13. The Purification of Mary
Play 13, THE PURIFICATION OF MARY: FOOTNOTES
1 Here begins the purification of Mary
2 Then [bells] shall ring
3 The angels sing “Simeon, just and devout” (see note)
Play 13, THE PURIFICATION OF MARY: 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 Purification of Mary and Presentation in the Temple are celebrated at the Feast of Candlemas on 2 February, which follows both Epiphany (6 January) and the Feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December) in the liturgical calendar. This may explain the placement of this play here as in Chester (where it is paired with the episode of Christ and the Doctors, as it is in the Coventry Weavers’ play as well). Chronologically, however, the play belongs earlier: as stated in lines 115–120, based both on Luke 2:21–39 (where it immediately follows the visit of the shepherds) and the law as laid out in Leviticus 12, the visit to the Temple occurs forty days after the birth, and thus prior to any sojourn in Egypt. The play is incomplete, due to the loss of two leaves (the bifolium at the center of the K-signature gathering) which also contained the beginning of the play of the Doctors. As it stands, the play of the Doctors likely lacks the equivalent of at least one full page of text (roughly 50 lines; see the headnote to play 14 below), which means that up to three full pages (and approximately 150 lines) may have been lost from the Purification play, almost certainly including an appearance by the prophetess Anna (see Luke 2:36–38, as well as other dramatic versions of the episode), along with the Purification ceremony itself, and the presentation of the infant to Simeon, who utters the well-known Nunc dimittis (“Now dismiss . . . ”; see Luke 2:29–32 and the note to 22.57–60) — a liturgically familiar Latin canticle that is clearly sung in at least two versions of the episode (see the stage directions following Chester 11.166 and N-Town 19.146; the Coventry version is missing a leaf at this point). The opening speech by Simeon and the final extant stanza, spoken by Angel 1 are written in 8-line, tail-rhymed stanzas, while the intervening dialogue (lines 73–132) is written in a similar 6-line stanza form.
6 on held. The phrase literally means “downhill” or “on an incline” (see MED helde (n.1)); compare helden (v.), senses 2–3). Simeon, like virtually all old men in medieval English drama, complains at length of his infirmity.
8 Lord Adonay. See 4.1 and note.
13–14 Abell, Noye, and Abraham, / David, Daniell, and Balaam. Simeon’s brief list of “old elders” (line 10) includes five figures who are physically represented in this collection (Abel, Noah, and Abraham in their respective plays, and both David and Daniel in 7.a), along with the prophet Balaam (see 10.205 and note) who appears as a character only in the Chester plays (see Chester 5).
18 Of all thy sond thou has me sent. That is, for everything you have sent to me; see also line 66. The word sond can mean either the action of sending or, as here, what is sent, specifically by God’s dispensation; see MED sonde (n.), senses 1a and b.
34 Myn and is short; I want wynd. Both nouns here mean “breath,” but in slightly different senses, the first referring to breathing, the second more to the air breathed in; see MED onde (n.2) and wind (n.).
87 When that he seys tyme. That is, when God says that Simeon’s time has come to die.
90 And no longer hyne. That is, not after that time. Simeon rejoices that he will live to see Christ, as requested, but can then die in peace.
102 That was slayn thrugh syn. That is, all humankind, who were condemned to die through Adam’s sin.
106–08 Now certys . . . . all shall wyse. That is, I cannot understand why the bells are ringing, unless almighty God, who shall guide us all, has come (as the infant Christ). The ringing of the bells here is miraculous — see line 114.
125 Thise turtyls two to oure offryng. For those who cannot afford to bring a lamb, this is the minimal offering required by Levitical law prior to the purification ceremony of a woman, forty days after giving birth to a male child; see Luke 2:24 and Leviticus 12:8.
127–29 Joseph . . . . fulfyllyd in me. Joseph, I wish full well to do this, so that I fulfill every part of the law. In Christian tradition, Jesus and his parents are often anachronistically treated as Christians rather than as observant Jews; however, Christ is said to be the fulfillment of the law (see Matthew 5:17–18, Romans 10:4), so Jewish law must nonetheless be properly observed in relation to him.
132, s.d. Angeli cantant "Simeon iustus et timoratus." The antiphon that begins “Simeon, just and devout” (based on Luke 2:25 and echoed in line 133) is sung at Lauds on the Feast of the Purification.
Play 13, THE PURIFICATION OF MARY: 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).
37 That shortly mon. So SC. EP: Bot shortly mon. MS: That is written in a different hand over an erasure; mon is in another hand over another word, crossed out and now illegible.
41 I may wyrk. MS: another hand has written haue he in the top margin above this.
59–72 In a madyn . . . . with myn ee. MS: no Maters ben as sade — that is, no matters are as said — has been scrawled upwards in the margin beside these lines, in another hand. SC suggest that these words “may voice a Protestant objection” (p. 532n59–72) to the content here, yet that content has at least as firm a biblical basis as virtually anything in these plays. Nor is it likely that the marginalia refers to later textual revision (as is the case at several points in the York manuscript, where the city clerk has noted deviations from the official script with marginalia such as “this matter is newly mayde”; see for example Davidson’s headnotes to York 12 and 18), although it might conceivably refer to a difference between the text and a remembered text or performance. It is worth noting that the lines that follow, through to the final extant stanza of the play, are written in a different stanza form — a likely sign of revision of the original text prior to the compilation of this manuscript.
77 dede. MS: final e smudged and unclear.
110 and I have. MS: I inserted above the line.
117 Delyverd. SC: Delyuerd. EP: Delyuer. MS: Delyu with an ambiguous flourish.
125 turtyls. MS: the misspelling tutyls is crossed out before this word.
132 to thee. The word to is written in darker ink by a different hand above an ink blot.
132, s.d. Angeli cantant "Simeon iustus et timoratus." MS: the stage direction is worn and faint but still legible (contrary to EP).
140 thou wold. MS: all but the first and final two letters are badly worn.
141 Thou has desyryd it most of all. MS: this is the final line on a full page of writing; as explained in the headnote to the play in the Explanatory Notes, the next two leaves, which included the ending of this play and the beginning of the next, are missing.