10. The Offering of the Magi
Play 10, THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI: FOOTNOTES
1 Here begins the offering of the Magi
2 Then comes the first king riding, and seeing the star he says
3 Until we come before that noble one
4 Lines 479–80: I should have ordered my death earlier, / before this happened
5 Behold, [God] has made the star to shine again
6 Here ends the offering of the three Magi
Play 10, THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI: 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 offering of the Magi to the infant Christ, based primarily on Matthew 2:1–12, was already subject to dramatic representation by the eleventh century in the form of the Officium stellae (“the ceremony of the star”), in association with the liturgical celebration of the Feast of Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas (6 January in the Gregorian calendar). Middle English pageants on this subject survive from Coventry, York, and Chester, as well as in the N-Town and Towneley collections. In Chester, the encounter with Herod and the offering itself are dramatized in separate pageants (see Chester 8 and 9), while in York the two episodes ultimately came to be performed as a single play through the cooperation of different guilds using two different wagons — one representing Herod’s palace and the other the Nativity scene (see York 16.268 and 272, s.d. and notes). The Towneley version has an interesting connection to York: the Angel’s speech to the three kings appears to have been borrowed almost word for word from the parallel York play (see note to lines 595–606 below); this is the only 12- line stanza in the play, the rest being written in the same 6-line rime couée stanza as four of the York plays (6, 22, 38, and 41). However, in most respects this play stands alone, and could well have been performed that way. The staging apparently requires three distinct loci: Herod’s palace, presumably with a throne for Herod but also with discrete seating for the three kings; a space in which the kings meet Mary and her child; and — uniquely — a bed, where the Angel comes to them in a dream. The kings both enter and depart in different directions on horseback, and a messenger apparently goes in among the audience, remaining there through one scene. Interestingly, this is the only play in the collection that contains any stage directions in English (after lines 504, 510, and 522). The text is also unusually repetitive, with several formulaic alliterative phrases (such as “se and sand” at lines 8, 225, 248, 399, 631) and some entire lines being repeated, along with specific content such as the significance of the star and the kings’ gifts — repetition that would be especially suited to a crowded outdoor performance.
6–7 lord am I. / Lord am I. Concatenation (a type of verbal repetition) links the first six (and occasional other) stanzas in this play.
33–34 I am myghty man aywhare, / Of ilka pak. That is, I am the mightiest man of (any and) every company. Herod is typically boastful — see the headnote to play 12, Herod the Great.
62 Those laddys that will not lede oure lay. SC emend lede to lefe — that is, “believe in our law” (SC p. 514n62) — although lede here could mean to administer, suffer, or conduct one’s self according to that law (see MED leden (v.1), senses 1 and 9). In Scots, the verb lede had specific associations with the administration of the law and with conducting legal proceedings (see DSL lede (v.), sense 17, 18, and 19).
73–84 All peasse, lordyngys . . . . told he mee. The messenger addresses the audience, having left the area that represents Herod’s palace; he may remain among the audience throughout the meeting of the three kings, which he apparently witnesses (see line 275).
81–82 And othere God ye worship none / Bot Mahowne. The order invoking the worship of Muhammad (see note to 6.410) parodies the biblical (and Islamic) commandment to worship none but God alone — see Exodus 20:3–5 and Deuteronomy 5:7–9.
84, s.d. Tunc venit primus rex equitans . . . . The biblical account (only in Matthew 2:1–12) does not mention three kings, only an unknown number of magi — magicians, astrologers, or wise persons — who follow a star from the east bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11); the naming of three gifts in part gave rise to the identification of three kings. In the Chester version of this episode, the kings initially ride horses (8.48, s.d.), but then find “dromodaryes to ryde upon” (8.102), which unlike the horses would likely have been wheeled props. While stage directions are lacking for the next two entrances here, these three kings all ride horses, as indicated in the stage direction following 504. The star may be carried by the Angel who speaks later in the play, following the tradition preserved in the Golden Legend that the star was not fixed in the firmament but “went before the Magi like a traveler, not going around in circles but straight ahead” (Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 1:81–82).
104–08 Whensever this selcouth light . . . . Thus bright shynand. That is, from where does this wonderful, brightly shining light descend, that has kindly guided me out of my land and has shown me my destination?
120–59 From Araby . . . . my name to say. Neither the traditional names of the Magi (Melchior, Jaspar, and Balthasar — lines 122, 126, 159) nor their places of origin are mentioned in the biblical account. The place names, however, are based on Psalm 71:10 (72:10 in many modern editions, a verse used in the Epiphany mass), which states that the kings of Tarsus, Arabia, and Saba (see lines 120–24 and 152–58) will all bring gifts to the great king.
183–84 it mase / Of novelry. That is, the star is a unique creation.
205 Balaam spekys of this thing. See Numbers 24:17.
233–46 This gold . . . . I bryng. The gifts are based on Matthew 2:11, but all are traditionally given symbolic as well as practical meanings: gold signifies royalty, and will alleviate the poverty of the holy family; frankincense (called “rekyls” or incense in line 237) signifies holiness (“In tokyn that he is God veray” — line 239) as well as prayer (rising like smoke into heaven), and can mitigate the stench of the stable; and myrrh signifies death (as stated in line 245), but could also be used as a healing balm.
293 thare wytt in a starne shuld be. That is, all their knowledge is derived from a star (see also line 302); Herod is not yet aware of the prophecies.
296 Thay ryfe my hede. Literally, they split or pierce my head. The word “rive” (like “reave”) can also mean to steal from someone, in this case Herod’s position as head or ruler.
331 Say I have greatt herand thaym tyll. The word “errand” here means “message.” The messenger is also given a written summons (“brefe”) that he in turn gives to kings at line 342.
366 By hym me boght. Herod ostensibly refers to “Mahowne,” but the phrase (see also lines 406, 444) is normally reserved for Christ, who is said to have bought or redeemed humankind with his blood (see Acts 20:28, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, 1 Peter 1:18–19, and Towneley 2.116 and 464; 8.107, 451, and 595; 9.132; and 17.257).
393 what say ye two. Herod here addresses the two counselors. The kings should sit as requested (line 392), possibly occupying the seats initially reserved for the two counselors as they come forward; they do not overhear Herod’s ranting in the scene that follows. Herod does not address the kings again until line 481.
417–28 profett Isay . . . . the profett Isay. See Isaiah 7:14 (and the final note to the Prophets play, 7.a). The doctrine of the virgin birth (see lines 423–24, which also imply Mary’s perpetual virginity, and Mary’s own words at lines 563 and 569), as opposed to the virginal conception of Christ, is not biblical but rooted in the Protevangelium of James and in various early Christian theological writings.
434 I wold be rent and all to-torne. This line repeats line 389; overall, Herod’s expressions of grief and rage are highly repetitive, as is the play as a whole.
445 Micheas the prophett. See Micah 5:2.
473 swalchon. This is the sole known instance of the word, defined doubtfully in the MED as “a servant or lowly attendant”; see the discussion in SC (p. 516n473). This could accord with the OED definition of squall (n.1) as “an insignificant person” (earliest attestation c. 1570). However, the word might possibly refer to a proud person (as a derivation of the verb “to swell” — see MED swellen (v.), sense 6c).
492 It shal be doyn. The kings must leave Herod at this point, mounting their horses; they dismount after line 504.
513–16 Thy nobyll starne . . . . we shall fare. That is, quickly show us your star so that we might know where we should go. The prayer is answered immediately, as is clear from the thankful speech by King 3 that follows.
553 Hayll, kyng in kyth, cowrand on kne. King 3 kneels (see MED couren (v.), sense 1), and says that he does so, as he greets the infant Jesus as “king in his own country.”
594 Ye shall begyn. King 3 allows the other kings to lie down first, out of courtesy, which would also allow time for the audience to admire the apparently miraculous “lytter redy clad” (line 590) with bedclothes suitable for royalty. The Angel speaks only after they are all asleep (as specified in Matthew 2:12 but without mention of an angel).
595–606 Syr curtes kyngys . . . . wyll he be. The Angel’s speech here closely parallels that in the York version of this episode (York 16.369–80), but with the last two lines reversed. SC reverse lines 605–06 in their edition, to better conform to the York text (SC p. 517n595–606), although the lines make sense as they stand; the stanza may have been deliberately altered to echo the rime couée form of the rest of this play. This is the only 12-line stanza in the play.
619 more and myn. This phrase literally means “more and less” but is commonly used to mean “everyone without exception” (see MED more (adj. comp.), sense 1b and minne (adj.), sense 1a).
Play 10, THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI: 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).
21 Whoso says. MS: these words are separated by a hole in the leaf; after Whoso, at the top of the hole, the main scribe has written part of another letter (likely a long s). Line 23 is started to the right of this same large hole (line 22 being written to the right of the previous lines).
32 will not lere. So EP, SC. MS: will lere.
38 all that dos. So EP, SC. MS: all dos.
51 Lord. MS: this word is boxed in with black lines, but lacks the usual red rule line with speech rubrics to indicate the changes in speaker. Speech rubrics for the Messenger and for Herod have been added here.
128 King 2 (speech heading). MS: Secundus rex is written in faded ink over the original speech rubric, ijus rex, in a sprawling later hand; the rule separating this line from the previous speech is in black, not red.
175 light. MS: final t obscured by smudge.
176 Then any son that ever shone. MS: above this line Indentur is written in faded ink. In the other corner, closer and parallel to the spine, three words are scribbled: something indecipherable and below that Gran — both cropped at the edge — and then God.
201 shewys. MS has se crossed out before this word.
202 it. MS: inserted above the line.
233 This gold now. So EP, SC. MS: This now.
238 Here in myn hende. MS: a different hand has written ijus rex to the right of this line.
239 he is God. So EP, SC. MS: he god.
241 red. MS: reede with the second e and final e lightly crossed out.
275 thre. So EP. MS: iij.
295 thay. MS: the main scribe initially wrote I but lightly crossed that out and added thay above the line.
299 For. So EP, SC. MS: ffo.
397 understand. MS: vndestand.
402 go to. MS: a long s is crossed out before these words.
446 tellys I. MS: withoutten written between these words (repeating the same word from the previous line, in the same abbreviated form), but crossed out.
465 twenty. So EP. MS: xx.
481 nobyll. So EP, SC. MS: noble nobyll.
511, s.d. all thre kyngys. So EP. SC: all þe thre kyngys. MS: a later hand has added þe above the line.
525 shynyng. So SC. EP, MS: stynyng, with a light correction over the t.
533 all has wroght. MS: the scribe initially repeated we have soght (line 531, directly above in the MS) but crossed this out and continued the line as written.
603 awne. MS: this word is added above the line in small letters.
605–06 For this dede . . . wyll he be. SC reverse these lines, explaining that “These lines are reversed in the MS, with 605 written to the right and bracketed with 603 in the manner of the tail-rhyme stanza” (p. 176n605–06). However, the entire stanza is irregular in form and makes perfect sense as it stands.
628 To. So EP, SC. MS: ty.