9. The Shepherds (2)
Play 9, THE SHEPHERDS (2): FOOTNOTES
1 Here begins another of the same
2 Lines 33–35: Thus are farmers oppressed to the point of suffering death
3 Lines 62–63: He must have whatever he desires, / even if I must go without it
4 Lines 141–43: For you may catch in an hour / that which shall grieve you full bitterly / for as long as you live
5 Lines 159–60: Yes, may the devil be in your mouth / because of your lingering [without speaking]
6 Then Mak enters wearing a cloak over his tunic
7 And he takes the cloak from him
8 I commend your hands to Pontius Pilate (see note)
9 Then he rises while the shepherds are sleeping and says
10 Lines 424–25: Afterwards, I will repay when I can, / but this [sheep] I will borrow [now]
11 Lines 443–44: You need not consider how long I have been standing [here]
12 Lines 677–78: Nor shall I drink / until I meet with him
13 Lines 755–56: Mak, as I hope for happiness, / I tell you to consider [what you say]
14 Lines 801–02: Any lord would be proud to have / this child for his son
15 An angel sings “Glory to God in the highest” [and] then should say
16 Lines 983–84: Behold, a virgin / will conceive (Isaiah 7:14) a child that is naked
17 Here ends the pageant of the shepherds
Play 9, THE SHEPHERDS (2): 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 second of Towneley’s two Shepherds plays is the most famous example of medieval English biblical drama, yet perhaps the least typical. It opens with a shepherd complaining about the weather, much like the Chester version as well as the relevant portion of the Coventry Shearman and Tailors pageant, and it ends conventionally, with the shepherds visiting the scene of the Nativity and presenting their gifts. However, the intervening action takes the play in a very different direction, combining farce and contemporary social commentary, which has attracted a wide critical response. Over half of the play is devoted to the episode involving the trickster Mak who steals a sheep and, with the help of his wife, attempts to disguise it as their child in a parodic anticipation of the Nativity scene that follows. Were the play performed as part of a biblical sequence as once assumed (even leaving aside any thought of performing the two Shepherds plays together), this subplot might seem strange and arguably sacrilegious. Performed on its own, outside of any biblical context (although likely during the Christmas season; see Alexandra F. Johnston, “The Second Shepherds’ Play: a Play for the Christmas Season”), the revelation of the angel may have been as much a surprise and delight to the audience as to the shepherds.
The play seems ideally suited for a small touring company: the roles of Mak and his wife Gill could easily be doubled with those of the Angel and Mary, allowing for a cast of five. Moreover, a single set would easily accommodate both Mak’s house, with its cradle for the sheep (line 623), and the Nativity scene with its crib for the Christ child (lines 931, 995). Mary would likely be seated on a chair or stool, which could be used for Gill as well, who is apparently “sett for to spyn” (line 430) when Mak first arrives — an activity that requires a spindle and reel but no other furniture. The transformation both of the actors and of the space itself, from secular to sacred, would thus echo and reinforce the careful parallel between the representations of the stolen sheep and the newborn Christ, the allegorical Lamb of God (John 1:29).
Before 1 Incipit alia eorundem. Here begins another of the same — that is, another Shepherds play; see Figure 2, p. 131, showing the opening of this play in the manuscript.
1 weders. In its plural form the term most often refers to adverse weather. In the York Nativity pageant, Joseph very similarly complains, “A, Lorde God, what the wedir is colde” (York 14.71).
14 husbandys. The MS reads shepardes (see Textual Note), emended here as in most modern editions for the rhyme; “husbandys” in this context, as at line 33, means “farmers,” as opposed to the “wedmen” (“husbands” in the usual modern sense) of line 94.
20–39 For the tylthe . . . . shuld we thryfe. When open land was enclosed and made into separate walled or hedged fields suitable for the grazing of sheep, it was generally left fallow. Peasant farmers (or “husbands”) with little or no land to till were thus forced to become shepherds by the actions of wealthy landowners (“gentlery men,” line 26) and their bailiffs or stewards (“men that ar lord-fest,” line 29).
40–41 a paynt slefe / Or a broche. This reference to overbearing retainers wearing livery, distinctive tokens given to them by the lord they serve as signs of their loyalty and authority, prepares the audience for the entrance of Mak in “a yeoman . . . of the king” (lines 291–92) demanding “reverence” (line 298) from others.
49 purveance. Purveyance, originally a royal prerogative for facilitating travel throughout the realm, but appropriated by lesser nobles, involved the requisition or seizure of goods at an arbitrary (or nonexistent) price. See MED purveyance (n.), sense 5b.
72 balk. While the term can refer to any sort of ridge or mound of earth, here it likely means “a strip of unplowed land between two fields” (MED balke (n.), sense 2a) and thus, as SC assert, suggests that the action of the play is set in arable lands near a township, rather than on the moors as line 15 would appear to indicate (SC p. 496n72); however, beyond providing the necessary rhyme, the term could simply be used to reinforce the earlier assertion that once-ploughed lands are now lying fallow (lines 20–21).
79 Bensté and Dominus. “Bless us” (benedicite) and “Lord” are used as interjections. Shepherd 2 here addresses the audience, having apparently not yet seen Shepherd 1.
98 Sely Copyle oure hen. A coppel is a “crest or comb (of a hen); — used as a name of a hen” (MED coppel (n.), citing as its sole source the northern English poem, “The Tournament of Tottenham”).
101 to crok. Mak’s wife will later be said “to crok” in childbirth (line 556).
124–26 Som men wyll have two wyfys . . . . In store. That is, some men remarry, and some more than once, but the phrase “in store” may suggest that some also keep mistresses.
144 For as ever rede I pystyll. While “epistle” could refer to any written communication but particularly ancient letters of literary value, the obvious (if anachronistic) reference here is to one of the apostolic letters from the New Testament, normally read as part of the Mass by a subdeacon but not by laity (shepherds included).
146 As sharp as thystyll. Proverbial. See Whiting T210.
147 As rugh as a brere. Proverbial. See Whiting B542.
150–52 Had she oones . . . . Hyr Paternoster. Once she has had a drink (“wet her whistle”), she can loudly sing the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father” — see Matthew 6:9–13). While anachronism of this sort is common in biblical drama, it takes on particular significance here if, as suggested, the play were to be performed on its own. Outside any obviously biblical context, having the shepherds refer to the Lord’s Prayer (or to Christ’s cross and Saint Nicholas, lines 170–71) would seem entirely appropriate, while making the eventual revelation of the Nativity still more surprising.
156 I wald I had ryn to I had lost hir. Russell Poole has argued that this unusually long line contains a stage direction, “Thay ryn to,” mistakenly incorporated into the dialogue, which should be emended to read “I wald I had lost hir” (“A Disguised Stage Direction,” pp. 317–18).
157 God looke over the raw. That is, may God watch over the audience. Shepherd 2 has been addressing the audience directly, perhaps from among them rather than from the same performance area where Shepherd 1 waits, unnoticed.
161 Sagh thou awre of Daw. That is, have you seen Daw anywhere? The name of Shepherd 3 is a diminutive of “David,” but also means “fool” (see 3.359). Much like Shepherd 2 before him, Shepherd 3 will enter (at line 170) without initially noticing the others.
203–04 I wyll gyf my shepe / A turne. I will drive my sheep in another direction — that is, to avoid the other two shepherds whom he has just noticed.
210 master myne. It is uncertain as to which of the other two is addressed here; Shepherd 1 calls Shepherd 3 “my knave” in line 213, whereas Shepherd 2 refers to him more generically as “the boy” (line 215), but also refers to “oure shepe” (line 257). (See also the note to 8.257 regarding Shepherd 3 and the boy in the first Shepherds play.)
237–38 I shall do therafter, / Wyrk as I take. That is, I shall work according to the wages that I receive.
239–43 I shall do . . . . In feyldys. I shall work a little, sir, and play constantly in between, for my supper has never lain too heavily on my stomach while I am out in the pastures. That is, eating has never interfered with his ability to be active, because he has not had a full meal.
249 ryde on wowing. It was customary for a man to bring a companion when he went to woo a bride.
259–60 I thaym left in the corne, / When thay rang lawdys. That is, I left them in the grain field — a punishable offence — when the bell for Lauds was rung. Lauds is a daily office or set of prayers, sung at the first light of dawn (and thus variable by season in the medieval church).
270–73 Lett me syng . . . . how ye chauntt. The song that follows these lines would have been in three parts: the tenor is the lowest and the treble the highest, with the mean predictably in between; in English Discant style, the upper parts are usually improvised contrapuntally against the (written or known) tenor line, harmonizing in rhythmically equal time. Shepherd 3 takes the mean rather than the highest part, indicating that, while younger than the other two, he is not a child, but a 'boy' primarily in the sense of being subservient to the others.
274 thy naymes sevyn. Robert E. Jungmann (“Mak and the Seven Names of God”) has argued that the phrase is connected not to the Jewish tradition of the seven names of God, but to witchcraft and the conjuring of spirits, as it is in a (seventeenth-century) text known as the Lemegeton, or “Lesser Key of Solomon.” Mak appears unaware of the presence of the shepherds, although both his entrance at the end of their song and his failure to respond to the first lines spoken to him suggests otherwise.
283 Who is that pypys so poore. That is, who is speaking in a weak or shrill voice? Cain uses a similar phrase to mock God at 2.300.
291 Ich be a yoman. To support his claim to be a yeoman, in service to the nobility, Mak attempts to disguise not only his appearance, by means of a cloak (which could also be used to hide anything he might steal), but also his speech, adopting several specifically southern dialect forms such as the first-person pronoun “ich” (“I”) and imperative plurals such as “goyth” (line 296) and “doth” (line 309) — forms that Shepherd 1 dismisses as a “southern tooth” (line 311).
300 Why make ye it so qwaynt. Mak is “making strange” both in pretending to be someone else and in making his speech strange or elaborately affected.
328–29 a sekenes I feyll / That haldys me full haytt. That is, I feel a sickness that affects me intensely, or that keeps me feverish.
332–33 Seldom lyys the dewyll / Dede by the gate. That is, the devil does not truly suffer, and thus should not be trusted, or given sympathy.
336–38 If I stande stone styll . . . . and more. That is, as sure as I stand, still as a stone, I have not eaten anything in more than a month.
345–46 Yll spede othere good / That she wyll do. That is, may everything else that she does turn out badly.
361–64 Now wyll ye se . . . . hed mas penny. Much like Noah’s wife (3.562–65), Mak expresses a willingness to spend all he has to see his spouse dead. While “head penny” can refer to any per-person fee (as in poll tax) as well as to church offerings, a “head mass penny” (or simply “mass penny”) is a payment to the church for having mass said, especially for one who has died.
365–68 I wote so forwakyd . . . . to my hyere. That is, I am certain that no one in this shire is as tired as I am; I will sleep even if it means I get less pay.
380–81 Then myght . . . rowne. That is, this way I might keep you all from assuming the worst about me.
384–85 Manus tuas commendo / Poncio Pilato. Mak’s ‘benediction’ is a corruption of Jesus’ final words on the cross: In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum (Luke 23:46, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit”), invoking Pontius Pilate who condemns Jesus to death (see 19.296–99). This is a more sinister ‘night-spell’ than that of Shepherd 3 in the previous play (8.418–25), especially taken in connection with the spell that follows. The stanza as a whole is irregular, and may be missing four lines due to a copying error.
400–12 Bot abowte you a serkyll . . . . it be right. Mak traces or otherwise creates a circle around the sleeping shepherds — the traditional magic circle of necromancy — and pronounces a spell over them to ensure that they remain sleeping until he returns. His reference to making a “better effort to make things right” (lines 411–12) may indicate some additional stage action necessary to complete or perfect the spell, prior to his catching a sheep.
430 I am sett for to spyn. Like Noah’s wife (see 3.488–90 and 528–29), Gill is occupied with her spindle, an activity associated with Eve, but also important in many northern English communities in the later Middle Ages.
439 open the hek. A heck (or “hatch”) is a door, or more particularly the lower part of a divided door (MED hacche (n.), sense 1a). This particular door is referred to repeatedly (see lines 474[a], 582, and 691) as needing to be opened or shut. Nowhere else in these plays, other than perhaps on Noah’s ark (see 3.198, 404), is an actual door required as part of the stage action; however, in the N-Town pageant of Joseph’s Doubt, Joseph twice asks Mary, “Undo youre dore,” before Mary tells her handmaid to “Ondo the dore” and then welcomes him in (N-Town 12.1, 5, 8).
445–46 By the nakyd nek / Art thou lyke for to hyng. Mak’s wife has evidently seen the sheep immediately; sheep-stealing was a hanging offence.
448 I am worthy my mete. Much the same phrase is used in the Wycliffite translation of Matthew 10:10: “for a werkman is worthi his mete.”
456 Jelott. A diminutive form of the name of Mak’s wife, Gill. On the name Gill, see note to 3.318.
458–61 Bot so long goys the pott . . . . broken. A common proverb. See Whiting P323.
476–77 Then myght I by, for all the pak, / The dewill of the war. Then might I suffer a devil of a bad time, from the whole pack of them.
487–88 I shall say . . . this night. Disguising the sheep not merely as a child but as a newborn baby boy sets up a parallel (if only in retrospect) with the Nativity scene that ends the play.
497–98 Bot I com or thay ryse / Els blawes a cold blast. Unless I return before they wake up, a cold wind will blow — that is, trouble. These lines are likely spoken as Mak returns to where the shepherds are sleeping, given that his next lines indicate that he is already there. He must then get into the position he was in before they fell asleep.
504–06 Resurrex a mortruis . . . . Judas carnas dominus. The first of these garbled Latin lines echoes the Creed (and part of a traditional morning prayer), “he rose from the dead” (resurrexit a mortuis), while the second — likely a parodic distortion of a phrase such as laudes canas domino (“sing praises to the lord” — see SC p. 503n506) translates as “Judas, flesh, lord.”
514 As fresh as an eyll. Proverbial. See Whiting E43.
522–23 So my browes blakys / To the dowore wyll I wyn. That is, as my brows turn pale (or blake, with fear) I will get to the door. This door, unlike the door to Mak’s house (see note to line 439 above), does not exist; Shepherd 3 is too sleepy and frightened to remember that he is outdoors. If written for an indoor performance, the line would function as a metatheatrical joke, much like the various asides to the audience or Gill’s concern about who might be watching at line 495, not to mention the reference to being “near England” in line 511.
550 my nek has lygen wrang. Mak complains that his neck is sore due to his lying on it awkwardly; he has of course been lying down only briefly, but the line also recalls his conversation with Gill regarding the punishment for sheepstealing (lines 445–46).
552 Mekill thank. That is, much thanks. Another shepherd has evidently helped (or impatiently pulled) Mak to his feet.
554–55 I was flayd . . . out of sloghe. “Flayed” (or tortured) literally means “skinned” while a “slough” is either skin in a general sense (as in “my heart leapt out of my skin”), or skin that is shed (as by a snake, or by flaying). Mak attempts to delude the shepherds with an account of his fictional “swevyn,” a visionary dream, while the supposed “fantom” or delusion (line 540) of Shepherd 2 turns out to be a true vision.
559–60 a yong lad / For to mend oure flok. Mak’s choice of words not only alludes to the “young lad” being a sheep from the flock belonging to these shepherds, but also foreshadows the epiphany of Christ, the "good shepherd" of John 10:11, at the end of the play.
562 I have tow on my rok. I have flax on my distaff — that is, I have business to attend to.
578 all oure store. While “store” can refer to possessions in general, not just livestock as glossed here (see MED store (n.1), senses 1 and 2), Mak later notes that the last thing the shepherds said as he left was that they would look to ensure that they have all their sheep (lines 610–13).
581 the crokyd thorne. The Surtees edition (The Towneley Mysteries, p. xv) refers to “a remarkable thorn tree which was known by the name of the Shepherd’s Thorn [that] stood in Mapplewell,” south of Wakefield. However, both thorn trees and places named after these are common. As Milton suggests in his poem, “L’Allegro,” “Every Shepherd tells his tale / Under the Hawthorn in the dale” (lines 67–68).
585 Now walk in the wenyand. A mild curse, the waning moon being considered unlucky; see note to 2.227–29.
588 Then may we be here. SC emend as “Then may we se [see] here” (p. 143), although here has more than one meaning that fits the context. While glossed as the adjective meaning “pleasant,” making Gill’s line a sarcastic response to Mak’s unusually pleasant greeting, here can also mean “a crowd,” which would then suggest that the next line means “the devil in a multitude,” referring to the large number of people — mostly children — ostensibly occupying the house already.
628–29 Come hap me . . . . Behinde. That is, come cover me, and ensure that I am covered behind. Mak is to tuck her convincingly under bedclothes (although likely not on a bed, properly speaking, as they are poor).
631 Thay will nyp us full naroo. They will squeeze us tightly — that is, the shepherds will search us carefully.
638 Syng lullay. Mak is to sing a lullaby — possibly even the refrain of a lullaby carol as SC suggest in the note to this line, again anticipating the Nativity scene (SC p. 505n638).
651 A fat wedir. The term “wether” most often means a castrated ram, but can be applied to any male sheep. The stolen sheep needs to be small enough to pass for a newborn child, but mature enough to be both “fat” and “hornyd” (line 867; see also the notes to lines 658–59 and 911–12, below).
652 Mary, Godys forbott. The initial interjection (originally “by Mary” but later often spelled “marry,” and used without religious intent or significance) refers to Mary, mother of Jesus, who will appear at the end of the play; the second part of the line literally means “God’s forbidding.”
657 All horbery shrogys. The line is usually rendered “All Horbery shrogys” (as it is in SC; see their note at p. 506n657), Horbury being the name of a town near Wakefield. However, horbery may be a variation or mistranscription of herbery (see MED herberwe (n.), senses 1 and 2) — that is, shelter, which scrogs or brush (see MED scrogge (n.)) provide for the sheep.
658–59 And of fefteyn hogys / Fond I bot oone ewe. Both this ewe and the missing “fatt wedir” (see line 651 and note) were expected to be with the younger sheep, a “hogg” being a sheep that is roughly 6–16 months old (after weaning but before first shearing). See OED hog (n.1), sense II4a.
661 Sant Thomas of Kent. That is, Saint Thomas Becket of Canterbury.
683–85 Tyll I se . . . . anothere. That is, I will never sleep twice in the same place until I see him.
686–87 Will ye here how thay hak? / Oure syre lyst croyne. Reference to Mak as “sire” alludes back to his ostentatious entrance near the beginning of the play, while the musical terms used anticipate the angel’s song. Both “hack” and “crack” (line 688) mean to break up a note or line, trilling or singing a melismatic melody, with multiple notes to a syllable, as used in regard to the angel’s song later in the play (see the note to line 948 below). However, both terms also have derogatory meanings, and are used here to indicate that Mak is mangling the music with his cracked voice.
696 were it day. That is, if only it were day — it is still very early in the morning.
717–20 Thynk ye . . . . A seson. Having just said that he needs to hire a nursemaid, Mak asks whether the shepherds remember what he told them earlier regarding his dream of having yet another child (lines 554–60) and says, in effect, “I have my expected reward; my dream has come true at the appointed time.”
726 Me thynk that ye swette. That is, I think you work hard. His apparent generous offer of food and drink that precedes this line is at odds with his previous assertions of dire poverty and lack of food (as in lines 337–38).
729 alys you oght bot goode. That is, does anything other than what is good trouble you? “Good” can also mean “property,” loss of which is indeed troubling the shepherds.
736–37 som men trowes that ye wore / And that us forthynkys. Some men — that is, the three of us — think that you were (there), and that displeases us.
746 hir. By referring to the stolen sheep as female, Mak hides his knowledge that the one he took was male — “a fat wedir” (see line 651 and note).
750 syn she lade hir. That is, since she was ‘brought to bed’ to deliver a child.
753–54 this be the fyrst mele / That I shall ete this day. Literally, of course, this is exactly the plan, while figuratively, eating the lamb/child signifies the Eucharist. See also lines 774–76.
770 farne. That is, “farrowed” — a term usually reserved for a sow that has given birth.
785 hatters. The term literally means clothing (see MED hater(e (n.1)), but is here used as an interjection meaning “by the holy garments” — that is, the seamless tunic of Christ, a relic claimed both by the cathedral at Trier, Germany, since at least the eleventh century, and by the parish church of Argenteuil, now a suburb of Paris. The latter relic was referred to in 1156 as the cappa pueri Jesu (“garment of the Child Jesus”), woven by the Virgin Mary, but believed to have grown with Jesus and thus become the tunica inconsutilis — the seamless garment of John 19:23 that is the focus of the Towneley play of the Dice. See Catholic Encyclopedia, “Holy Coat.”
790–92 Whik catell bot this . . . . None. That is, no live (“quick”) animals except this — the supposed child (which, as the shepherd goes on to say in line 793, smells as strongly as the lost sheep). “Cattle” was a generic term, inclusive not only of various livestock but of other possessions (“chattel”) as well.
805–06 In good tyme to hys hyppys / And in celé. That is, a good and happy future to him — literally, to his hips. Being “on the hip” was a position of disadvantage or vulnerability in wrestling (see 8.366–69 and note). The phrase “his hips” is also used in the play of the Dice to refer to a person (see 21.410–12 and note).
807–08 gossyppys / So sone redé. For the Middle English term for godparents, see MED god-sib(be (n.), sense 1. Baptism (in the presence of godparents or “gossips”) occurred as soon after birth as possible, to avoid the possibility that a child would die without the benefit of the sacrament.
809 fare fall thare lyppys. That is, bless them. Mak is all too clearly stalling for time as he thinks of a response to the question regarding identity of the godparents.
812–13 Parkyn and Gybon Waller . . . And gentill John Horne. “John Horne” is a relatively common name, but is notably shared by Shepherd 2 in the first Shepherds play, in which Shepherd 1, like Shepherd 2 in this play (see line 852), is named Gib (see 8.118–22). The name “Gybon” is a variation of Gib; however, the supposed godparent here is obviously not Shepherd 2 here. The coincidence of names, particularly given the subsequent reference to John Horne’s long legs (or “greatt shank” — line 815) might suggest that these two plays shared an audience, and possibly even the same cast. Playing the two plays in succession could render the coincidence of names absurd, but the plays could easily have been performed in the same place at different times, perhaps even in successive years like N-Town’s two-part Passion Play.
826 farthyng. A farthing was the smallest coin available, worth a quarter of a penny (twelve farthings were thus equivalent to sixpence — see line 837). Leaving a gift for the newborn was customary, but here anticipates the giftgiving at the Nativity.
834 lytyll day starne. The same phrase is used to describe the Christ child at line 1049.
847 We wate ill abowte. That is, we pry into things we should leave alone (see MED waiten (v.), sense 1a).
848–49 Ill spon weft . . . / Ay commys foull owte. That is, badly-spun thread always makes bad cloth. Proverbial. See Whiting W571. In cloth weaving, the weft crosses from side to side, at right angles to the warp on the loom.
867 A hornyd lad. A child with horns is suggestive of the devil, and antithetical to the Nativity that follows.
894–95 Ye two ar well feft, / Sam in a stede. That is, you are well suited to one another, two of a kind. To be “feoffed” is to be endowed or put in legal possession of something — in this case each other, through marriage. See OED feoff (v.).
906 cast hym in canvas. The significance of casting Mak in canvas has been variously explained, and the staging itself is problematic: unless hym is an error for hem (“them”) as sometimes argued, Gill apparently escapes punishment, yet even one person is difficult for three persons to toss in a four-cornered blanket — the most common interpretation of the line. However, Thomas J. Jambeck has pointed out that canvas was used as winnowing cloth, for separating grain from chaff (“Canvas-Tossing,” p. 50) — a prominent biblical (and medieval) metaphor for judgment; see Matthew 3:12, which in the Wycliffite version (c. 1385) explicitly refers to a “wynwing cloth,” translating Latin ventilabrum (see also MED canevas (n.), sense 2a, and windwe-cloth (n.)). A winnowing cloth was relatively narrow, allowing two persons to toss and catch the grain while the wind blew away the chaff; Mak, and perhaps Gill as well, might be less tossed than violently rolled back and forth, possibly after some 'threshing' or beating, but the image would be clear to a contemporary audience. Jambeck (“Canvas- Tossing,” p. 50) further notes that, according to Randle Cotgrave’s popular Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), the French verb berner means “to vanne, or winnow corne; also, to canuasse, or tosse in a siue [sieve]; (a punishment inflicted on such as commit grosse absurdities;) also, to flout, mocke, deride, ride, abuse, ieast, scoffe at” (see also OED canvass (v.)). For the editorial reassignment of lines in this section, see Textual Note to line 901.
911–12 As a shepe of sevyn skore / He weyd in my fyst. That is, he weighed the same in my hands as a sheep of seven score — that is, 140 pounds (or 63.5 kilograms, roughly the weight of an average-sized ewe).
923 That Adam had lorne. That is, those who Adam doomed to destruction through his original sin in Eden.
932 Betwyx two bestys. See note to 8.437–38.
939–41 All the wod . . . . Appere. That is I thought that he made all the woods look bright. The term “levin” (see MED leven (n.)) can refer to a lightning flash or to any bright light.
948 Thre brefes to a long. While note values varied in the medieval mensural system, a breve or regular note was roughly equivalent to four crotchets (or two minims); “Thre brefes to a long” indicates the equivalent of 6/4 time in modern notation. In this stanza, the angel’s song is enthusiastically described in terms that echo the earlier description of Mak’s poor singing (see note to lines 686–87 above). Here the verbs “crack” and “hack” (lines 947–949) signify a swift, ornate style with short notes. The MED, citing this passage, defines knakken (v.) as “to trill (a musical note); also, sing (divine service) with trills or other artifices.” The angel’s elaborately “hakt” and “crakyd” melody is to be swiftly and perfectly sung, or “knakt,” without a wrong note — “no crotchet wrong” (line 950).
958 Hark after than. As earlier (line 270 and note), Shepherd 1 claims the tenor line, ostensibly imitating what the angel has just sung, with which the other two will harmonize — hence the requirement that they listen to (“Hark after”) him. The song immediately follows, ending prior to the next spoken line.
998–1003 Patryarkes that hase . . . . have they lorne. That is, the prophets and patriarchs are all long dead, and have lost the chance to see the Christ whose birth they foretold.
1020–23 Lord . . . . comfroth thi wight. The poor shepherds have nothing to give the child, having apparently had “bot sex pence” (line 837) to give to Mak’s child earlier. Their prayer for “somkyns gle” (that is, something joyful) to offer is apparently answered immediately and miraculously with symbolic gifts: an unseasonable “bob of cherries” (line 1036, reminiscent of the famous miracle, staged in the N-Town Nativity pageant, 15.25–43, in which a cherry tree not only produces fruit out of season but also bends down to give the fruit to Mary), a bird (line 1044, symbol of the Holy Ghost and of Creation — see Genesis 1:2, which Milton in Paradise Lost, 7.233–35 would memorably render as “Darkness profound / Covered the abyss, but on the watery calm / His brooding wings the spirit of God outspread”), and a ball (line 1060, the royal orb, representing dominion over the earth).
1024–59 Hayll . . . . See note to 8.660–92.
1030–31 The fals gyler of teyn / Now goys he begylde. The false and cruel beguiler — that is, the devil — is now beguiled. The theme of 'the beguiler beguiled' is commonplace.
1039 frely foyde. This punning Eucharistic reference (see 7.d.85 and note), suggesting both “noble child” and “excellent food,” is particularly appropriate to this play with its parallel drawn between the infant Christ (whose body and blood are consumed in the Eucharist) and the disguised sheep (stolen to be eaten).
1048 I wold drynk on thy cop. The phrase suggests not only the cup of the Eucharist, but also a willingness on the part of the Shepherd to share in Christ’s future suffering; see Matthew 20:22 and Mark 10:38–39.
1059 put furth thy dall. The only attestations in the MED for dal (n.) meaning “hand,” come from the Towneley MS — here and twice (in plural form) in the Judgment play, 27.200 and 273.
1062 go to the tenys. Tennis was a sport with strong aristocratic associations (originally played with the hand, not a racquet — hence the French name, jeu de paume).
1067–68 My name couth he neven / And lyght or he went. That is, God spoke my name and he (the Son) alighted in me — was conceived — before he (the Father) left.
1087–88 To syng . . . take on loft. The shepherds close the play with a song as they depart.
Play 9, THE SHEPHERDS (2): 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).
8 al. MS: inserted above the line.
14 husbandys. So SC. EP, MS: shepardes. See Explanatory Note.
84 wyndys. MS, EP: weders. SC emend to wyndys, assuming accidental repetition from the previous line, which seems likely.
85–149 And the frostys . . . . a sowre-loten chere. MS: much of the writing on this page (fol. 39r) is worn and faded, with some letters overwritten in darker ink by a later hand.
101 she. MS: e obscured by ink blot.
102 or to clok. MS: all but the first and last letters here are obscured by an ink blot.
103 is oure. So SC. EP: is of oure. MS: is or oure. The word or is partly obscured by an ink blot. While or in this context could plausibly mean “first” (as a variant spelling of ere; see MED er (adv.)), SC (p. 497n103) suggest that it may simply be a mistaken first attempt to write oure.
136 That. So SC. MS: it.
274 sevyn. So EP. MS: vii.
278–342 I am all . . . . the fyere, lo. MS: much of the writing on this page (fol. 40v) is worn and faded, with some letters touched up.
281 ther. So SC. EP: there. MS: the.
293 same. So EP. SC, MS: some.
297 of. MS: inserted above the line.
316 teyn. MS: a different hand has written le over the original n.
331 is. MS: inserted above the line in red ink over black.
339 thi hoode. So SC, MS. EP: my hoode. The upper part of the h in thi is no longer visible.
340 How farys sho. So EP. SC, MS: How farys she. The w of How is badly written over another letter. The northern form of “she” here is necessary for the rhyme, but was apparently unfamiliar to the scribe, as the same word is mistranscribed at 347; while relatively common in the York plays, sho does not (correctly) appear in this MS.
347 sho. So SC. MS: so. See note to line 340 above.
352 now. So SC. MS: not.
421 From. So SC. MS: ffron.
428 Wife (speech heading). The rubrics here and at her reappearance at line 584 specify that the speaker is uxor eius (“his wife”), rather than just uxor (“wife”) as elsewhere.
509 walter. MS: water. SC (p. 504n509) accept the misspelling as phonetic, but scribal error seems more likely (compare walteryng at line 341).
518 me. So SC. EP: my hart. MS: my. Confusion regarding this variant spelling (my for reflexive “me”) has led EP and some other modern editors to emend this line unnecessarily.
534 Shepherd 3 (speech heading). The MS assigns this speech to Shepherd 2, and the next (lines 538–40) to Shepherd 3, preserving the typical 1–2–3 pattern, although these lines clearly continue the previous speech of Shepherd 3 regarding his dream; the next lines should go to Shepherd 2.
538 Be styll. The MS assigns this speech to Shepherd 3; see previous note.
553 Stevyn. MS: strevyn.
582 who is here. SC assign these words to Mak’s wife, which is plausible in terms of content, but unnecessary; Mak is being impatient. Emendation also implies an unlikely scribal error: in similar instances of multiple speakers in a single manuscript line, including several instances in this same play, the scribe has written speech rubrics as part of the line, separating them from the dialogue itself by means of red lines or boxes. A similarly swift exchange between two speakers in the first Shepherd play, for example, has two boxed speech headings within a single manuscript line (written as three separate lines in this edition, but numbered as two: 8.272–73). SC’s emendation would imply the accidental omission of two original speech headings.
584 Wife (speech heading). See note to line 428 above.
588 Then may we be here. See Explanatory Note.
607 That. MS: A that, with the A faintly crossed out.
618 wyll suppose. MS: f and part of another letter (likely r) are written between these words.
658 fefteyn. So EP. MS: xv.
799 oure lady. MS: the word lady has been crossed out and lord written faintly above in a later hand.
812 Parkyn and Gybon Waller I say. MS: a later hand has written in large letters at the top corner, Be it kn [known?], the flourish at the top of B being partly cropped.
837 sex. So EP. MS: vi.
868 Peasse byd I. What. MS: Memorand is written in another hand above this line in the top margin.
891 myself. MS: my felf.
901 Shepherd 2 (speech heading). MS: primus pastor. SC reassign this speech to Shepherd 3, which requires them to reassign lines 896–97 to Shepherd 1 (assigned to Shepherd 3 in MS, as here). They further reassign to Shepherd 1 the beginning of the next stanza (lines 907–10), which in the MS is a continuation of the previous speech. They explain this extensive rearrangement by arguing that “the First Shepherd has already (at 889) called for the violent punishment of the offenders” (SC, p. 509n896–97, pp. 901–06). However, Shepherd 3 has similarly called for punishment for both Mak and Gill at lines 859–63. The only one who has not done so is Shepherd 2, to whom lines 901–06 are thus allocated in this edition. I have, though, followed SC (and effectively the MS as well) in the assignment of the beginning of the next stanza to Shepherd 1; having assigned the previous speech to Shepherd 1 (perhaps due to some confusion in the exemplar), the scribe would have omitted the rubric at line 907 in order to avoid assigning two speeches in a row to the same character.
907 Shepherd 1 (speech heading). MS: no speech heading here, nor any line separating this from the previous speech. See note to line 901 above.
911 sevyn. So EP. MS: vii.
934 That ever yit I hard. MS: he spake upward, anticipating line 938, is written in the same hand before this line, and crossed out in red.
971 lose. MS has a long s before lose.
983 Ecce. So SC, MS. EP: Cite.