–98) and thus indivisible. The robe, one of the more important relics of the Middle Ages (see note to 9.785), is mentioned in several of the Towneley plays; the gambling itself is represented in the Crucifixion play (see 20.560–68 and note), which is problematic for the idea of the Towneley plays as a performable sequence. The play is problematic in other ways as well, even aside from its mix of sometimes ill-defined stanza forms. Both the incipit and the explicit for this play refer to the processus talentorum — that is, the pageant of the talents. However, the torturers here are not gambling for money (talentorum); nor do they draw lots here, as they do in the Crucifixion play and in the gospel sources. Instead they ultimately gamble by means of dice — that is, talorum, the genitive plural form of talus, meaning ankle-bone, from which a die was made (see line 339 and note). This is the sole extant play with such a focus, and commonly identified with York’s lost “pageant of the Millers, in which Pilate and other soldiers used to play at dice [ad talos] for the clothing of Jesus and to cast lots for them and to divide them among themselves” (REED: York, p. 733; see also p. 48) — a pageant that was produced by the Millers prior to 1422, when it and others were replaced by a single, longer pageant. The original pageant may well be the basis of the current play, but with additions from different sources and in a variety of stanza forms, likely made at different times and altered or corrupted in the process (for further commentary see Peter Meredith, “The York Millers’ Pageant and the Towneley Processus Talentorum”). Pilate’s opening speech is in the distinctive 13-line 'bob and wheel' stanza, but in Latin and comically pretentious macaronic English-Latin verse; the 13-line stanzas at the end of the play turn it into a sort of morality play against dicing, suggesting individual, stand-alone performance.
28 Kyng Atus gate me of Pila. A slightly different version of the legend of Pilate’s parentage, and the source of his name, is mentioned in York 30.10–18.
51–52 Redy my swerde . . . to shere now. Pilate is, typically, brandishing a sword; see 17.5 and note.
66–78 Loke that no boy . . . . me pay. SC break this irregular 13-line stanza into a quatrain followed by what they call one of two “truncated stanzas of the Wakefield form” (p. 583, the other such stanza being the last in the extant play). The next five lines appear to be the end of a similar stanza followed by two quatrains — effectively another irregular 13-line stanza in reverse. These may once have been part of a more regular stanza sequence, but the lengthy, partly alliterated lines in two quatrains (lines 66–69 and 84–87) are unusual.
69 By myghty Mahowne. That is, Muhammad, as (generic) false god; see note to 6.410. Such references are very frequent in this play (see lines 116, 140, 183–84, 245, 285, 288, 345, 381, and 436) as in the pageant of Caesar Augustus in the Advent sequence (see note to 7.b.9).
85 Boy, lay me downe softly. Pilate is apparently speaking to the Counselor, whom he calls “boy” at lines 203 and 240. Herod makes precisely the same request of an attendant in York 31.48, while both Pilate (30.127) and Caiaphas (29.80–83) in the York Passion sequence similarly ask to be put to bed.
92 War, war, for now com I. Like the two who follow (see lines 132, 164), Torturer 1 enters through the audience, and addresses them.
101 I spuyd and spyt right in his face. See 19.81.
121 this garmente. That is, the seamless robe of John 19:23.
124–27 For whosoever . . . . he theym were. That is, whoever wears these clothes need never worry as to where he goes, since he seems to lose nothing. The robe is said in some sources such as the Golden Legend (see 1:212–13) to have the power to protect its wearer.
131 So semely in oure gere. In Coventry, according to a record from 1490, the torturers wore distinctive black clothing decorated “with nayles & dysse” (that is, nails and dice). See REED: Coventry, p. 73; the same record is cited at 19.166.
143 Spyll-payn, in fayth, I hight. In faith, I am called Spill-pain. The MED tentatively defines this name as meaning “one who indiscriminately causes pain” (spillen (v.), sense 9), citing this line. This is the only Torturer given a name.
146 a newe play. See also line 177. In the Buffeting, the torturers refer to their 'game' of hot cockles or blind man’s buff as “a new play of Yoyll” (see 18.498 and note); however, as described in the lines that follow, this “play” could also refer to the scourging, which does immediately precede the crucifixion as suggested in lines 152–53.
174 Lyn. Presumably King’s Lynn in Norfolk, an important port in the later Middle Ages.
211 You carles unkynde. Pilate either addresses more than one counselor here, one of whom never speaks, or refers to the single counselor as part of a noisy crowd that includes the torturers or perhaps the audience; see also line 242.
229 Sett thee with sorow, then semys thou the les. That is, be properly humble or else. The first phrase means to be or appear sorrowful — a wish for ill luck on someone — while the second refers to looking smaller or more inferior.
244 Ye knaw not the comon cowrs that longys to a kyng. That is, you (plural) do not know how to behave with a king. As indicated by the reference to “felowse” in the previous line, Pilate addresses more than one individual. Given that Torturer 1 speaks the next line, it is likely that Pilate addresses the Counselor along with the Torturers who have apparently been making noise since their entrance, albeit at a distance (see note to line 211, above).
250 Ye wote that ye demyd this day apon desse. You know that which you judged today on your dais — “that” being Jesus.
257 Lefe syrs, let be youre laytt and loke that ye layn. This line is the sole citation in both the MED and OED for the use of this noun as referring to search or seeking (OED lait (n.3); MED leit (n.2)). However, Pliate clearly focuses here on the Torturers’ speech as such, advising them not simply to be silent, as is common in these plays, but to stop searching — that is, for words. The OED also notes a later dialectical use of the verb to refer to hesitating in speech, alongside another citation from Towneley, in which Jesus uses the same verb in relation to his explication to the Doctors of other words, namely, the ten commandments (14.184) — see OED lait (v.2), sense 2.
265 I ment that no mytyng shuld mell hym of this. “This” refers to the garments of Jesus, which Pilate evidently snatches away from the torturers in the previous line (“that appentys unto me”); in line 267, Torturer 1 refers to Pilate as having to give it up.
275 Take thou this, and thou that, and this shall be thyne. Pilate evidently deals out three small pieces of the robe, yet it clearly remains whole (see line 300). Either he is simply indicating the parts of the robe that he would theoretically give to the others if he were indeed to “shere it in shredys” as suggested (line 274[a]), or cheating by giving them other pieces of cloth, or the miraculous robe remains miraculously intact, much as in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes — a miracle that occurs in all four gospel accounts, but notably twice in Matthew (14:13–21, 15:32–39) and in Mark (6:31–44, 8:1–9).
278–79 To tymely I toke it to take it thee untyll / The farest and the fowllest thy felowse to fang. That is, I brought the robe too soon, allowing you to take the best and give your fellows the worst.
283 lap. That is, a mere piece or flap of cloth (see MED lappe (n.), sense 3). See also the note to line 275 above.
289–91 Drede you not . . . . as it fallys. Fear not at all, for we will do so (that is, take the garment, see line 287); grieve not greatly, you will only get this gown as it divides by four (that is, you will get only the quarter that is your share). Both of the formulaic alliterative phrases that begin these lines are repeated later in the play; see lines 316, 303, and 334.
301 on youre hud. While similar to the phrase “by thy hood” (9.339; see also “my hode” at 2.218 and 8.196), this line appears to call for a gesture on the part of Pilate that could be taken for such an oath (perhaps mockingly — see line 304), such as touching his hat as he speaks. See also line 347[b] and note.
331 Thryrteen ar on thre. That is, the numbers on the three dice as thrown by Pilate add up to thirteen — a famously unlucky number associated with betrayal.
334 the next shall be nar. That is, the next throw will be better — nearer to a clear win.
339 thise byched bones. See also line 350. The same cursing reference to dice is found in Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale (CT VI[C] 656).
346 Seven is bot the seconde. That is, the second highest non-winning score, Torturer 1 having thrown eight.
347[b] Do shott at thi hud. This phrase is perhaps related to the common asseveration “by one’s hood” (see line 301 and note) but with an abusive edge; “shot” can refer to defecation (see for instance the play of Mankind, lines 782–86).
351 Felowse, in forward here have I fefteen. The phrase in forward literally means “by agreement” (as glossed by SC p. 675) or “according to promise” — here referring to the third Torturer’s promise to win, or his ‘agreement’ with the dice to “go now on gud” (line 349).
353 whistyll ye in the wenyande. The waning moon or waniand was considered unlucky (see note to 2.227–29), but here Pilate accuses Torturer 3 of whistling to push the dice toward a high score; see line 360.
364 For if it were duble full dere is it boght. Torturer 3 worries that he has won the robe at the expense of Pilate’s good will, which could cost him greatly. See also line 370, where he refers to Pilate’s threats as tripling the apparent cost.
395–96 As Fortune assyse / Men wyll she make. The image of Fortune with her wheel, which brings some upward while casting others down, making and breaking human success, is very common in medieval literature.
410–12 His hyppys then bakys / No symnell / Forhote. He then bakes no hot simnel — that is, fine bread, signifying the wealth lost by the turning of Fortune’s wheel. The phrase “his hips” (see 9.805–06 and note) here effectively serves as a comic title, parallel in form to “his highness.”
414–15 Is ther none other skyfte / Bot syfte, lady, syfte. That is, is there nothing other than constant trial? The word skift can refer to a trick or device, or to any attempt at doing something, or to fate, while “to sift” — aside from its literal meaning of putting through a sieve — means to try or put to trial (see MED siften (v.) and OED sift (n.), sense 2).
Play 21, THE DICE: 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 talorum. So SC. MS: talentorum. See headnote to this play in Explanatory Notes.
1–4 Cernite qui statis . . . . cedam ni taceatis. MS: the first lines are written in a formal variant of the main Anglicana hand.
8 noceatis. So SC. MS: neceatis.
31 vulgari. SC: wulgari. MS: wlgari.
33 vult. SC: wult. MS: wlt.
53 Atrox armipotens. MS: this stanza begins at the top of the page with an uncancelled extra-metrical line, omitted here, combining lines 53 and 56: Atrox armipotens: I graunt men girth by my good grace.
90 hanged. So MS. SC: hangyd.
99 swere. So EP, SC. MS: swe.
124 close. MS: the long s is written over another letter.
166 I have. MS: I is written in the margin, the scribe having apparently first started the line with have.
216 me. MS: se is crossed out before this word.
252 nowar. So SC. EP: ay war; MS: no war, no badly worn and very faint.
273 And I myster to no maner of mans bot myn. MS: the rule separating speeches is written in black above this line and as far as the name Pilatus, with a short red line after that speech heading.
290 Grefe you not greatly, ye gett not this gowne. MS: before this line in the left margin a later hand has written Omnipotenti in brown ink, the O having been mostly cropped.
291 foure. MS: iiij.
292 then craftely to cutt it were I bowne. So EP, SC. MS: then were I bowne craftely to cutt it, emended for rhyme.
305 Tytt shuld I spede for to spyll hym. MS: before this line in the left margin in faded brown ink a later hand has written reator [Creator?], any previous letters having been cropped, and The below that in larger letters.
331 Thryrteen. So EP. MS: xiij.
337 aght. So EP. MS: viij.
346 Seven. So EP. MS: vij.
351 fefteen. So EP. MS: xv.
360 puf. MS: this word is preceded by a partial uncancelled letter (perhaps anticipating the b of blaw at the end of this line).
370 throlé. MS: sore crossed out before this word.
435 Dew vows garde monsenyours. So SC. MS: Dew vows mon senyours.
After 438 talorum. So SC. MS: talentorum (as in opening line); see headnote to this play in Explanatory Notes.