8. The Shepherds (1)
Play 8, THE SHEPHERDS (1): FOOTNOTES
1 Here begins a pageant of shepherds
2 Lines 1–4: Lord, those who are gone from here are well off, for they do not feel themselves too downcast
3 Lines 70–72: May he who hung upon a cross save you and me, wholly and completely
4 Lines 88–89: Whoever speaks against him / would be better off killed
5 Lines 105–06: If he should ask me for anything / that he desires
6 Lines 131–34: I am always the same; / though I do not know the cause, / no one in this realm / fares worse than a shepherd
7 Lines 211–13: He who sold such a pair for a pound would be well paid
8 Lines 348–50: I would be happier / if, by means of your learning, / you could offer us a drink
9 Lines 406–07: Who shall toss this meat into the basket?
10 Lines 409–10: Let us for the sake of our souls ensure / that it is given to poor men
11 Lines 502–03: A branch shall sprout from the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1)
12 Now a new progeny is sent down from high heaven; / Now a virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns (see note)
13 Lines 599–600: I wish that we could sing the same music
14 Here ends one pageant of the shepherds
Play 8, THE SHEPHERDS (1): 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 first of Towneley’s two Shepherds plays, like the second, is written in the distinctive 13-line “bob and wheel” stanza associated with the putative “Wakefield Master” (written in the manuscript as a 9-line stanza with interior rhymes); however, despite numerous critical assertions to the contrary, neither text contains any clear link to Wakefield or its vicinity. Its plot, which like that of its varied counterparts expands significantly on the gospel account found in Luke 2:8–20, closely resembles that of Chester’s Shepherds play with its joking banter, argument, feasting, and singing. While less audacious and original in conception than the second Towneley Shepherds play, which has always overshadowed it, the first is also interesting and entertaining in its own right. Its scenes of arguing over a flock of non-existent sheep and feasting on what is likely imaginary food are highly, even self-consciously theatrical, and the raucous comedy is aptly balanced by the tender Nativity scene at the end. Moreover, like the second, the first Shepherds play seems built for individual performance rather than as part of a sequence. One young actor could easily play both Mary and the angel, as well taking the role of the boy, unless those lines should indeed be ascribed to Shepherd 3 — see note to line 257 below. Either way, the play would require less than half the cast of its Chester counterpart — a guild play that was once performed individually rather than as part of a full cycle production (see Mills, Recycling the Cycle, pp. 36, 110).
19–21 When he syttys . . . . is kesten down wyde. These lines allude to the image of Fortune’s turning wheel. From the highest point of the wheel the proud are cast down, and this echoes the earlier line about those who feel “downe cast” (line 4).
25 Horsman Jak Copé. The nickname Copé means “plenty” (see MED copie (n.), sense 1). Riding is also associated with wealth and social status in the play of the Buffeting (18.218–19).
27 I thank it God. The context of his poverty and misfortune renders ironic the shepherd’s otherwise conventional assertion that he thanks God.
38 The rott. Liver-rot (often simply called “the rot”) is a parasitic disease that commonly affects sheep grazed in damp pasture.
56 To cast the warld in seven. The phrase is taken from the game of hazard (a precursor to craps), where it refers to staking everything on a single throw of the dice (see also 12.186 and note). Shepherd 1 is saying that he intends to try to win back everything that he has lost.
58 moren. “Murrain” is a generalized term for infectious diseases (including plague), but particularly those affecting livestock.
68 Bensté. The word is a contraction of the Latin benedicite (“bless”).
83 byll hagers. That is, those who hack with weapons. A “bill” is a typically English weapon consisting of a hooked, concave blade on a pole, similar to a halberd (OED bill (n.1), sense 2a), as well as an agricultural tool (also called a billhook; see OED (n.1), sense 4) used to prune (or “hag”) hedges, from which the weapon was derived.
85 Sich wryers and wragers. The term wryer (see OED wrayer (n.)) may relate to the verb wray or betray, but could also indicate a quarrelsome person, making the alliterated terms here virtually synonymous (see SC p. 484n85, and MED wragger (n.)), or a person who turns away from God and goodness (see MED wrien (v.2)). The same pairing occurs in the Judgment play, likewise in a 13-line 'bob and wheel' stanza (27.209).
90–91 Both ploghe . . . will not make. These lines allude to the requisition or seizure of goods in a practice known as purveyance, explicitly mentioned in the second Shepherds play (see 9.49 and note).
118 Gyb. A common abbreviation of the name Gilbert, Gib is also the name of Shepherd 2 in the second Shepherds play. Gib is called “Gyg” at line 243.
144–45 Fyrst must us crepe / And sythen go. That is, we must crawl before we can walk — a common proverb exhorting patience (see Whiting C202).
164 bell-weder. Only the leader of the flock of sheep generally wore a bell (see MED belle-wether (n.)). This bell-wether is imaginary; Shepherd 2 has already pointed out that no sheep are or will be present (see lines 149–50 and 157–58).
165 tyr. A shepherd’s call, used to drive sheep, from a verb meaning “go” or “move” (see MED tiren (v.2), sense d). See also OED tyr (int).
169 Tup I say whyr. Like “tyr” (lines 165, 166; see previous note) and “whop” (or “whoop,” line 172), “whyr” is a herding call, here directed at an imaginary tup or male sheep. See MED houp (n.), OED whyr (int.), and tup (n.) respectively.
181–82 Here comys Slawpase / Fro the myln-whele. Shepherd 3 — here nicknamed “Slowpace” — enters with a sack of meal (possibly carried on the back of a horse; see line 237 and note), which he uses to make a point in lines 238–53.
183–91 What ado . . . . this way. This stanza is irregular; one quatrain (normally written as two lines in the MS) may be missing due to a copying error.
201–02 Ye fysh before the nett, / And stryfe on this bett. That is, you act prematurely, and quarrel over what you merely anticipate having.
216–17 It is far to byd hyte / To an eg or it go. That is, it is useless (far-fetched) to tell an egg to move before it hatches, “hyte” being a conventional cry to urge an animal forward (see 2.57 and note).
218–19 Tytter want ye sowll / Then sorow. May you sooner lack food than sorrow — that is, may things go very badly for you. The term “sowll” can refer to anything eaten with bread, the basic staple, such as meat or sauce, but also food or nourishment more generally (see MED souel (n.2), sense a).
220–30 Ye brayde of Mowll . . . . was the tokyn. These lines refer to the ancient fable, attributed to Aesop, of the milkmaid whose pitcher breaks as she imagines everything that she will acquire due to her selling the milk; here, like the two shepherds, she specifically imagines having more sheep.
237 Hold ye my mare. The “mare” or horse (see note to 2.25) is perhaps imaginary, like the flock of sheep over which the others have just argued. However, in the lines that follow, Shepherd 3 has the others help him empty meal or flour from an actual sack (see notes to lines 181 and 260).
243 Both Gyg and Jak. “Gyg” is an informal variation of Gib (the name of Shepherd 1, see line 118 and note), while “Jak” refers to John Horne (Shepherd 2; see note to line 257 below).
248–49 And ye look well abowte / Nawther more nor myn. That is, no matter how carefully you look, you will see neither more nor less meal in the sack.
257 Boy (speech heading). The three speeches assigned to the boy (lines 257–69, 272, and 273[b]–75) should likely be assigned to Shepherd 3, called Slowpace at line 181. The MS speech heading here reads Jak garcio while the next two refer just to garcio (meaning “boy”); while the first of these could be understood as naming the character — that is, “Jack, the boy” — it may rather designate him as “Jack’s boy,” servant to Shepherd 2 (called “Jak” at line 243 — see note above). Shepherd 3, unlike the other two, never exchanges lines with the boy, but later refers to his own “servyse” (line 289); it is worth noting that Shepherd 3 in the second Shepherds play likewise plays an subservient role (see note to 9.210). Regardless, only three shepherds partake in the (likely imaginary) feast that follows line 276 (see also note to line 268 below). If the boy is an actual, separate character, his appearance is very brief. (For a more extended argument, see Cawley, “Iak Garcio of the Prima Pastorum.”)
260 foles of Gotham. The fools of Gotham were the subject of a famous collection of humorous stories, the Merie Tales of the mad men of Gotam, first printed in London around 1565. The first story in the collection involves two men arguing over non-existent sheep, as the two shepherds here have just done (lines 146–95), until silenced by another who empties a sack of meal by way of commenting on their lack of wit, as Shepherd 3 does here (lines 238–53).
268 Ye thre bere the bell. That is, you three are the worst; only the leading cow or sheep bore a bell (see line 164 and note). If the boy is the same character as Shepherd 3 (see note to line 257 above), this line should read either “You two” or possibly “You there.” The cross in the margin of the MS beside this line may indicate an error; see Textual Note.
271 Say me, good pen. That is, tell me, boy. By referring to the boy as a good pen (that is, a pin), the Shepherd calls him both useful (as a pin generally is) and insignificant (see 3.527 and note).
288–89 Me thynk it good skyll / My servyse I tyne. That is, I think it right that I leave behind my role as servant.
300 cryb. This is the sole authoritative citation of the word being used in this sense, namely, to eat as if at a crib or manger (OED crib (v.), sense 1; and MED crib (v.)); “mangere” is used at line 291 to mean a feast (from the French manger, “to eat”). The feast that follows, with its mixture of humble and courtly food items, is almost certainly imaginary, although each shepherd may well pull some actual food and drink from his bag (or “mail” — see line 322), such as simple bread and ale (see note to line 352 below).
319 Of an ewe that was roton. That is, mutton from a ewe that suffered from liver-rot (see note to line 38 above).
337 chekyns endorde. To endore — literally to gild, or make gold — meant to glaze with egg-yolk or saffron. See MED endoren (v.).
341–42 calf lyver skorde / With the veryose. The shepherd refers to this (imaginary) calf liver as being scored — in the culinary sense of making long parallel incisions — and served with or cooked (or marinated) in verjuice (literally “green [vert] juice”), the sour and aromatic juice of unripe grapes or crabapples, commonly used as a condiment or as an ingredient in sauces, as indicated by the next line. See OED verjuice; MED verjous (n.), especially sense c.
352 ayll of Hely. While Stevens and Cawley, among other critics, identify Hely (MS hely) as the township of Healey near Wakefield (see SC p. 488n352), “Ceruyse” or ale is specifically noted as being characteristic of Ely, Cambridgeshire, in a fourteenth-century list of English towns and their attributes in the Bodleian’s Douce MS 98; see Bonnier, “List of English Towns,” p. 502, line 73.
353 I wynk. To wink or close one’s eyes was associated with drinking much “at a draught” or all at once.
357 boyte of oure bayll. The phrase is commonly used in reference to Jesus as Savior.
366–69 I shrew you . . . . Abate. That is, I curse you sharply, and will be at a disadvantage unless I make you stop drinking, “on my hips” being an idiom from wrestling (see MED hips (n.1), sense 2b). Shepherd 2 wants to ensure that there is some left for him.
377 To the bothom it is sonken. That is, there is nothing left in the cup.
380 By my thrift we must kys. That is, by my luck (see 3.315 and note), I must put my lips to the bottle.
385 prays at the partyng. The phrase means “save your praise until the departure” — that is, until after the performance, which clearly follows on the next line, where all three sing together. Shepherd 1 claims his drink at line 389.
396–97 And it were for a sogh / Ther is drynk enogh. That is, there is enough (imaginary) drink left to satisfy a sow, or possibly, there is enough to fill a “sough,” meaning a bog or small pool.
399 Ye be both knafys. Shepherd 3 curses the other two for draining the cup, calling them “knaves,” but Shepherd 1 responds that they are all rightly called knaves, being poor laborers rather than knights (and thus not properly addressed as “sir” as at line 402).
412 begers frerys. The willingness of poor shepherds to support mendicant (begging) friars could be read as a sign of true charity if both fine food and friars were actually present; but in this context, the lines read as typical antifraternal satire, implying that friars are less “poor” or “hungry” than these shepherds.
418–25 A crosse lett . . . . God be oure spede. Shepherd 3 suggests making the sign of the cross, and then utters a ‘night spell’ in the form of a prayer that echoes, in garbled Latin, part of a prayer recorded in a 1555 book of York Hours, which likewise calls for making the sign of the cross: In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti. Marcus, Mattheus, Lucas, Joannes. Amen. / Jesus Nazarenus crucifixus, Rex Judeorum, Fili Dei, miserere mei. Amen (“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John. Amen. / Jesus the Nazarene, crucified, King of the Jews, Son of God, have mercy on me. Amen.” Translation mine.) For the full original text see Horae Eboracenses, p. 26.
426–38 Herkyn hyrdes . . . . Betwix two bestys. The parallel speech in the second Shepherds play (lines 920–932) is preceded by an explicit stage direction indicating that the angel sings before addressing the shepherds. In Luke 2:8–15, an angel speaks to the shepherds and is then joined by a multitude praising God, so the song referred to in line 440 might be sung after the speech (but by this single angel, in a florid style (“With small noytys emang” as Shepherd 1 describes it at line 442). In either case, the song would be “gloria in excelsis deo” (“Glory to God in the highest”), as designated both in the second Shepherds play and in Luke 2:14.
437–38 Ye shall fynde hym beforne / Betwix two bestys. See 9.929–32. The apocryphal gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 14 (Elliott, p. 94) refers to God as being revealed or made known “between two animals” largely on the basis of Habakkuk 3:2 (see the final note to the Prophets pageant, 7.a), although the canonical text refers to years, not animals. This misreading in part gave rise to the tradition of the beasts at the manger, evidently represented onstage.
449 I suppose it was a clowde. God spoke to the Israelites from cloud and fire when presenting them with the ten commandments (see Exodus 19:18, 20:18) and God’s voice from a bright cloud terrified Peter, John, and James at the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:5–6). The Shepherd is not sure what he has heard or seen in the dark of night, but he is similarly afraid.
450 In myn erys it sowde. That is, the sound rang in my ears (see MED swouen (v.1), sense a: “To resound roar, sough; of the ears: ring”). Shepherd 1 has just described the angel’s song as a frighteningly loud scream (see lines 445–48), and so could conceivably be describing the complex music as painful to his ears, employing the past tense of sow, meaning to cause pain or distress (see MED souen (v.2), sense a). However, he will alter describe those notes as “gentyll and small” (line 604).
463 yond starne. The biblical accounts refer to a star only in connection with the Magi (in Matthew 2), not the shepherds (in Luke 2). This star as stage property is moveable (see lines 650–52 and note) and its appearance likely accompanied that of the angel at line 426. The use of the past tense in lines 465–66 likely indicates that the star disappears from sight at this point; it reappears suddenly at lines 650–52, leading the way to the Nativity scene.
505–06 Sybyll . . . And Nabugodhonosor. The Sibyl appears in the Prophets play (see the note on her lines following 7.a.162), while Nebuchadnezzar similarly figures in the lectio that is the ultimate source for that play (see the first and last notes to 7.a; for the relevant dialogue, see Young, p. 35).
508–10 In the fornace . . . . fourt stode before. In Daniel 3, three young men are thrown in a furnace for refusing King Nebuchadnezzar’s order to worship a golden statue, but are rescued after they are seen alive in the flames along with an unknown fourth figure.
517 Jeromy. For the messianic prophecy most closely associated with Jeremiah, taken from the book of Baruch (considered apocryphal in Protestant tradition), see the final note to 7.a.
518–20 Moyses . . . . A bushe burnand. See Exodus 3:2; the burning bush, unconsumed by flame, is often held to prefigure the Virgin conception and birth, as noted in lines 526–42 that follow; see also 6.105 and note.
543–50 Abacuc and Ely . . . . And Daniel also. The list of prophets and prophecies here, including Virgil (in the stanza that follows), Isaiah, Sibyl, Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, and Moses (in the preceding stanzas), is ultimately derived from the lectio for the Christmas Matins service (see Young, and the initial note to 7.a), but with the substitution for Simeon (see 22.53–64) of “Ely” or Elijah. According to Malachias 4:5, Elijah was to return to earth prior to the coming of the Messiah; he is thus typologically identified with John the Baptist (see Matthew 11:10–14), the son of Elizabeth and Zacharias (see Luke 1:5–17), who according to tradition was only six months old when Jesus was born.
After 559 Iam nove progenies . . . . redeunt Saturnia regna. These extrametrical, disordered and slightly misquoted lines from Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue (lines 6–7), often interpreted as Christian prophecy, are translated and interpreted by Shepherd 1 in the next stanza.
560 Wemé. An exclamation of impatience or surprise (see 2.150 and note).
565–66 It semys . . . Ye have lerd youre Caton. The fourth-century collection of Latin moral proverbs known as the Distichs of Cato was a standard medieval school textbook.
598 Foure and twenty to a long. That is, 24 notes (semiminims or crotchets, equivalent to modern quarter notes) to one “long” note or measure, indicating a highly elaborate style of music.
607 Now lyst I lepen. Now will I leap to it — that is, begin to sing.
609 Let se as ye yelp. Let us see how you yelp — that is, hit those high notes.
612 thy hart is in thy hose. Proverbial expression of downheartedness. See Whiting H295.
620 Take at my sangre. That is, join me in singing; as indicated by the next line, they do so immediately. Shepherd 3 has already stated that he did not want to sing alone (line 611). Much as the supposedly ignorant shepherds suddenly prove able to cite biblical prophecy and Latin poetry, what they sing could well be an accomplished polyphonic version of what the angel sang solo. On the other hand, as in York and Chester, the shepherds’ attempt may fall comically short of the angelic model, signifying the gap between the earthly and heavenly realms.
627 No lyght mase the mone. That is, the moon makes no light; it is dark. The star that they saw earlier at line 463 is not visible at this point.
639–46 And God . . . . are thare eene. That is, if God on high would show us that creature (the Christ child), by God, we could say that we had seen what many saints, inspired by the prophets, had desired to see; although they prayed to see him, they are now dead.
651–52 It commys on a rase / Yond sterne us to. The star is moving quickly toward us (see line 463 and note).
658 Ye ar of the old store. You are old stock — that is, the eldest person present.
659 It semys you, iwys. That is, it befits you as eldest to go first.
660–92 Hayll . . . . As Pamela King has pointed out, this sort of formulaic greeting, with multiple lines beginning with the word “Hayll” (a rhetorical figure known as anaphora or repetitio), is in English tradition closely tied to the Elevation of the Host as well as to the Annunciation and the well-known “Hail Mary” of Luke 1:28 (see King, Worship of the City, pp. 20–27).
672 lytyll spruse cofer. The wooden box or coffer suggests a coffin (see MED cofre (n.), sense 3a), symbolic of Christ’s death. The other gifts, too, can be seen as symbolic, the ball (line 681) signifying the world or the regal orb, and the bottle (line 694) alluding to the biblical analogy of new wine in new bottles (Matthew 9:17).
704 he sett all on seven. That is, he created the world in seven days.
724 Syng we in syght. They sing to close the play — possibly a reprise of what they sang earlier (see note to line 620 above).
Play 8, THE SHEPHERDS (1): 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).
125 Jhon. SC: Ihon. MS: thom.
232 knawe. So EP, emending for rhyme. MS, SC: knowe.
257 Boy (speech heading). MS: Jak garcio; lines 272 and 273 have the speech heading garcio (“boy”). See Explanatory Note.
268 Ye thre bere the bell. MS: there is a cross in the left margin beside the line. SC suggest that this “may indicate that Ye thre should be Ye two” (p. 487n257) and that the Boy may identified with Shepherd 3; see Explanatory Notes to lines 257 and 268. However, this marginal cross resembles that one beside line 413, and may indicate that the dialogue between these marks — the entire feast scene — was originally set off from the rest of the play, either as optional or as an addition to the copy text.
346 clergé. EP emend to clergete for rhyme.
365–97 Behold how . . . . drynk enogh. MS: in the outer margin, parallel to the edge, a late hand has written Memoranndum that I Samul (the tops of some letters cropped) and below that Memorandum that I followed by what looks like S Humer — the rest being cropped with the top edge of the leaf.
413 It draes nere nyght. MS: there is a cross in the left margin beside the line; see note to line 268 above.
428 youre. MS: the y has been added in a different hand.
575–85 And yit more . . . . land and se. MS: These lines, at the top of a page of writing that is notably worn and faded, have been overwritten in darker ink, as have a few parts of the text further down the page. In the top margin above the name of Saturn (saturne, line 576) a later hand has written seith.
617 Go to now, begyn. MS: in the right margin, a later hand has written sing (as the shepherds do a few lines later — see Explanatory Note to line 620).
627 mase the. So SC. EP: makethe. The words have been overwritten (see note to 575–85 above) such that they run together with a k written over the long s of mase.
632 Then. MS: badly faded.
646 closyd. EP: I-closyd. MS has an uncorrected stroke before closyd.
(see note); (t-note)