11. The Flight Into Egypt
Play 11, THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT: FOOTNOTES
1 Here begins the flight of Joseph and Mary into Egypt
2 Lines 12–13: What did this sweetly-intoned speech mean?
3 Here ends the flight of Joseph and Mary into Egypt
Play 11, THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT: 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 escape into Egypt immediately follows the visit of the Magi in the gospel account (Matthew 2:13–14), as it does here but not in York, where the Purification pageant intervenes (although it is misplaced in the York manuscript itself). Both in Chester and in N-Town, the angel appears to Joseph only after Herod sends out his soldiers in the pageant of the Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16) — again after the Purification pageant in N-Town but not in Chester, where the order of episodes is otherwise closer to that of Towneley. This pageant, written in 13-line stanzas (with a single exception, lines 157–68) is closely linked to that of York (written in 12-line stanzas) by some striking parallels in wording — sufficiently many scattered throughout to have led some critics to assume that one play was a revised version of the other (see Lyle, Original Identity, pp. 1–2, 53, 60–63). However, the differences are also striking. For example, the York version begins with prayers by both Joseph and Mary that indicate their strong and steadfast character; after the Angel speaks, the York Joseph responds positively and graciously, rather than with argument and complaint regarding his age and infirmity — indeed, York’s Joseph shows notable strength and calm in this episode, in relation to his earlier appearances, while Mary is more fretful, albeit less repetitively so than here in Towneley. The sheer amount of repetition within this text, much as in the York text, suggests that the Towneley play was written in deliberate if not always successful imitation.
5–7 I am an angell . . . . To cach thee outt of care. That is, I am an angel sent to get you out of trouble, in order to keep you from suffering harm.
11–13 God . . . . toyn. The rhyme is imperfect at best, possibly indicating an error in transcription.
21–24 For Herode dos . . . . Of eld. That is, Herod is killing all male children under the age of two, the age limit being based on what he has learned from the Magi, according to Matthew 2:16; see also 12.367–73.
81 Wo worth fals Herode are. The word are is most likely a variant spelling of ere (see 10.320, 330), in this context meaning “soon;” however, SC gloss are as “heir” and refer to the legend, dramatized in the Chester version of the Slaughter of the Innocents (which includes the flight into Egypt), that Herod’s son falls victim to the slaughter (SC p. 519n81).
87 Sichon for to fare. That is, to do such a thing. SC echo the similar York text (“On slike a foode [child] hym to forfare,” line 140 in Davidson’s edition), rendering the line as “Sich-on to forfare” (“Such a one to destroy;” SC p. 520n87; 180).
121 Bot tytt pak up oure gere. The York Joseph tells Mary “Do tyte, pakke same oure gere / And such smale harnes [baggage] as we have” (York 18.160–61), telling her that he will carry the “pakald” or package (18.169); here, while one line is closely similar in wording, it is less clear as to who should do the packing, and Joseph offers to carry “this pak” only at the end of the play (line 174).
127–28 From wandreth he us were, / And shame. That is, may he keep us (MED weren (v.1), sense 3) both from misfortune and from shame.
137–38 No wonder if I be wyll / And sythen has many a fo. In his use of “sythen,” here meaning “subsequently” or “since,” Joseph is apparently referring to the time since Herod has given his order for the slaughter.
151 Take me thi brydyll. Traditionally Mary rides a donkey, carrying Jesus, Joseph walking alongside, both to Bethlehem for the birth and then to Egypt.
Play 11, THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT: 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).
11–13 A, myghtfull God, / Whatever this ment, / So swete of toyn. These lines are written as one, with a metrical mark [ : ] separating lines 12 and 13, as is standard in MS, but no separation indicated between lines 11 and 12, much as in a parallel passage in York 18.41–42: A, myghtfull Lorde, whatevere that mente? / So swete a voyce herde I nevere ayre.
74 And all knave children. MS: these words were initially written to the right of the previous line, but erased and crossed out in red, and the (full) line rewritten below.
87 to forfare. So SC, following York 18.140. MS: for to fare. The phrase “for to fare” occurs in the Towneley Advent sequence, in the pageant of Joseph’s Trouble (7.e.168), but means “to go.”
94 beytt. So SC, restoring rhyme. MS: boytt, likely repeating boytt from two lines earlier.
155 began. So EP, SC. MS: beban.
157–68 Alas, full wo . . . . a greatt myschefe. This stanza has only 12 rather than 13 lines, but makes sense as it stands.