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7.d. The Salutation


1 Here begins the salutation of Elizabeth

2 A wonderful thing has happened to me

3 My soul praises the Lord

4 Here ends the salutation of Elizabeth


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 sequence of Nativity-related plays in the Towneley manuscript is famously disordered: the incomplete Prophets pageant is followed not only by a blank leaf (see the final note to 7.a) but also by the Pharaoh play, which should precede it; there are two Shepherds plays, but no Nativity itself. Moreover, the works that immediately precede those two Shepherds plays, including the Prophets but excluding the Pharaoh play, appear to constitute a separate, cohesive sequence. These works are written mostly in variations of the same tailrhyme stanza form (rhymed aabaab or aabccb), probably by a single author; prior to the compilation of the manuscript, they likely formed a single play, divided into short pageants or scenes, possibly for processional performance. However, the sequence as a whole could easily have been performed by five actors taking multiple roles, including four men, one of whom would play the role of Elizabeth (who is twice said to have conceived “in elde” — see lines 7.c.135 and 7.d.11), and a boy who would play Sibyl, Mary, and the messenger. The original sequence could conceivably have concluded with a now-lost Nativity pageant, but might well have been performed as an Advent play, as is, with an ending that looks forward to the ecclesiastical celebrations of Christmas rather than dramatizing that central event.

Reconstituting the sequence, however, requires more than removal of the misplaced Pharaoh play. According to the text as it stands in the manuscript, Elizabeth would have to be more than nine months’ pregnant by the time of her visit with Mary (see the final note to 7.c). The Joseph’s Trouble episode, treated in the manuscript as part of the Annunciation play, was likely a separate pageant and intended to follow rather than precede the Salutation. Its misplacement can be explained by the existence of a series of exemplars that were unbound, untitled, and thus easily confused: according to this scenario, the original Prophets pageant, possibly already damaged and incomplete, was accidentally copied prior to the Pharaoh play, while the Joseph’s Trouble pageant was copied as if part of the Annunciation, and followed by the Salutation. The Salutation (rather than the Joseph’s Trouble pageant) might originally have been part of a single pageant along with the Annunciation (as occurs in York); it is perhaps significant that these two pageants together (with a total of 244 lines) are almost exactly the same length as Caesar Augustus (240 lines) and only slightly longer than Joseph’s Trouble (219 lines).

The Caesar Augustus pageant, too, may be misplaced, as Stevens and Cawley argue (SC p. 472): tradition (as recorded in the Golden Legend of Jacob de Voragine 1:40) held that Caesar learned of the birth of Christ on the day of the Nativity; however, the same tradition held that Caesar raised an altar in his honor, whereas this Emperor is conflated with King Herod in seeking to kill Christ as a rival. Moreover, Christ explicitly has not yet been born in this play (see line 7.b.71). The pageant could very effectively be placed between the Salutation and Joseph’s Trouble, filling the time gap between these episodes; however, it remains entirely possible that the pageant should follow The Prophets, and to precede the Annunciation, as it does in this edition.

7 How standys it with you, dame, of qwart. That is, how is your health? (Elizabeth’s answer in the next line, would translate: “As well as can be, considering my old age.”)

11 For ye with childe in elde gang. To “go with child” means to be pregnant (see MED gon (v.), sense 15c).

23 nese. A niece can be any female relative (see MED nece (n.), sense d); at line 15 Elizabeth refers to Mary simply as “my dere kynswoman.” See the note to 7.c.134).

32–48 Blyssed be thou . . . . the angell gretyng. Elizabeth’s speech is based on Luke 1:41–45. Like the biblical account, the play implies that Elizabeth’s knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy, as yet unmentioned by Mary, is entirely miraculous.

37–39 For syn that tyme . . . . in myn ere. That is, after Mary appeared, the voice of an angel struck and rang (like a bell) in my ear. This apparently unique detail recalls the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel in the previous pageant, and suggests an explanation for how she knows what was “sayd . . . / By the angel gretyng” to Mary (lines 47–48).

41–42 The chyld makys joy . . . in body bere. See Luke 1:41. This child will of course grow up to be John the Baptist (see play 15).

After 48 Magnificat anima mea dominum. This is the first line of the biblical hymn known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55), and is translated in lines 49–78; the inclusion here of this extra-metrical Latin line could indicate that Mary should sing the line (as she does in Chester 6.64, s.d.) or perhaps the entire hymn (as she does in York 12.253+SD, but without subsequent translation).

71 left the rich outt-shyld. That is, sheeled (or shelled) out, like empty husks of grain. See MED shillen (v.2).

85 frely foode. The adjective freely means “noble” or “goodly” (see MED fre (adj.), sense 2a). But the other part of this common alliterative phrase (see also 9.1039, 15.39 and 164, and 20.446) can mean either “child” (MED fode (n.2)) — as one who is fed or nurtured — and “food” in the more usual sense (MED fode (n.1)), making this a punning reference to the Eucharist, in which Christ’s body and blood are consumed.


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).

52 besene. So SC. MS: bene sene.


[fol. 31v]


























Incipit salutacio Elezabeth. 1

My Lord of heven that syttys he,
And all thyng seys with ee,
Thee safe, Elezabeth
Welcom, Mary, blyssed blome.
Joyfull am I of thi com
To me from Nazareth.

How standys it with you, dame, of qwart?
Well, my doghter and dere hart,
As can for myn elde.
To speke with you me thoght full lang,
For ye with childe in elde gang
And ye be cald geld.

Full lang shall I the better be
That I may speke my fyll with thee,
My dere kynswoman,
To wytt how thi freyndys fare
In thi countré where thay ar.
Therof tell me thou can,

And how thou farys, my dere derlyng.
Well, dame, gramercy youre askyng,
For good I wote ye spyr.
And Joachym, thy fader at hame,
And Anna, my nese and thi dame,
How standys it with hym and hir?

Dame, yit ar thay both on lyfe,
Both Joachym and Anna his wyfe.
Els were my hart full sore.
Dame, God that all may
Yeld you that ye say
And blys you therfore.

Blyssed be thou of all women,
And the fruyte that I well ken
Within the wombe of thee;
And this tyme may I blys
That my Lordys moder is
Comen thus unto me.

For syn that tyme, full well I wote,
The stevyn of angell voce it smote
And rang now in myn ere.
A selcouth thyng is me betyde; 2
The chyld makys joy as any byrd
That I in body bere.

And als Mary, blyssed be thou
That stedfastly wold trow
The wordys of oure heven kyng;
Therfor all thyng now shall be kend
That unto thee were sayd or send
By the angell gretyng.

Magnificat anima mea dominum. 3

My saull lufys my Lord abuf,
And my gost gladys with luf
In God that is my hele,
For he has besene agane
The buxumnes of his bane,
And kept me madyn lele.

Lo, therof what me shall betyde?
All nacyons on every syde
Blyssyd shall me call,
For he that is full of myght
Mekyll thyng to me has dyght.
His name be blyssed over all,

And his mercy is also
From kynde to kynde, tyll all tho
That ar hym dredand.
Myght in his armes he wroght
And dystroed in his thoght
Prowde men and hygh berand.

Myghty men furth of sete he dyd,
And he hyghtynd in that stede
The meke men of hart;
The hungré with all good he fyld
And left the rich outt-shyld
Thaym to unquart.

Israell has under law
His awne son in his awe
By menys of his mercy,
As he told before by name
To oure fader Abraham,
And seyd of his body.

Elezabeth, myn awnt dere,
My lefe I take at you here,
For I dwell now full lang.
Wyll thou now go, Godys fere?
Com kys me, doghter, with good chere
Or thou hens gang.

Farewell now, thou frely foode,
I pray thee be of comforth goode,
For thou art full of grace.
Grete well all oure kyn of bloode.
That Lord that thee with grace infude
He save all in this place.

Explicit salutacio Elezabeth. 4

sees; eye
Save you

health; (see note)

considering my age

go; (see note)


thank you for; [fol. 32r]

kinswoman; mother; (see note)


can do anything
render to

fruit; know; (see note)

since; know; (see note)
sound; struck

bird; (see note)



(see note)

loves; above
spirit rejoices
considered; (t-note)
humility; willing one


Great; ordained

generation; to all those
afraid of


expelled from their seats

filled; [fol. 32v]
empty; (see note)



leave; of

Before you go hence

noble child; (see note)



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