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Play 1, Creation of Heaven; Fall of Lucifer


I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. (See Apocalypse 1:8)

Here sing the angels in heaven: “To you all angels, the heaven, and the powers of the universe cry out unceasingly: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts’"


Abbreviations: Bev: Medieval Drama, ed. Bevington (1975); MED: Middle English Dictionary; S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.n.: stage name.

All English dramatic versions of the creation story are based upon Genesis 1. The N-Town Creation of Heaven and the Fall of Lucifer Play corresponds most closely to Chester’s Play 1 that recounts the creation of the heavens and Lucifer’s fall. Quite differently, Towneley addresses the creation of the heavens, earth, Adam and Eve and the fall in one long play. And York, possibly due to its abundance of active guilds, portrays the fall of the angels in one play (Play 1), but the other creation and fall subjects are played in five other short plays (Plays 2–6). Spector notes that the N-Town Play “includes on the first day the extra-biblical creation of the angels. Jubilee 2:2 also allocates that event to the first day, and Augustine asserts in De Civitate Dei that the angels were themselves the light that was called ‘day’" (S 2:418).

The play is written entirely in thirteener stanzas.

Before 1 Ego sum alpha et oo, principium et finis. All four of the principal cycles begin with this crucial line from Apocalypse 1:18 or 22:13, which announces the overall scope of God, history, and the cycles — from Creation to the Last Judgment, i.e., from beginning to end. Line 1’s “My name is knowyn" implies the theological point that all Creation is figured in the name of God and is preceded by his knowing, as if to announce that God’s idea precedes Creation, which flows from it. In Apocalypse the voice of the proclamation is that of Jesus, in whose Word the world resides.

1–28 This passage may be based on the Athanasian Creed, which reiterates the persons and respective powers of the Trinity (see S 2:418).

12–13Compare the Athanasian Creed: “Unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in Unitate veneremur; neque confundentes personas: neque substantiam separantes" (S 2:419).

30–31 Compare Baruch 3:34, Job 38:7

35 belde. Spector cites the MED, which defines “belden" as “to protect" (S 2:418). But it is also likely that the scribe meant “bilden," “to create."

39, s.d. Hic cantent angeli in celo. As John Stevens points out, “The most frequent use of music in the plays is to symbolize heaven. . . . Singing angels represent a higher harmony, a more complete ‘order’ than we can know on earth. Music is a mirror or speculum of the God-created Universe" (“Music in Mediaeval Drama," p. 82). In the Banns to Play 1, we are told that the “angell with songe — this is no nay — / Shal worchep God, as it is ryth" (Banns, lines 18–19), a point that is made evident right from the start of N-Town as the newly-created angels sing from the Te Deum, which is part of the Corpus Christi Mass (see Dutka, Index of Songs, pp. 42–43). As Rastall observes: “The descriptions of Heaven as a joyful place in Play 1 are closely related to the sound of music there: We find that Heaven and the stars were created to exist ‘In myrth and joy’ (1.30–31), and that the angels were created to worship God ‘with merth and melody’ (1.32–34) and ‘With myrth and song’" (1.36–38). The last of these results in music at 1.39, s.d." (Minstrels Playing, p. 79).

40 To whos wurchipe synge ye this songe? As in the Barkers’ Play of the Creation and the Fall of Lucifer, in the York Cycle, the turning point in Lucifer’s fierce jealousy is prompted by the singing of the Sanctus. The good angel answers Lucifer’s question — the song honors God — to whom Lucifer replies, “A wurthyer lorde forsothe am I / And worthyer than he evyr wyl I be" (lines 53–54). When Angeli Mali agrees — “Goddys myth we forsake" (line 62) — Deus casts them out, doomed by their own words.

44 s.n., 62s.n. ANGELI BONI . . . ANGELI MALI. The debate of good and bad angels appears at the outset of the fall of the angels plays in all four cycles. Debate poems make their initial appearance in English literature in the thirteenth century (Conlee, Middle English Debate Poetry, p. xii) and became a favorite form of exemplary argument in legal circles. In the plays, the debate of good and evil is writ large as forces of right and wrong contend for the soul of Mankind even up and into the Last Judgment. The patterns are laid out, most efficiently, in N-Town, in this definitive exchange.

53 ff. Compare Isaias 14:12 ff.

56–57 I wyl go syttyn in Goddys se / Above sunne and mone and sterrys on sky. The location of God’s throne (see note to line 56, below) is somewhat anachronistic since the sun, moon, stars, and sky will not be created until the first lines of the next play. In theological terms, the poet seems to present the notion that heaven and hell are necessary cosmological preconditions to creation. That is, they must be established before creation can take place. One implication of this framework is that the fall of man seems to be a necessary working-out of preconditions: a place of punishment is necessary only if man is, ultimately, to be in need of punishment, which itself is a consequence not of Eden but of expulsion from it. While one might see man’s culpability in the fall as thereby lessened, the poet no doubt sees in such a structure a heightened necessity for the coming of Christ: Creation, from the beginning, was in need of his salvation. That the end is prefigured in the beginning is apparent from the start of this play, as Deus’ first pronouncement declares that he is alpha and omega, beginning and end (see note to Before 1, above).

56 Goddys se. In Middle English, the noun se can carry a wide variety of connotations, meaning anything from a simple chair or dwelling place to a royal or ecclesiastical throne, palace, cathedral, or holding (see MED se n.2). Here the meaning intended is the throne of God, later said to belong to Jesus (7.86-87): the seat from which, according to Mary, he will judge (16.153). Lucifer refers to it simply as the throne of God, a seat that functions symbolically to represent the authority of God over his dominion (i.e., creation). Presumably the staging here helps to underscore the self-deceptive pride of Lucifer as he usurps God’s place in physical act (by mounting a raised chair of some kind). Lucifer then declares, in line 61, that he is “Syttyng in my sete."

64–65 Thee to wurchep honowre we make / And falle down at thi fete. The rebellious angels speak an unwitting self-condemnation, for their transposition of Lucifer to the center of worship that is rightfully God’s immediately results in God’s order that they “falle from hefne to helle" (line 67).

71 With merth and joye nevyrmore to melle! “When God deprives Lucifer of the merth and joye in Heaven (1.71) . . . the audience is aware that this is a deprivation of music, too, even though Lucifer has clearly taken no part in the angels’ song (1.40). . . . He now cracks a fart (1.81) instead of musical notes. (The cracking of a fart is not yet a parody of the angelic music, merely a substitution. A similar allusion is probably intended by Satan’s letting of ‘a crakke’ at 23.195)" (Rastall, Minstrels Playing, p. 79; see also Rastall, Heaven Singing, pp. 205–06, where he develops further the juxtaposing of Satan’s cracking farts “whereas he formerly cracked musical notes").

81 For fere of fyre a fart I crake. Martial Rose suggests that to make the sound carry the actor playing Satan may have used gunpowder to provide comic reinforcement to his fearful farting in outdoor performances, noting “medieval devices for making Satan’s breaking of wind carry" that are set out in the staging of The Castle of Perseverance: “and he þat schal play belyal loke þat he haue gunnepowdyr brennynge In pypys in his handys and in hys eyrs and in hys ars whanne he gothe to batayl" (i.e., at the siege of the castle, lines 1969 ff.) (Staging of the Hegge Plays, p. 218). Such cracking of farts may accompany Belial’s first appearance in the play, as well, where he moves about excitedly announcing that “bothe the bak and the buttoke bresteth al on brenne" (Castle, line 201). See Bevington (Bev, pp. 796–97), for a reproduction and explication of the stage place. For further discussion of pyrotechnics in early drama, see Butterworth, Theatre of Fire, especially “Fireworks, Wildmen and Flaming Devils" (pp. 21–36), and “Fireworks as Light, Sound, Smoke and Heat" (pp. 37–54), which includes some discussion of gunpowder’s effects in the N-Town Doomsday Play (pp. 12, 28, 83–84) and the Resurrection and Descent into Hell (pp. 12 and 83).


Abbreviations: Da: Corpus Christi Play, ed. Davies (1972); S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991).

Before 1 Hegge Dunelmensis, perhaps with other words (Roberti?), cropped at top of 10r.

2–4 MS: large play number 1 in right margin.

22 in. MS: omitted, possibly a scribal error.

34 worchepe my myth. S: supplies to before worchepe. MS: worchepe my myth my.

37 as ble. S, Da: of ble.

39, s.d. Script m with loop [memorandum?] atop in left margin preceding the stage direction. Rubrication precedes first Tibi.

45 thee. S notes that e is written over another letter and another e is written above.

50 we. MS: omitted, but written above the line by the main scribe.

59 mythty. MS: wurthy mythty.

74 pyht. MS: py . . . pyht.

After 82 MS: no break between plays.








DEUS Ego sum alpha et oo, principium et finis.1

My name is knowyn, God and kynge.
My werk for to make, now wyl I wende.
In myself restyth my reynenge:
It hath no gynnying ne non ende.
And all that evyr shal have beynge,
It is closyd in my mende.
Whan it is made at my lykynge,
I may it save; I may it shende
After my plesawns.
So gret of myth is my pousté,
All thyng shal be wrowth be me.
I am oo God, in personys thre
Knyt in oo substawns.

I am the trewe Trenyté
Here walkying in this wone.
Thre Personys, myself I se
Lokyn in me, God alone.
I am the Fadyr of Powsté;
My Sone with me gynnyth gon;
My Gost is grace in magesté.
Weldyth welthe up in Hevyn tron
O God in thre I calle:
I am Fadyr of Myth;
My Sone kepyth ryth;
My Gost hath lyth
And grace withalle.

Myself begynnyng nevyr dyd take,
And endeles I am thorw myn owyn myth.
Now wole I begynne my werke to make:
Fyrst, I make hevyn with sterrys of lyth.
In myrth and joy evermore to wake.
In hevyn I bylde angell ful bryth,
My servauntys to be, and for my sake
With merth and melody worchepe my myth.
I belde them in my blysse,
Aungell in hevyn evyrmore shal be.
In lyth ful clere, bryth as ble,
With myrth and song to worchip me,
Of joye thei may not mys.
(see note); (t-note)

(see note)
beginning nor end

contained; mind

confound (bring to destruction)
At my pleasure
might; power
made by
one; (see note)



One God in three; am called; (t-note)

through; might

stars of light; (see note)

create angels

might; (t-note)
create; (see note)

light; brightest colors; (t-note)

[Hic cantent angeli in celo: “Tibi omnes angeli tibi celi et universe potestates. Tibi cherubyn et seraphyn incessabili voce proclamant: ‘Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.’”2
(see note); (t-note)









LUCIFERE To whos wurchipe synge ye this songe?
To wurchip God or reverens me?
But ye me wurchipe ye do me wronge,
For I am the wurthyest that evyr may be!
ANGELI BONI We wurchipe God of myth most stronge
Whiche hath formyd bothe us and thee!
We may nevyr wurchyp hym to longe,
For he is most worthy of magesté!
On knes to God we falle,
Oure Lorde God wurchyp we,
And in no wyse honowre we thee!
A gretter lord may nevyr non be
Than he that made us alle!

LUCIFERE A wurthyer lorde forsothe am I
And worthyer than he evyr wyl I be!
In evydens that I am more worthy,
I wyl go syttyn in Goddys se
Above sunne and mone and sterrys on sky.
I am now set as ye may se!
Now wurchyp me for most mythty,
And for youre lord honowre now me,
Syttyng in my sete.
ANGELI MALI Goddys myth we forsake,
And for more wurthy we thee take.
Thee to wurchep honowre we make
And falle down at thi fete.

DEUS Thu, Lucyfere, for thi mekyl pryde —
I bydde thee falle from hefne to helle.
And all tho that holdyn on thi side,
In my blysse nevyrmore to dwelle.
At my comawndement anoon down thu slyde
With merth and joye nevyrmore to melle!
In myschyf and manas evyr shalt thu abyde
In byttyr brennyng and fyer so felle,
In peyn evyr to be pyht.
LUCIFERE At thy byddyng, thy wyl I werke
And pas fro joy to peyne smerte.
Now I am a devyl ful derke
That was an aungell bryht.

Now to helle the way I take,
In endeles peyn ther to be pyht.
For fere of fyre a fart I crake
In helle donjoon, myn dene is dyth!
honor; (see note)


might; (see note)
too long

none ever be

(see note)

sit on God’s throne; (see note)
moon; stars; (see note)

mighty; (t-note)

God’s might; (see note)

(see note)

great pride

those who have taken your

to mingle; (see note)
burning; cruel
violently cast out (afflicted); (t-note)

great pain

fixed (set)
fear; crack; (see note)
den is prepared; (t-note)

Go To Play 2, Creation of the World; Fall of Man