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Note for Play 17

Even though there is no play 17 in the manuscript, there was probably one at some point. Spector observes that four leaves (eight pages that could have contained approximately 160 to 240 lines) were removed between the Shepherds’ and Magi plays (S 1:xx–xxi, 2:473, and Spector, “Symmetry,” pp. 170–72). It is interesting to note that the existing Purification Play has 206 lines and could have easily fit into those missing leaves. Both Block (Bl, p. xxviii) and Spector believe that the Purification Play was moved from this position (following the Shepherds’ Play) into its present position (following the Magi Play). The evidence is convincing. Block notes that a rubricated “1” is erased before play number “20.” So, if Purification Play had been number 17, then the Slaughter of the Innocents (the present play 20) would have been number 19. Such an ordering agrees with Pseudo-Matthew, The Life of St. Anne, and other sources. The order, as it presently stands, agrees with other medieval sources.

In English plays and processions, the placement of the Purification material is similarly divided. The N-Town Purification Play — as those from York, Hereford, and Beverley — immediately follows the Shepherds’ Play. In contrast, the Chester, Towneley, Coventry, and Digby versions place the Purification material after the Slaughter of the Innocents or the Death of Herod (Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain). The compiler may have moved the Purification Play between the Magi Play and the Slaughter of the Innocents/ Death of Herod in order to accentuate Mary’s role in the Nativity and to heighten the poignancy of Simeon’s and Anna’s prophecies in the temple.

Go To Play 18, Magi