Back to top

Play 14, Trial of Mary and Joseph


1 Here begins the play of the Trial of Mary and Joseph. / Here the First Detractor says

2 Here Bishop Abiyachar sits between two doctors of the law and, hearing the slander, calls the detractors to him, saying

3 Here Joseph drinks and goes seven times around the altar, saying

4 Here, the Blessed Virgin will drink the potion, and afterwards go around the altar, saying

5 Help me now by means of your majesty so that my honor (integrity) be not lost

6 Here he drinks, and feeling pain in his head, he falls and says


Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; H: Ludus Coventriae, ed. Halliwell (1841); MED: Middle English Dictionary; S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction.

As many scholars have pointed out, the N-Town Trial of Mary and Joseph (from Pseudo-Matthew) is unique among the extant English and Continental religious plays. The play en­compasses features of both moralities (as does the N-Town Slaughter of the Innocents) and miracle plays (as does the N-Town Nativity). The character of the Den, or Dean, raises issues about the play's setting. The late medieval den could either be a church official with juris­diction over part of an archdeaconry or a guild officer (MED). While both are possible for this particular Den, the latter seems more likely, as this Den does not appear to have either the authority or the decorum of the clergy. Rather, he is probably a dean of a religious lay fraternity (or religious guild) whose primary function was to summon members to meetings. Furthermore, religious guilds (as well as ecclesiastical courts) did pass judgment about in­frac­tions such as adultery and slander (see McRee, "Religious Gilds and Regulation of Beha­vior"). The closest scrip­tural analogue is from Numbers 5:11–31, which describes a trial for adultery. Interestingly enough, this Old Testament account involves the drinking of a bitter potion. Compare with Trial of Mary and Joseph, lines 232 ff.

Other scholars have noted the significance of the play's need to negotiate or to control sexual behavior in the late Middle Ages. See Coletti, "Purity and Danger," pp. 79–82; Fitz­henry, "Politics of Metatheater," pp. 33–36; and Carlson, "Mary's Obedi­ence," pp. 348–53. Elsewhere, Carlson states: "N-town goes farther than York, Ches­ter, or Wakefield [Towneley] because the resolving of Joseph's trouble about Mary in N-town does not settle the matter of the Virgin's integrity in this cycle. From private doubts and a near comic tone as Joseph behaves as the stereotypical old man cuckolded, N-town moves to public denun­ciation, trial, and truth serums" ("Like a Virgin," p. 210).

1–2 Avoyd, serys, . . . the buschop come . . . the lawes for to doo. "Den, a mere summoner for the bishop's court, introduces the human law in its more sordid aspect as a legal system prone to abuse by its administrators. . . . Den is a rather small fish him­self, accustomed to prey on those smaller still, smaller by virtue of their lack of a friend at court" (Carlson, "Mary's Obedience," pp. 354–55).
1–20 A quatrain followed by octaves.

9–32 A list of names functions as a summoning prologue. Such a list appears in "Cocke Lorelles Bote," an early sixteenth-century satirical poem (S 2:68 and H 2:413). Fewer sees the catalogue of names as "an allegorization of the network of occu­pations that constitutes the East Anglian civic polity" ("‘Fygure,'" p. 138). But mainly the effect of the list is to conjure up the rout of lasci­vious, gossip-hungry people hastening to see the trial. The result is an effective use of shifting atten­tion to a new playing area.

16 Bertylmew the bochere. Bertylmew is the colloquial form of Bartholomew. Perhaps dark comedy is implicit here in that St. Bartholomew was flayed alive in his mar­tyrdom, hence his affiliation with butchers.

20 flecchere. A fletcher is the one who puts the feathers on arrows, hence an arrow-maker.

21-33 A thirteener stanza. The remainder of the play is written in octaves.

40 To reyse slawndyr. See Hunt, "Maculating Mary," on the legal complexities for dealing with slander and detraction in fifteenth-century East Anglia. On the play's engaging in contemporary political issues pertaining to sex and marriage, see also Lipton, "Performing Reform," pp. 428–33.

41 Bakbytere. I.e., detractor (see line 62). Compare Castle of Perseverence, lines 647–98, 777–84, 1754–66, 1778–90, 1823–35, and 1844–52. Bakbytere's brother, who is speaking here, is Detraccio in Perserverence as he is here.

105, s.d. Abizachar. Spector observes that in Pseudo-Matthew, Lydgate's Life of Our Lady, and his "Fifteen Joys and Sorrows of Mary," the name is Abiathar (S 2:468). In the N-Town Banns, the name is Abyachar (line 118). The speaker appears to be Ysakar, regardless of the spelling. See explanatory note to 10.1, s.d.

113 sybbe of myn owyn blood. Compare 7.13 and note.

129 To set a cokewolde on the hye benche. Spector (S 2:468) cites Halliwell (H 2:414), who quotes "The Cokwoldes Daunce": "Cokwoldes schuld begynne the bord, / And sytt hyest in the halle." Hence, the cuckold is being "feted." Another possible read­ing, considering the legal nature of the play, is for the hye benche to be a judge's seat in which the cuckold passes judgment, perhaps ironically, on the wayward wife.

154–61 Not unlike Chaucer's Summoner, this one is proud of his vocation and is un­ashamed to beg for his pay. And like Chaucer's summoner in the Friar's Tale, he threatens to summon those who refuse to pay him. That he will not forsake gold or sylvyr (line 160) again reminds us of the Friar's summoner, who would go to hell rather than forego the widow's twelve pence. His rough toth (line 159) also recalls the Wife of Bath's appetite for money as well as sex.

164–69 Sayings about a bow and arrow describe events set into motion. This passage is also filled with sexual allusions describing a cuckold's humiliation (see S 2:461).

197 "Fayr chylde, lullay" sone must she syng! Perhaps Mary sings in the background as Den and the detractors comment on her behavior.

200 Becawse she is youre cosyn yynge. "Just as the Detractors are eager to believe the worst they can of Mary, so are they willing to believe the worst of the justice they themselves have invoked" (Carlson, "Mary's Obedience," p. 335).

212 gostly wownde. In this case, wownde refers to a spiritual imperfection caused by sin (MED, n.1c). It is possible that Mary is distinguishing herself from Jesus in that while she did not sin, she also does not bear other sins as Jesus did during the crucifixion. Wounde was a common Middle English term to refer to Christ's Passion sufferings.

226–27 Sche is, for me, a trewe clene mayde, / And I, for hir, am clene also. Moll observes that if the Mary Play is removed "what remains is essentially the cycle that is de­scribed in the Proclamation [Banns], namely: ‘The Betrothal of Mary' . . . ‘Joseph's Doubt,' and ‘The Trial of Mary and Joseph.' In these plays Mary does not over­shadow her doddering husband. In fact, Joseph's role is so fully developed that at times he appears more prominent than the Virgin Mother" ("Staging Dis­order," pp. 146–47). While Moll may go too far in seeing Joseph as upstaging Mary in importance, his point is well taken, especially in this play, where the two work together, undertaking the same trials, and especially demonstrating their faith and clene lives. On the problems confronting the chaste in chaste marriages in a late medieval world, see Moll, "Staging Dis­order," pp. 149–52.

230 ff. Compare Numbers 5:11–31 on jealousy and testing the adulterous woman by making her drink a bitter potion (compare the botel of Goddys vengeauns, line 234) (S 2:468). Seven is the number of totality and also is a sign of the mutable world and the measure of human life. In essence, this number indicates fullness and the meeting of the cosmic and the human. In this particular case, seven repre­sents the purity of Mary and Joseph's marriage as well as the perfection of Christ.

233 The drynge of vengeawns ther to asay. Carlson notes that while trial by ordeal as a means of legal confirmation had been abolished by papal decree in 1215, "it remained as a powerful motif in literature precisely because it demonstrated the divine judgment on the factual bases of the words of the parties to a legal dis­pute" ("Mary's Obedience," p. 355).

234–41 The testing of the truth, particularly before God in a trial, was a significant issue for the courts in the late Middle Ages. See Lipton, "Language on Trial," pp. 217–28. For the effects of such truth tests upon the broader community, see Hunt, "Maculating Mary," pp. 11–29.

250 ff. Joseph agrees to take the drink with confidence in his own guiltlessness. In Pseudo-Matthew, the potion is called "the water of jealousy," possibly derived from Numbers 5 (see headnote above). The two detractors, Den and Doctor Legis 1, ridicule him, confident in their understanding of human sexual behavior and biology. It is interesting to note that the detractor who imbibes and is pun­ished is Reyse slawnder (Raise-slander) and his brother's name is Bakbyter (Back­biter). These two particular infractions were particularly frowned upon in late medieval religious guilds. There is also the possibility that this scene refers to the sacred communal bond celebrated by the guild ale.

306–13 The detractors retell the medieval story of the snow-child, which Spector (S 2:469) notes as "deriving from Latin poems of the tenth to the twelfth century and later fabliaux." Spector cites, among others, Raby (History of Secular Latin Poetry, 1:295–97, 2:34), Bédier (Les Fabliaux, pp. 460–61), and Woolf (English Mystery Plays, p. 176).

334 I nevyr knew of mannys maculacyon. According to the MED, the use of maculacyon here is unique to this play. It means "spotless" or "sinless," but also may refer to Mary's immaculate conception, a doctrine that became part of the larger schis­matic debates of the fifteenth century. The feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was declared by the Council of Basel (in schism from the pope) in 1439; Rome confirmed the holiday in 1483. See Pelikan, Christian Tradition, 4:45. This latter date could be contemporaneous with the N-Town Mary Play. Mary's words point to the divine presence within her marriage. "Her body becomes the visual sign of the divine child she carries within" (Lipton, "Performing Reform," p. 401).

340 tabernacle. Mary is the tabernacle who holds the new ark of God (Christ) who will bear a New Law. Compare Chaucer's Second Nun on the "cloistre blisful" of Mary's sides (CT VIII[G]43). "Mary's test becomes a theatrical defense of the ability of religious representation to abide against idolatrous misreading and con­vey spiritual conviction" (Lipton, "Performing Reform," p. 401). See also notes to 7.41–44 and 19.18.

353 Sche is clene mayde, bothe modyr and wyff. The issue of the pageant "is not the in­tegrity of Mary's rights but her physical integrity" (Carlson, "Mary's Obedience," p. 356). The scene demonstrates Mary's virtue — her chastity and pregnancy, what Peter Brown, in his discussion of the ordeal, refers to as "the crowning mercy of Truth in human affairs" (Society and the Holy, p. 315, as cited by Carl­son, p. 357). By its physicality the ordeal has the peculiar power of reuniting divided factions in the society. Through the ordeal Mary's "humility can purify the workings of the corrupted and corruptible human law" (Carlson, p. 348).

374 Now God forgeve yow all yowre trespace. Even before Christ is born, Mary is as­suming her role as mediatrix, that is, asking God's forgiveness for Episcopus and the detractors.

380 We wyl go with yow hom to youre halle. Moll sees this to be a peaceful processional at the end of a charivari introduced in the great sequence of names (14.9–32) who, in fact, are "characters" summoned by Den who mock and detract and make travesty of pious behavior until after the trial through which the bodies of Mary and Joseph became hallowed despite the scorn and mockery ("Staging Dis­order," pp. 146–48, 154–57).


Abbreviations: Bl: Ludus Coventriae, ed. Block (1922); Da: Corpus Christi Play, ed. Davies (1972); G: Assumption of the Virgin, ed. Greg (1915); S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction; s.n.: stage name.

Before 1 MS: cross in top margin of 74v.
1, s.n. Den. MS: Speaker's name written in different script, fere-textura.

1–33 MS: the play number, 14, is actually on fol. 75r, after Den's prologue. Spec­tor and Greg agree that the Den's prologue was added after the play was transcribed (S 2:468; G, p. 130).

5 MS: no capitulum.

29 Fast com away. MS: this should be a separate line, not as a single line (lines 28–29) as Block and Halliwell show. See S 2:468.

31 Sprynge. MS: spy sprynge.

33, s.d. pagentum. So S. MS, Bl: pagetum.

after 33 MS: at the foot of fol. 74v are notations concerning holy days. They read: a. 14 kl. Aprilis translacio Sancte Marie Magdalene, et Sancti Joseph sponsi Dei genetricis Marie e.x. kl. Aprilis Adam creatus est. Above this note two words are scribbled in a different hand.

34, s.n. DETRACTOR 1. MS: omitted.

37–42 MS: large play number 14 in right margin.

40 slawndyr. MS, Bl: slawdyr.

66, s.n. DETRACTOR . MS: Detract, remainder cropped.

68, s.n. DETRACTOR . MS: Detract, remainder cropped.

75 the. MS: one letter canceled before.

80 it. MS: il it.

85 he had. So S. MS, Bl: he omitted.

102 MS: capitulum erased before line.

105, s.d. defamacionem. So S. MS, Da: defamocionem. Bl: defamocionem.

161 But evyn. So MS, Bl. S: But do evyn.

171 thought. MS: wer thought.

214, s.n. DOCTOR. MS: o written over another letter.

229 sche. So S. MS, Bl: sch.

236 hath. MS: written above the line.

238 And. MS: the d is inserted above the line.

244 presume. MS: presue presume.

267 leggys. MS: y written over e.

281 shewe. MS: sw shewe.

300 consume. MS: presume consume.

313 reclyne. MS: ren reclyne.

342 he beforn. So MS, Da, Bl. S: herebeforn.

354, s.n. DETRACTOR. MS: Detracto, remainder cropped.

363, s.d. scenciens. MS: scencienes.

364 sculle. So MS, Bl. S: soulle.

386 MS: no capitulum.

390 wysse. So S. MS, Bl: wys se.

401 pure. MS: several letters canceled before.

405 After line 405 the phrase "explicit cum gaudio" is framed by small circles. The rest of fol. 81v is blank, with the exception of a cross sign further down the page.





















DEN Avoyd, serys, and lete my lorde the buschop come
And syt in the courte, the lawes for to doo!
And I shal gon in this place, them for to somowne!
Tho that ben in my book, the court ye must com too!

I warne yow here all abowte
That I somown yow all the rowte!
Loke ye fayl for no dowte
At the court to pere:
Both Johan Jurdon and Geffrey Gyle,
Malkyn Mylkedoke and fayr Mabyle,
Stevyn Sturdy and Jak-at-the-Style
And Sawdyr Sadelere,

Thom Tyndere and Betrys Belle,
Peyrs Pottere and Whatt-at-the-Welle,
Symme Smalfeyth and Kate Kelle,
And Bertylmew the bochere,
Kytt Cakelere and Colett Crane,
Gylle Fetyse and Fayr Jane,
Powle Pewterere and Pernel Prane,
And Phelypp the good flecchere.

Cok Crane and Davy Drydust,
Luce Lyere and Letyce Lytyl Trust,
Miles the myllere and Colle Crake Crust,
Both Bette the bakere and Robyn Rede.
And loke ye rynge wele in youre purs,
For ellys youre cawse may spede the wurs,
Thow that ye slynge Goddys curs
Evyn at myn hede!
Fast com away,
Bothe Boutyng the browstere and Sybyly Slynge,
Megge Merywedyr and Sabyn Sprynge,
Tyffany Twynkelere, fayle for nothynge!
The courte shal be this day!

[Hic intrabit pagentum de purgacione Marie et Joseph.
Hic dicit Primus Detractor:1

DETRACTOR 1 A, a, serys! God save yow all!
Here is a fayr pepyl, in good fay!
Good serys, telle me what men me calle —
I trowe ye kannot be this day,
Yitt I walke wyde and many way,
But yet ther I come I do no good:
To reyse slawndyr is al my lay —
Bakbytere is my brother of blood.

Dede he ought come hedyr in al this day;
Now wolde God that he wore here!
And be my trewth, I dare wel say
That yf we tweyn togedyr apere,
More slawndyr we to shal arere
Within an howre thorweouth this town
Than evyr ther was this thowand yere,
And ellys I shrewe yow bothe up and down!

Now, be my trewth, I have a syght
Evyn of my brother — lo, where he is.
Welcom, dere brother, my trowth I plyght,
Yowre jentyl mowth, let me now kys.
DETRACTOR 2 Gramercy, brother, so have I blys!
I am ful glad we met this day!
DETRACTOR 1 Ryght so am I, brothyr, iwys!
Mech gladdere than I kan say.

But yitt, good brother, I yow pray —
Telle all these pepyl what is youre name,
For yf thei knew it, my lyf I lay,
They wole yow wurchep and speke gret fame!
DETRACTOR 2 I am Bakbytere, that spyllyth all game,
Bothe kyd and knowyn in many a place.
DETRACTOR 1 Be my trowth, I seyd the same,
And yet sum seyden thu shulde have evyl grace.

DETRACTOR 2 Herk, Reysesclaundyr! Canst thu owth telle
Of any newe thynge that wrought was late?
DETRACTOR 1 Within a short whyle, a thynge befelle.
I trow thu wylt lawgh ryght wel therate,
For be trowth ryght mekyl hate,
If it be wyst, therof wyl growe.
DETRACTOR 2 If I may reyse therwith debate,
I shal not spare thee seyd to sowe.

DETRACTOR 1 Syr, in the tempyl a mayd ther was
Calde Mayd Mary, the trewth to tell.
Sche semyd so holy withinne that plas.
Men seyd sche was fedde with holy aungell.
Sche made a vow with man nevyr to melle,
But to leve chast and clene virgine.
Howevyr it be, her wombe doth swelle
And is as gret as thinne or myne!

DETRACTOR 2 Ya, that old shrewe Joseph — my trowth I plyght —
Was so anameryd upon that mayd
That of hyr bewté whan he had syght,
He sesyd nat tyll he had her asayd!
DETRACTOR 1 A, nay, nay, wel wers she hath hym payd!
Sum fresch yonge galaunt she loveth wel more
That his leggys to her hath leyd.
And that doth greve the old man sore!

DETRACTOR 2 Be my trewth, al may wel be,
For fresch and fayr she is to syght,
And such a mursel — as semyth me —
Wolde cause a yonge man to have delyght!
DETRACTOR 1 Such a yonge damesel of bewté bryght
And of schap so comely also
Of hir tayle ofte tyme be light
And rygh tekyl undyr thee, too!

DETRACTOR 2 That olde cokolde was evyl begylyd
To that fresche wench whan he was wedde!
Now muste he faderyn anothyr mannys chylde
And with his swynke, he shal be fedde.
DETRACTOR 1 A yonge man may do more chere in bedde
To a yonge wench than may an olde.
That is the cawse such a lawe is ledde,
That many a man is a kokewolde.
Clear the court; bish­op; (see note); (t-note)
enforce; (t-note)
to summon
Those who are; to

summon; crowd
do not fail
to appear
(see note)


butcher; (see note)

(see note)

(see note)

dig into your purses
Or else; worse
Though you; God’s curse
my head



sirs; (t-note)
fair company; faith

think; by; (t-note)

raise slander; practice; (see note); (t-note)
Backbiter; (see note)

I wish he would; hither
we two; appear
two; raise

else I curse you

by my troth

I swear to you
gentle mouth

More glad

I bet my life
speak of your fame
ruins all joy
By my troth
have said; bad luck

Raiseslande­r; aught; (t-note)
done lately
laugh; thereat
by the truth; great hate
be known
seed to sow

fed by
have intercourse
live as a
yours or mine

rascal; I swear
enamored of
her beauty when
ceased not; had intercourse with her; (t-note)
worse than that

lain upon

By my troth


such beauty
pudendum; lascivious

badly deluded
father; man’s child
his toil
give more pleasure; (t-note)

reason; practice occurs

  [Hic sedet Episcopus Abizachar inter duos legis doctores et, audientes hanc defama­ci­onem, vocat ad se detractores dicens:2; (see note); (t-note)














































EPISCOPUS Herke ye, felawys! Why speke ye such schame
Of that good virgyn, fayr Mayd Mary?
Ye be acursyd, so hir for to defame!
She that is of lyff so good and holy
Of hir to speke suche velany,
Ye make myn hert ful hevy of mood.
I charge yow sese of youre fals cry,
For sche is sybbe of myn owyn blood.

DETRACTOR 2 Syb of thi kyn thow that she be,
All gret with chylde hir wombe doth swelle!
Do calle her hedyr — thiself shal se
That it is trewthe that I thee telle!
DETRACTOR 1 Sere, for youre sake I shal kepe cowncelle
Yow for to greve, I am ryght loth,
But lest, syrys, lyst what seyth the belle —
Oure fayr mayd, now gret with childe goth.

DOCTOR LEGIS 1 Take good heed, serys, what ye doth say.
Avyse yow wele what ye present.
Gyf this be fownd fals anothyr day,
Ful sore ye shal youre tale repent.
DETRACTOR 2 Sere, the mayd, forsothe, is good and gent,
Bothe comely and gay and a fayr wench,
And feetly with help, sche can consent
To set a cokewolde on the hye benche.

DOCTOR LEGIS 2 Ye be to besy of youre langage!
I hope to God yow fals to preve!
It were gret rewthe she shulde so outrage
Or with such synne to myscheve.
EPISCOPUS This evy talys, my hert doth greve
Of hir to here such fowle dalyawnce.
If she be fowndyn in such repreve,
She shal sore rewe her governawns!

Sym Somnore, in hast wend thu thi way!
Byd Joseph and his wyff be name
At the coorte to appere this day,
Here hem to pourge of her defame.
Sey that I here of hem grett schame,
And that doth me gret hevynes.
If thei be clene withowtyn blame,
Byd hem come hedyr and shew wyttnes.

DEN All redy, sere, I shal hem calle.
Here at youre courte for to appere,
And yf I may hem mete withall,
I hope ryght sone thei shal ben here.
Awey, serys, lete me come nere!
A man of wurchep here comyth to place.
Of curtesy, me semyth ye be to lere!
Do of your hodys, with an evyl grace!

Do me sum wurchep befor my face,
Or, be my trowth, I shal yow make
If that I rolle yow up in my race,
For fere I shal do your ars qwake!
But yit sum mede, and ye me take,
I wyl withdrawe my gret rough toth.
Gold or sylvyr, I wol not forsake,
But evyn as all somnorys doth.

A, Joseph, good day with thi fayr spowse!
My lorde, the buschop, hath for yow sent.
It is hym tolde that in thin house
A cockoldeis bowe is ech nyght bent.
He that shett the bolt is lyke to be schent —
Fayre mayde, that tale ye kan best telle.
Now, be youre trowth, telle youre entent —
Dede not the archere plese yow ryght well?

MARIA Of God in hevyn I take wyttnes:
That synful werk was nevyr my thought!
I am a mayd yit of pure clennes,
Lyke as I was into this werd brought!
DEN Othyr wyttnes shal non be sought.
Thu art with childe, eche man may se!
I charge yow, bothe, ye tary nought,
But to the buschop com forth with me!

JOSEPH To the buschop with yow we wende —
Of oure purgacyon hawe we no dowth.
MARIA Almyghty God shal be oure frende
Whan the trewthe is tryed owth!
DEN Ya, on this wyse excusyth here every scowte
Whan here owyn synne hem doth defame.
But lowly than they gyn to lowth
Whan thei be gylty and fowndyn in blame.

Therfore, com forth, cokewolde be name —
The busschop shal your lyff appose.
Com forth, also ye goodly dame —
A clene huswyff, as I suppose.
I shal yow tellyn, withowtyn glose:
And ye were myn, withowtyn lak,
I wolde ech day beschrewe youre nose
And ye dede brynge me such a pak.

My lord the buschop, here have I brought
This goodly copyl at youre byddyng
And as mesemyth, as be her fraught,
“Fayr chylde, lullay” sone must she syng!
DETRACTOR 1 To her a credyl, and ye wolde brynge,
Ye myght save mony in her purse
Becawse she is youre cosyn yynge.
I pray yow, sere, lete her nevyr fare the wers!

EPISCOPUS Alas, Mary! What hast thu wrought?
I am aschamyd evyn for thi sake!
How hast thu chaungyd thin holy thought?
Dude old Joseph with strenght thee take,
Or hast thu chosyn another make
By whom thu art thus brought in schame?
Telle me, who hath wrought this wrake?
How hast thu lost thin holy name?

MARIA My name, I hope, is saff and sownde.
God to wyttnes, I am a mayd!
Of fleschly lust and gostly wownde
In dede nere thought I nevyr asayd.
DOCTOR LEGIS 1 How shulde thi wombe thus be arayd —
So grettly swollyn as that it is —
But if sum man thee had ovyrlayd?
Thi wombe shulde never be so gret, iwys!

DOCTOR LEGIS 2 Herke, thu Joseph! I am afrayd
That thu hast wrought this opyn synne!
This woman thu hast thus betrayd
With gret flaterynge or sum fals gynne.
DETRACTOR 2 Now, be myn trowth, ye hytte the pynne!
With that purpose, in feyth, I holde!
Telle now how thu thus hir dudyst wynne
Ore knowlych thiself for a cockewolde!

JOSEPH Sche is, for me, a trewe clene mayde,
And I, for hir, am clene also
Of fleschly synne I nevyr asayde
Sythyn that sche was weddyd me to.
EPISCOPUS Thu shalt not schape from us yitt so:
Fyrst, thu shalte tellyn us another lay.
Streyt to the awter thu shalt go,
The drynge of vengeawns ther to asay.

Here is the botel of Goddys vengeauns —
This drynk shal be now thi purgacyon.
This hath suche vertu by Goddys ordenauns
That what man drynk of this potacyon
And goth serteyn in processyon —
Here in this place, this awtere abowth —
If he be gylty sum maculacion,
Pleyn in his face shal shewe it owth.

Iff thu be gylty, telle us — lete se —
Ouyr Godys myght be not to bolde —
If thu presume and gylty be,
God thu dost greve many afolde.
JOSEPH I am not gylty as I fyrst tolde,
Allmyghty God I take wytnes.
EPISCOPUS Than this drynke in hast thu holde,
And on processyon anon thee dresse.

[Hic Joseph bibit et sepcies circuivit altare, dicens:3

JOSEPH This drynk I take with meke entent
As I am gyltles to God, I pray.
Lord, as thu art omnypotente,
On me thu shewe the trowth this day.

[Modo bibit.

About this awtere I take the way.
O gracyous God, help thi servaunt
As I am gyltles agen yon may
Thin hand of mercy, this tyme me graunt.

DEN This olde shrewe may not wele gon!
Longe he taryeth to go abowth.
Lyfte up thi feet! Sett forth thi ton,
Or, be my trewth, thu getyst a clowte!
DETRACTOR 2 Now, sere, evyl thedom come to thi snowte!
What heylyght thi leggys now to be lame?
Thu dedyst hem put ryght freschly owte
Whan thu dedyst pley with yon yonge dame!

DETRACTOR 1 I pray to God, gyf hym myschawns!
Hese leggys here do folde for age!
But with this damysel, whan he ded dawns
The olde charle had ryght gret corage.
DEN The shrewe was than sett in a dotage
And had good lust that tyme to pleyn.
Gaff sche not yow cawdel to potage
Whan ye had don to comforte youre brayn?

JOSEPH A, gracyous God! Help me this tyde
Ageyn this pepyl that me doth fame
As I nevyrmore ded towch her syde
This day help me fro werdly schame
Abowte this awtere to kepe my fame.
Sefne tymes I have gon rownd abowte!
If I be wurthy to suffyr blame,
O, ryghtful God, my synne shewe owughte!

EPISCOPUS Joseph, with hert, thank God thi Lorde
Who heygh mercy doth thee excuse.
For thi purgacyon we shal recorde:
With hyr of synne thu dedyst never muse.
But Mary, thiself mayst not refuse —
All grett with chylde we se thee stonde.
What mystyr man ded thee mysuse?
Why hast thu synned ageyn thin husbonde?

MARIA I trespacyd nevyr with erthely wyght;
Therof I hope thurowe Goddys sonde
Here to be purgyd before youre syght,
From all synne clene, lyke as myn husbonde.
Take me the botel out of youre honde.
Here shal I drynke beforn youre face
Abowth this awtere than shal I fonde,
Sefne tymes to go, by Godys grace!

DOCTOR LEGIS 1 Se, this bolde bysmare wolde presume
Ageyn God to preve his myght!
Thow Goddys vengeauns hyr shuld consume,
Sche wyl not telle hyr fals delyght!
Thu art with chylde, we se in syght!
To us thi wombe thee doth accuse!
Ther was nevyr woman yitt in such plyght
That from mankynde hyr kowde excuse.

DETRACTOR 1 In feyth, I suppose that this woman slepte
Withowtyn all coverte whyll that it ded snowe
And a flake therof into hyr mowthe crepte,
And therof the chylde in hyr wombe doth growe!
DETRACTOR 2 Than beware, dame, for this is wel iknowe:
Whan it is born, yf that the sunne shyne,
It wyl turne to watyr ageyn, as I trowe,
For snow onto watyr doth evyr more reclyne.

DOCTOR LEGIS 2 With Goddys hygh myght loke thu not jape
Of thi purgacyon, wel thee avyse!
Yf thu be gylty, thu mayst not schape!
Beware evyr of God, that ryghtful justyce!
If God with vengeauns set on thee his syse,
Not only thu, but all thi kyn is schamyd!
Bettyr it is to tell the trewth devyse
Than God for to greve and of hym be gramyd!

MARIA I trostyn in his grace: I shal hym nevyr greve.
His servaunt I am in worde, dede, and thought.
A mayd undefyled I hope he shal me preve.
I pray yow, lett me nought.
EPISCOPUS Now be that good Lord that all this werd hath wrought,
If God on thee shewe ony manyr tokyn,
Purgacyon, I trowe, was nevyr so dere bowth
If I may, on thee, in any wyse be wrokyn.

Holde here the botel and take a large draught
And abowth the awtere go thi processyon.
MARIA To God, in this case, my cawse I have betaught.
Lorde, thorwe thin helpe I drynke of this potacyon.

heart; heavy
cease; outcry
kinswoman; (see note)

Kinswoman though

Sir; keep your secret
to grieve you; loath
listen sirs, what is rumored


Sir; attractive
handsome; beautiful
To toast a cuckold; (see note)

too loose; talk
to prove you
pity; sin so
to do wrong
Such heavy tales
her to hear; foul talk
found; reproof
regret her behavior

Summoner; go; your way
by name

Here them to purge
hear of them

them; hither; bear witness

sir; them

them meet

to need instruction
Take off (i.e., bow); curse you!

Give me a tip; (see note)
I’ll force you
summon you; my haste
fear; shall make
retract my fangs (i.e., let you off)
summoners; (t-note)

bishop; you
told to him; your; (see note)
cuckold’s bow; each
shot; to be ruined

troth; version

yet; virginity
witnesses; none


we go
exculpation have; doubt

When; determined
in this way; slut
When their own; them
then; begin to bow

by name
bishop; examine

If; without fail
each; curse
If; package (baby)

judging by her freight
(a lullaby) soon; (see note)
cradle, if

young; (see note)
sir; worse

Did; overtake



spiritual wound; (see note)
deed nor thought; experienced
be that way; (t-note)

Unless; lain with

plainly evident sin

you’ve got it
idea; I agree
did win her
Or acknowledge; cuckold

(see note)
for her
have never tried
Since; (t-note)
escape; yet; (see note)
drink of vengeance; to try; (see note)

God’s; (see note)

God’s ordinance; (t-note)

Our God’s; too
grieve many times over

Then; in haste
soon prepare

(see note)

the truth

Now he drinks


against; maiden

rascal; can’t move
tarries; about
Move it! (set forth your toes)
by my troth; beating
sir; bad luck; snout
ails your legs
used them eagerly
did play (i.e., have sex)

give; bad luck
when; did dance (have sex)
churl; spirit
rascal (Joseph)
to play
Gave; warm drink; meal
When; mind

company; defame
did touch
altar; reputation

openly; (t-note)


her; consider

kind of man did
against your

earthly creature
through God’s dispensation


altar then; submit
Seven; God’s

Against; test
Though God’s; her; (t-note)

her human nature

(see note)
cover; while it did
her mouth
Then; known
I believe
return; (t-note)

God’s high; joke
I advise thee

his judgment

tell the truth completely
grieve; be punished

do not hinder me
b­y; world
any manner of sign
I believe; dearly bought
be avenged

around the altar
have entrusted
throu­gh; potion

  [Hic Beata Virgo bibit de potacione et postea circuivit altare, dicens:4
















God, as I nevyr knew of mannys maculacyon
But evyr have lyved in trew virginité,
Send me this day thin holy consolacyon
That all this fayr peple my clennes may se!

O gracyous God, as thu hast chose me
For to be thi modyr of me to be born,
Save thi tabernacle that clene is kepte for thee,
Which now am put at repref and skorn.
Gabryel me tolde with wordys, he beforn,
That ye, of youre goodnes, wold become my chylde.
Help me now of youre hyghness my wurchep be not lorn.5
A, dere sone, I pray yow, help youre modyr mylde!

EPISCOPUS Almyghty God, what may this mene?
For all the drynke of Goddys potacyon,
This woman with chylde is fayr and clene
Withowtyn fowle spotte or maculacyon!
I cannat be non ymagynacyon
Preve hyr gylty and synful of lyff!
It shewith opynly by her purgacyon:
Sche is clene mayde, bothe modyr and wyff!

DETRACTOR 1 Be my fadyr sowle, here is gret gyle!
Becawse sche is syb of your kynreed,
The drynk is chaungyd by sum fals wyle
That sche no shame shulde have this steed.
EPISCOPUS Becawse thu demyst that we do falshede,
And for thu dedyst hem fyrst defame,
Thu shalt ryght here, magré thin heed,
Beforn all this pepyl drynk of the same!

DETRACTOR 1 Syr, in good feyth, oo draught I pulle,
If these to drynkerys have not all spent.

[Hic bibit et scenciens dolorem in capite, cadit et dicet:6

Out, out! Alas, what heylith my sculle?
A! Myn heed with fyre me thynkyht is brent!
Mercy, good Mary! I do me repent
Of my cursyd and fals langage!
MARIA Now, god Lord in hevyn omnypotent,
Of his gret mercy youre seknes aswage.

EPISCOPUS We all on knes fall here on grownd!
Thu, Goddys handemayd prayng for grace,
All cursyd langage and schame onsownd,
Good Mary, forgeve us here in this place!
MARIA Now God forgeve yow all yowre trespace
And also forgeve yow all defamacyon
That ye have sayd, both more and lesse,
To myn hynderawnce and maculacyon.

EPISCOPUS Now, blyssyd virgyne, we thank yow all
Of youre good hert and gret pacyens.
We wyl go with yow hom to youre halle
To do yow servys with hygh reverens.
MARIA I thank yow hertyly of youre benevolens.
Onto youre owyn hous I pray yow ye goo
And take this pepyl hom with yow hens.
I am not dysposyd to passyn hens froo.

EPISCOPUS Than farewel, mayden and pure virgyne.
Farewel, trewe handmayd of God in blys.
We all to yow lowly incline
And take oure leve of yow as wurthy is.
MARIA Allmyghty God, youre weys wysse,
For that hygh Lord is most of myght.
He mote yow spede that ye not mys
In hevyn of hym to have a syght.

JOSEPH Honouryd in hevyn be that hygh Lord
Whos endles grace is so habundaunt.
That he doth shewe the trewe recorde
Of iche wyhgt that is his trewe servaunt.
That Lord to wurchepe with hert plesaunt
We bothe be bownd ryght on this place
Which oure purgacyon us dyde graunt
And prevyd us pure by hiegh grace.

MARIA Forsothe, good spowse, I thank hym highly
Of his good grace for oure purgacyon.
Oure clennesse is knowyn ful opynly
Be vertu of his grett consolacyon.

[Explicit cum gaudio.
defilement; (see note)


(see note)
before; (t-note)

God’s potion

by any act of the
Prove her; life
mother; wife; (see note)

By my father’s soul; guile; (t-note)
a relative
this time
are judging; falsehoods
did defame them
in spite of all you do

I’ll take a swig
two drinkers; drained it


aileth; skull; (t-note)
head; I think is burning

sickness assuage


(see note)

hindrance; defilement

heart; patience
(see note)
service; high

go from here

Then; (t-note)


wise ways; (t-note)

may help you

each creature

exculpation; did
high; (t-note)


By virtue; (t-note)

It ends here with joy


Go To Play 15, Nativity