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Play 15, Nativity


1 Here while Joseph is away, Mary bears the Only Begotten Son

2 Here Zelomy touches the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying

3 Here Salome touches Mary and when her hand has withered, howling and weeping she says

4 Here Salome touches the hem of Christ’s garment, saying


Abbreviations: S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction.

The N-Town Nativity is loosely based upon Luke 1:1–7, but is much closer to the account in Pseudo-Matthew, as is the Trial of Mary and Joseph. Like the Trial of Mary and Joseph, the Nativity contains elements of folklore (the cherry tree scene) and saints’ miracles (the healing of the midwife). See Spector, S 2:469. The Golden Legend’s version involves a date palm, and not a cherry tree, which is probably an English or northern European revision of the tale. There is only one other extant English Nativity play proper, York Play 14. The healing of the unbelieving midwife appears both in N-Town and in Chester Play 6, but the cherry tree story is unique to N-Town. (Both scenes are from Pseudo-Matthew.) Joseph’s com­plaints of old age and his solicitous desire to please Mary supply the levity in this version.

This play consists mainly of octaves and quatrains, but there are also three nine-line stanzas and one couplet.

3 Octavyan. Luke’s account of the nativity is the only Gospel account that mentions a Roman emperor, in this case Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1). Jacobus de Vora­gine’s Golden Legend (trans. Ryan, 1.37), as does this play, calls him Octavian.

39 Joseph’s offhanded remark and exasperation in attempting to please Mary offer her a chance to show her (and God’s) power over the natural world. Compare "Cherry-Tree Carol": "O then bespoke Joseph, / With words most unkind: Let him pluck thee a cherry / That brought thee with child" (Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 2.2). Contrast the cheerful spontaneity of Coll’s "Have a bob of cherys" at the end of the Second Shepherd’s Play (Towneley 13.1036), which also celebrates the generous a-seasonality of the Christmas gift.

49–50 Compare 8.143–224.

100 Spector notes that the prophecy regarding the Christ-child’s being found be­tween two beasts is in the Old Latin Habacuc 3:2 (S 2:470). The Catena Aurea com­ments not only on Christ’s humble nativity, but (citing Bede) observes that "He who is the bread of Angels is laid down in a manger that He might feed us, as it were the sacred animals with the bread of His flesh" (Catena Aurea, trans. New­man, 3.68). See also the Biblia Pauperum, pl. b, which locates the manger above the door like a feed box with the ox and ass looking down from either side.

126 ff. For an examination of the role of midwife in the early modern period, see Ryan, "Playing the Midwife’s Part," pp. 435–48.

145 fayr food. Literally, "I am afraid for that young girl" (i.e., Mary). Food may also be a wonderful pun that may be Joseph’s unwitting eucharistic acknowledgment of his son Jesus as spiritual food for all. For an extended discussion of spiritual food, see Collins, N-Town Plays, pp. 2–9.

177, s.d.–193 Mary’s laughter is subversive on many different gestural and societal levels. See Carlson, who quotes Irigaray in "Mary’s Obedience," p. 362.

246–49 See Spector, S 2:470: "Then said Salome: as the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth" (Protevangelium, p. 365).

253, s.d. Hic tangit Salomee. See Ryan’s discussion of legal rules governing midwives in the late Middle Ages and early modern period. Legally a midwife was "entrusted with the right to touch" the mother’s genitals. That is, it is not the touching that wither’s Salome’s hand but rather her lack of faith (her "untrost," line 257). It is for this reason that her hand is restored once she believes and touches the hem of Christ’s garment (Ryan, "Playing the Midwife’s Part," pp. 440–42). The touching enables her to testify to the birth, which is one of the legal require­ments of the midwife.

256–57 drye as claye. See Spector, S 2:470. In the Protoevangelium, Salome’s hand withers as if consumed by fire (ch. 20); in Pseudo-Matthew, Salome’s hand simply withers (ch. 13). The use of clay here is interesting. Later in Pseudo-Matthew, in Jesus’ child­hood accounts, Jesus takes clay from pools and forms sparrows that come to life (ch. 27). The son of Annas (the high priest) breaks up the pools with a stick, and Jesus withers him, but later revives him after Joseph chides the child Jesus.

265 my lewdnes. Salomé’s lewdness works on at least two levels: she is lewd because she is testing Mary’s hymen; she has also been deeply disrespectful to the Mother of God.

321–22 God that best may grawnt yow his grace. / Amen. Rastall notes that the Amen is extra-stanzaic, suggesting that this "blessing" ending of the play might evoke a cast and audience response of Amen, as well (Minstrels Playing, pp. 103–04). See also the Amen at the conclusion of 21.289, 23.222, and 24.297, which may also have functioned responsively.


Abbreviations: Bl: Ludus Coventriae, ed. Block (1922); Da: Corpus Christi Play, ed. Davies (1972); H: Ludus Coventriae, ed. Halliwell (1841); S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction; s.n.: stage name.

1, s.n. JOSEPH. MS: Speaker’s name written in textura quadrata.
1–5 MS: large play number 15 in right margin.

6–7 MS: written as one line, divided by dot.

7 blood. MS: bw blood.

12 MS: no capitulum.

59 for spowse. So MS, Bl. H, S: my before spowse supplied.

90 MS: no capitulum.
relacyon. MS: ral relacyon.

102 withowtyn. MS: withowty.

108 derth. MS: derke derth.

138, s.n. Above Zelomy’s name, the scribe has written z z z.

146 MS: no capitulum.

148 in. MS: s in.

177, s.d. A cross is just above Maria in the manuscript, which reads: His Maria subridendo dicat. Maria.

182 lawghe. MS: lawghte (t canceled).

185 MS: Zellony written in another hand in right margin.

202 sche. MS, Bl: sch.

210 MS: no capitulum.

225 youre. MS: w youre.

230 MS: no capitulum.

240 dysmayd. MS: dyf dysmayd.

244 mayd mylke have. So S. MS: maydys mylke have, with the emendation to mayd and the cancelation of have in a different ink. Bl follows the revision.

245 An H is at the bottom of fol. 86r.

246 An x is written above this line in a different hand.

253 ransak is written by another hand in the right margin.

253, s.d. Mariam. So S. MS, Bl, Da: Marie.

278, s.n. ANGELUS. MS: this and all subsequent speaker’s names are marked with a red stroke.

279 childe. MS: sc childe.

280 layde. So Bl. S: leyde. MS: a corrected over an e.

314 MS: call written in left margin in another hand.
MS: saff written in the left margin in a different hand.

318 MS: unnecessary capitulum.

After 321 MS: remainder of 87v (39 mm) and fol. 88r left blank.


























JOSEPH Lord, what travayl to man is wrought!
Rest in this werd behovyth hym non!
Octavyan, oure emperour, sadly hath besought
Oure tribute hym to bere — folk must forth, ichon,
It is cryed in every bourgh and cety be name.
I that am a pore tymbre wryth,
Born of the blood of Davyd,
The emperorys comawndement I must holde with,
And ellys I were to blame.

Now, my wyff, Mary, what sey ye to this?
For sekyr, nedys I must forth wende
Onto the cyté of Bedleem fer hens, iwys,
Thus to labore I must my body bende.
MARIA Myn husbond and my spowse, with yow wyl I wende,
A syght of that cyté fayn wolde I se.
If I myght of myn alye ony ther fynde,
It wolde be grett joye onto me.

JOSEPH My spowse, ye be with childe — I fere yow to kary,
For mesemyth it were werkys wylde,
But yow to plese ryght fayn wold I.
Yitt women ben ethe to greve whan thei be with childe.

Now latt us forth wende as fast as we may,
And Almyghty God spede us in oure jurnay.

MARIA A, my swete husbond, wolde ye telle to me
What tre is yon standynge upon yon hylle?
JOSEPH Forsothe, Mary, it is clepyd a chery tre.
In tyme of yere, ye myght fede yow theron youre fylle.

MARIA Turne ageyn, husbond, and beholde yon tre,
How that it blomyght now so swetly!
JOSEPH Cum on, Mary, that we worn at yon cyté,
Or ellys we may be blamyd, I telle yow lythly.

MARIA Now, my spowse, I pray yow to behold
How the cheryes growyn upon yon tre,
For to have therof ryght fayn I wold!
And it plesyd yow to labore so mech for me.

JOSEPH Youre desyre to fulfylle I shal assay, sekyrly.
Ow! To plucke yow of these cheries — it is a werk wylde
For the tre is so hygh, it wol not be lyghtly!
Therfore, lete hym pluk yow cheryes begatt yow with childe.

MARIA Now, good Lord I pray thee, graunt me this boun,
To have of these cheries and it be youre wylle.
Now I thank it, God — this tre bowyth to me down!
I may now gaderyn anowe and etyn my fylle.

JOSEPH Ow! I know weyl I have offendyd my God in Trinyté,
Spekyng to my spowse these unkynde wurdys,
For now I beleve wel it may non other be
But that my spowse beryght the Kyngys Son of Blys!
He help us now at oure nede.
Of the kynrede of Jesse, worthely were ye bore:
Kyngys and patryarkys gow beffore.
All these wurthy of youre kynred wore,
As clerkys in story rede.

MARIA Now, gramercy, husbond, for youre report.
In oure weys wysely late us forth wende.
The Fadyr Allmyghty, he be oure comfort;
The Holy Gost gloryous, he be oure frende.

JOSEPH Heyl, wurchepful sere, and good day!
A ceteceyn of this cyté ye seme to be.
Of herborwe for spowse and me, I you pray,
For trewly, this woman is ful weré
And fayn at reste, sere, wold she be.
We wolde fulffylle the byddynge of oure emperour
For to pay trybute as ryght is oure,
And to kepe oureself from dolowre,
We are come to this cyté.

CIVES Sere, ostage in this town know I non
Thin wyff and thu, in for to slepe.
This ceté is besett with pepyl every won,
And yett thei ly withowte ful every strete.

Withinne no wall man comyst thu nowth.
Be thu onys withinne the cyté gate,
Onethys in the strete a place may be sowth
Theron to rest, withowte debate.

JOSEPH Nay, sere, debate that wyl I nowth!
All such thyngys passyn my powere,
But yitt my care and all my thought
Is for Mary, my derlynge dere.

A, swete wyff, what shal we do?
Wher shal we logge this nyght?
Onto the Fadyr of Heffne pray we so,
Us to kepe from every wykkyd whyt.

CIVES Good man, o word I wyl thee sey —
If thu wylt do by the counsel of me,
Yondyr is an hous of haras that stant be the wey.
Amonge the bestys herboryd may ye be.

MARIA Now, the Fadyr of Hefne, he mut yow yelde!
His sone in my wombe, forsothe he is.
He kepe thee and thi good be fryth and felde.
Go we hens, husbond, for now tyme it is.

But herk now, good husbond, a new relacyon
Which in myself I know ryght well:
Cryst, in me, hath take incarnacyon —
Sone wele be borne the trowth I fele.

In this pore logge my chawmere I take,
Here for to abyde the blyssyd byrth
Of hym that all this werd dude make.
Betwyn myn sydys I fele he styrth!

JOSEPH God be thin help, spowse, it swemyth me sore,
Thus febyly loggyd and in so pore degré —
Goddys sone amonge bestys for to be bore,
His woundyr werkys fulfyllyd must be.

In an hous that is desolat, withowtyn any wall
Fyer nor wood non here is.
MARIA Joseph, myn husbond, abydyn here I shal,
For here wyl be born the Kyngys Sone of Blys.

JOSEPH Now, jentyll wyff, be of good myrth,
And if ye wyl owght have, telle me what ye thynk.
I shal not spare for schep nor derth.
Now telle me youre lust of mete and drynk.

MARIA For mete and drynk lust I ryght nowth:
Allmyghty God my fode shal be.
Now that I am in chawmere brought,
I hope ryght well my chylde to se.
Therfore, husbond, of your honesté,
Avoyd yow hens out of this place,
And I alone with humylité
Here shal abyde Goddys hygh grace.

JOSEPH All redy, wyff, yow for to plese.
I wyl go hens out of youre way
And seke sum mydwyvys, yow for to ese
Whan that ye travayle of childe this day.
Farewell, trewe wyff and also clene may,
God be youre comforte in Trinyté.
MARIA To God in hevyn for yow I pray —
He yow preserve wherso ye be.
hardship; (t-note)
world; is not due
resolutely called for; (see note)
town and city; by
carpenter (wright); (t-note)
emperor’­s; obey
Or else

surely; go
Bethlehem far; indeed; (t-note)
apply my body
gladly; see
any of my family

fear; travel
an unwise act
Yet; easy to upset when

let; go

over there
Truly; called
In season

Turn around
[it is time] that we were
in trouble; in haste

would please you; so much

try surely
hard work
who got you; (see note)

if it is

gather enough; eat

can only be
bears; King’s

worthily; born; (see note)
patriarchs go
kindred were
clerks; histories

many thanks
let us go forth

honorable sir
lodging; (t-note)
very weary
gladly; sir

as it is right for us

an inn; none
in every place
filling the outside

Scarcely; sought
without question




wicked creature

one word; say to you

a stable; stands by
the beasts lodged

may he reward you

declaration; (t-note)

has become flesh
Soon will; truth

did make the world
sides; stirs

your; distresses
God’s son; beasts; (see note)
wonderful works


Son of Bliss

for plenty or scarcity; (t-note)
your desire for food

I desire not

Leave here

await God’s

seek; midwives; ease
When; go into labor
pure maiden

  [Hic dum Joseph est absens, parit Maria Filium Unigenitu­m.1


























JOSEPH Now God of whom comyth all releffe,
And as all grace in thee is grownde,
So save my wyff from hurt and greffe
Tyl I sum mydwyvys for her have fownde.
Travelynge women in care be bownde
With grete throwys whan thei do grone!
God helpe my wyff that sche not swownde —
I am ful sory sche is alone.

It is not convenyent a man to be —
Ther women gon in travalynge!
Wherfore sum mydwyff fayn wold I se,
My wyff to helpe that is so yenge.

ZELOMY Why makyst thu, man, suche mornyng?
Tell me sumdele of youre gret mone.
JOSEPH My wyf is now in gret longynge,
Travelyng of chylde and is alone.
For Godys love that sytt in trone,
As ye mydwyvys that kan youre good
Help my yonge spowse in hast anone!
I drede me sore of that fayr food.

SALOMÉ Be of good chere and of glad mood —
We tweyn mydwyvys with thee wyll go.
Ther was nevyr woman in such plyght stood
But we were redy her help to do.

My name is Salomee — all men me knowe
For a mydwyff of wurthy fame.
Whan women travayl, grace doth growe.
Theras I come, I had nevyr shame.
ZELOMY And I am Zelomye — men knowe my name.
We tweyn with thee wyl go togedyr
And help thi wyff fro hurt and grame.
Com forth, Joseph, go we streyth thedyr.

JOSEPH I thank yow, damys — ye comforte my lyff.
Streyte to my spowse walke we the way
In this pore logge lyght Mary, my wyff,
Hyr for to comforte, gode frendys asay.
SALOMÉ We dare not entre this logge, in fay!
Ther is therin so gret bryghtnes —
Mone be nyght nor sunne be day
Shone nevyr so clere in ther lyghtnesse!

ZELOMY Into this hous dare I not gon!
The woundyrffull lyght doth me affray!
JOSEPH Than wyl myself gon in alon
And chere my wyff, if that I may.
All heyl, maydon and wyff, I say!
How dost thu fare? Telle me thi chere,
Thee for to comforte in gesyn this day.
Tweyn gode mydwyvis I have brought here,

Thee for to helpe that art in harde bonde —
Zelomye and Salomee be com with me.
For dowte of drede withowte thei do stond
And dare not come in for lyght that they se.

[Hic Maria subridendo, dicat:

MARIA The myght of the Godhede in his magesté
Wyl not be hyd now at this whyle.
The chylde that is born wyl preve his modyr fre,
A very clene mayde, and therfore I smyle.

JOSEPH Why do ye lawghe, wyff? Ye be to blame!
I pray yow, spowse, do no more so!
In happ the mydwyvys wyl take it to grame,
And at your nede helpe wele non do.
Iff ye have nede of mydwyvys, lo,
Peraventure thei wyl gon hens!
Therfor be sad and ye may so
And wynnyth all the mydwyvis good diligens.

MARIA Husbond, I pray yow — dysplese yow nowth.
Thow that I lawghe and gret joye have,
Here is the chylde this werd hath wrought,
Born now of me that allthynge shal save.
JOSEPH I aske yow grace, for I dyde rave.
O gracyous childe, I aske mercy —
As thu art Lord and I but knave
Forgeve me now my gret foly!

Alas, mydwyvis, what have I seyd?
I pray yow, com to us more nere,
For her I fynde my wyff a mayd
And in her arme a chylde hath here!
Bothe mayd and modyr, sche is in fere!
That God wole have may nevyrmore fayle:
Modyr on erth was nevyr non clere
Withowth sche had in byrth travayle.

ZELOMY In byrth, travayle muste sche nedys have
Or ellys no chylde of her is born!
JOSEPH I pray yow, dame, and ye vowchsave —
Com se the chylde, my wyff beforn.

SALOMÉ Grete God be in this place!
Swete systyr, how fare ye?
MARIA I thank the Fadyr of his hygh grace.
His owyn son and my chylde here ye may se.

ZELOMY All heyl, Mary and ryght good morn!
Who was mydwyfe of this fayr chyld?
MARIA He that nothynge wyl have forlorn
Sent me this babe, and I mayd mylde.

ZELOMY With honde lete me now towch and fele
Yf ye have nede of medycyn.
I shal yow comforte and helpe ryght wele
As other women, yf ye have pyn.
MARIA Of this fayr byrth that here is myn,
Peyne nere grevynge fele I ryght non.
I am clene mayde and pure virgyn:
Tast with youre hand yourself alon.

[Hic palpat Zelomye Beatam Mariam Virginem, dicens:2

ZELOMY O myghtfull God, have mercy on me!
A merveyle that nevyr was herd beforn!
Here opynly I fele and se:
A fayr chylde of a maydon is born

And nedyth no waschynge as other don,
Ful clene and pure forsoth is he,
Withoutyn spot or ony polucyon,
His modyr, nott hurte of virgynité.

Coom nere, gode systyr Salomé:
Beholde the brestys of this clene mayd,
Ful of fayr mylke, how that thei be.
And hyr chylde clene, as I fyrst sayd —
As other ben, nowth fowle arayd —
But clene and pure, bothe modyr and chylde!
Of this matyr I am dysmayd
To se them both thus undefyled!

SALOMÉ It is not trewe! It may nevyr be
That bothe be clene! I cannot beleve —
A mayd mylke have! Never man dyde se
Ne woman bere chylde withowte grett greve!
I shal nevyr trowe it, but I it preve
With hand towchynge, but I assay.
In my conscience it may nevyr cleve
That sche hath chylde and is a may.

MARIA Yow for to putt clene out of dowth,
Towch with youre hand and wele asay:
Wysely ransake and trye the trewthe owth
Whethyr I be fowlyd or a clene may.
relief; (see note)
throes; when

Where; into labor

mourning; (t-note)
some; grief
Laboring with
God’s; who sits on the throne
can do good
haste at once
I fear for that young woman; (see note)

two midwives

When; are in labor
I’ve never failed

two; together
there straightaway


poor lodging lies
Her; try
in faith

Moon by; by

frighten me

How are you doing?
Two good

have come
For fear of danger

Here let Mary, smiling, say; (see note)

be hidden; this time
free of sin

laugh; disgraceful; (t-note)

Perhaps; get angry
will not help you; (t-note)

Perhaps; go away
somber if
midwives’; attention

don’t be displeased
Though; laugh
who made this world
was raving

a peasant


at the same time; (t-note)
That which God requires
has never existed
birth pains

labor; needs



will abandon

my hand


Neither pain nor grief

Feel; (t-note)


washing; do; (t-note)
any uncleanness
virginity intact

good sister

not foul at all

matter; confounded; (t-note)

did see; (t-note)
Any; grief; (t-note)
believe it, unless; prove; (see note); (t-note)
touching, unless I examine it
heart; accept it

To put you; doubt
test me
Thoroughly examine; truth
befouled; maiden; (t-note)
  [Hic tangit Salomee Mariam et cum arescerit manus eius, ululando et quasi flendo dicit:3 (see note); (t-note)















SALOMÉ Alas, alas, and weleawaye,
For my grett dowth and fals beleve!
Myne hand is ded and drye as claye!
My fals untrost hath wrought myscheve!

Alas, the tyme that I was born
Thus to offende agens Goddys myght!
Myn handys power is now all lorn —
Styff as a stykke and may nowth plyght,
For I dede tempte this mayde so bright
And held agens her pure clennes!
In grett myscheff now am I pyght.
Alas, alas for my lewdnes!

O Lord of Myght, thu knowyst the trowth,
That I have evyr had dred of thee.
On every power whyght evyr I have rowthe
And gove hem almes for love of thee,
Bothe wyff and wedowe that askyght for thee,
And frendles chylderyn that haddyn grett nede,
I dude them cure and all for thee,
And toke no rewarde of them nor mede.

Now as a wrecch for fals beleve
That I shewyd in temptynge this mayde,
My hand is ded and doth me greve!
Alas, that evyr I her assayde!
ANGELUS Woman, thi sorwe to have delayde,
Wurchep that childe that ther is born.
Towch the clothis — ther he is layde,
For he shal save all that is lorn.

SALOMÉ O gloryous chylde and Kynge of Blysse:
I aske yow mercy for my trespace.
I knowlege my synne — I demyd amys.
O blyssyd babe, grawnt me sum grace;
Of yow, mayde, also here in this place.
I aske mercy knelynge on kne.
Moste holy mayde, grawnt me solace —
Sum wurde of comforte sey now to me.

MARIA As Goddys aungel to yow dede telle,
My chyld is medycyn for every sor:
Towch his clothis, be my cowncelle —
Yowre hand ful sone he wyl restor.

[Hic Salomee tangit fimbriam Christi, dicens:4

SALOMÉ A, now blyssyd be this chylde evermore!
The Sone of God, forsothe he is,
Hath helyd myn hand that was forlore
Thorwe fals beleve and demynge amys.

In every place I shal telle this:
Of a clene mayd that God is born,
And in oure lyknes God now clad is,
Mankend to save that was forlorn —
His modyr, a mayde as sche was beforn,
Natt fowle, polutyd as other women be,
But fayr and fresch as rose on thorn,
Lely-wyte, clene with pure virginyté.

Of this blyssyd babe my leve now do I take
And also of yow, hygh Modyr of Blysse.
Of this grett meracle more knowlege to make,
I shal go telle it in iche place, iwys.
MARIA Farewel, good dame, and God your wey wysse.
In all youre jurnay, God be youre spede,
And of his hygh mercy that Lord so yow blysse
That ye nevyr offende more in word, thought, nore dede.

ZELOMY And I also do take my leve here
Of all this blyssyd good company,
Praynge youre grace bothe fere and nere
On us to spede youre endles mercy.
JOSEPH The blyssyng of that Lord that is most myghty
Mote sprede on yow in every place,
Of all youre enmyes to have the victory,
God that best may grawnt yow his grace.

dead; (see note)
distrust; trouble

against God’s
hand’s; gone
stick; not move
did test
affliction; fixed
wickedness; (see note)


poor creature; pity
gave them
widow; for thy sake


dead; causes me sorrow
questioned (examined)
assuaged; (t-note)

acknowledge; judged wrongly

God’s; did tell
clothes, by my counsel
full soon

healed; lost
Through; belief; bad judgment

Not foul, polluted


each; truly
guide your way
prosper you
bless you


far and near

blessing; (t-note)
Over; enemies
(see note)

Go To Play 16, Shepherds