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Play 22, Baptism


1 Behold, a voice of one crying in the wilderness. (See Matthew 3:3)

2 Lines 14–15: Do penance now for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (See Matthew 3:2)

3 Here Jesus, looking at John while he is speaking, approaches John, who points at Jesus

4 Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (See John 1:29)

5 The Holy Spirit descends upon him, and God, the Heavenly Father, says in heaven

6 Here Jesus goes to the wilderness saying, etc.

7 Of all your venomou­s sins, I advise that you confess yourselves

8 With contrition, confession, and penance you may drive the devil away

9 Whateve­r man is seen in good penance and spoken shrift (confession)


Abbreviation: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

The Baptism Play is based on Matthew 3:1–4:2, Mark 1:3–11, Luke 3:3–22, 4:1–2, and John 1:6–24. There are records of other such plays in the British Isles (including one by John Bale), but there are only two extant texts apart from the N-Town version. N-Town's version differs from York Play 22 and Towneley Play 19 in two ways: first, God speaks directly (not through angels), approving of Christ's actions; and, second, this play clearly prepares an audience for the ensuing Temptation Play. Woolf states that this play "is exceptional, not only in giving the prominence of centrality to John the Baptist as prophet but also in giving emphasis to John the Baptist as preacher" (English Mystery Plays, p. 217). It is interesting to note John the Baptist's emphasis on proper and institutional penance consisting of "schryfte of mowthe." Evidently, this particular point was a stumbling block for the Lollards who were opposed to this sort of institutional dispensation.

Martin Stevens posits that the Baptism, Temptation, Woman Taken in Adultery, and Lazarus plays were meant to be performed or read as a single ministry play (Mystery Cycles, pp. 200–02). This entire play is written in thirteener stanzas, except for one Latin line, line 40.

27–35 Compare Luke 3:16: "John [the Baptist] answered, saying unto all: I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire."

40 Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi. Rastall argues that this line should be spoken, not sung (Minstrels Playing, p. 107).

93–98 Compare Matthew 3:16–17, Mark 1:10–11, and Luke 3:22.

100–01 Compare Love's Mirrour, p. 88 (see S 2:484).

121–31 Compare Matthew 4:1–2, Mark 1:12–13, and Luke 4:1–2.

151 The sacrament of penance consists of contrition, confession, and satisfaction followed by absolution and the fruits of satisfaction. Compare Chaucer's Parson's Tale, CT X(I)106–07.

158–59 Compare Matthew 3:10 and Luke 3:9: "Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire."

171–74 Compare Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17: "The chaff he will burn with unquench­able fire."


Abbreviations: Bl: Ludus Coventriae, ed. Block (1922); S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction; s.n.: stage name.

Before 1–53 MS: this is an interpolated folio written by a reviser, S's Scribe C (S 2:207).

3 prechyth. So S. MS, Bl: prechych.

4–5 MS: play number mostly cropped.

6 to. MS: written above the line.

23 for to. MS: take for to.

After 30 MS: vt written in lower right corner of fol. 112r.

32 MS: letter canceled before onbokyl.

33 seyth. MS: scrypture seyth.

38 no. MS: written above the line.

40 MS: extrametrical Latin line.

47 lambe. MS: b corrected over p.

54–183 MS: main scribe's hand resumes.

59 synful lyff. So S. MS: written as one word.

64 newe. S: nowe; Bl: newe. In the MS, it does appear to be newe, but Matthew 3:15 would support S's reading.

79 dwere. MS: canceled and revised to fere in another hand.

83 sutere. MS: suw(?)tere. A letter, perhaps a w is erased after the u. H renders it sutere.

84 man. MS: omitted and written above the line.

92, s.d. Pater. MS: capitulum before the word.

93, s.n. DEUS. So S. Bl: omitted. MS: omitted, but possible that capitulum in 92, s.d. meant to serve (after the fact) as s.n.

96 for dede. MS: of dede, and for written above the line.

106, s.n. JOHANNES. MS: Johannes Bap, remainder cropped.

151 contryscyon. MS: conty contryscyon.

154 penauns. MS: per penauns.

156 fende. MS: fende, corrected from felle (?).

160 be. So MS, Bl. S: be [be].

After 183 MS: remainder of fol. 115r (110 mm) and all of fol. 155v left blank.








JOHANNES Ecce vox clamantes in deserto:1
I am the voys of wyldirnese
That her spekyth and prechyth yow to!
Loke ye forsake all wrecchidnesse!
Forsake all synne that werkyth woo,
And turne to vertu and holynese!
Beth clene of levyng in your sowle also!
Than shall ye be savyd from peynfulnese,
Of fyere brynnyng in hell!
If that ye forsak synne,
Hevyn blysse shall ye wyne!
Drede ye not the devyllys gynne —
With angellys shall yow dwell!

Penitenciam nunc agite
Appropinquabit regnum celorum:2
For your trespas penaunce do ye,
And ye shall wyn hevyn Dei Deorum.
In hevyn blyse ye shall wyn to be
Among the blyssyd company, omnium supernorum.
Ther as is all merth, joye, and glee
Inter agmina angelorum,
In blyse to abyde.
Baptyme I cowncell yow for to take
And do penaunce for your synnys sake.
And for your offens amendys ye make,
Your synnys for to hyde.

I gyff baptym in water puere
That is callyd Flom Jordon.
My baptym is but sygnyfure
Of hys baptym that hys lyke hath non.
He is a lord of gret valour!
I am not worthy to onbokyll his schon,
For he shall baptyze — as seyth Scryptour —
That comyth of hem, all everychone,
In the Holy Goost.
He may dampne, and he may save —
All goodnese of hem we have.
Ther may no man his werkys deprave,
For he is Lord of myghtys most!
here; to you; (t-note)
works woe

Heaven’s bliss; gain
devil’s tricks

gain; the God of Gods’ heaven
over all

Among the hosts of angels
to dwell
Baptism; counsel; (t-note)
to cover

give; pure; (see note)
River Jordan
a sign
that is like no other; (t-note)

unbuckle; shoes; (t-note)
Scripture; (t-note)
them; everyone

disparage his works; (t-note)

  [Hic accedit Jhesus ad Johannem, quem intuens Johannes dicat, digito demonstrans Jhesum:3











Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi:4

Beholde the Lombe of God is this
That comyth now here beforne,
The wich shall wasch the worldys mys
And save all that was forlorne.
This same lombe, forsoth it is,
That of a mayd full clene was borne.
Shamfull deth this lambe, iwys,
Shall suffer for us and be all to-torne
And rent on a roode!
He shall suffer for mannys sake,
Lytyll rest and moch gret sorow and wrake.
His bake shall be bowndyn to a stake,
And betyn owt all his bloode.

JHESUS Johan Baptyste, myn owyn good frende,
That feythffully doth prech my wylle:
I thee thanke with all my mende
For that good servyse thu dost me tylle.
Thy desyre is synne to shende;
All synful lyff thu woldyst spylle.
Thyn entente hath a good hende:
The lawe of God thu dost fulfylle.
This tyde,
Baptym to take, I come to thee
And conferme that sacrement that newe shal be!
In Flom Jordon thu baptyze me
In water that is wyde.

JOHANNES My Lorde God, this behovyth me nought
With myn hondys to baptyze thee!
I shulde rather of thee have sought
Holy baptym than thu of me.
JHESUS Suffyr now, Johan, my wyl were wrought.
All ryghtfullnes thus fulfyll we.
Me to baptyze take thu no dowth:
The vertu of mekenes here tawth shal be,
Every man to lere
And take ensawmple here by me
How mekely that I come to thee.
Baptym confermyd now shal be
Me to baptyze, take thu no dwere.

JOHANNES All men may take exaunple, lo,
Of lowly mekenes — evyn ryght here —
Be oure Lorde God that comyth me to,
Hese pore servaunt and his sutere.
Every man lere to worke ryght so,
Bothe kynge and caysere and gret empere;
Be meke and lowe, the pore man, to,
And put out pryde in all manere!
God doth here the same.
To thi byddynge, my Lord so dere,
I me obey with gladsum chere
And baptyze thee with watyr clere,
Ever halwyd be thi name.
(see note); (t-note)


Who; world’s sin
lamb; truly
pure maiden
indeed; (t-note)
torn to pieces
torn; cross
Little; much; harm
back; bound


do for me
life; destroy; (t-note)

At this time


is not fitting for me

Allow; to be done
have no fear
here taught

doubt; (t-note)


His; follower; (t-note)
work; this way; (t-note)
low; too

hallowed by

  [Spiritus Sanctus hic descendat super ipsum, et Deus, Pater Celesti, dicet in celo: 5; (t-note)







DEUS This is my wel-belovyd chylde
Over whom my Spryte doth oversprede,
Clene and pure and undefylyd
Of body, of sowle, for thought, for dede.
That he is buxhum, meke, and mylde
I am wel plesyd, withowtyn drede.
Wysly to wysse yow from weys wylde
To lysten his lore — all men I rede —
And youre erys to herke.
Take good hede what he doth preche,
And folwyth the lawys that he doth teche,
For he shal be youre altheris leche
To save yow from develys derke.

JOHANNES Here I se with opyn syght
The Sone of God that thu erte!
The Holy Goost over thee doth lyght!
Thi Faderys voys I here ful smerte!
The childe of God — as I thee plyght —
That thu be whilys I am qwerte!
I shall wyttnes to every whyght
And teche it trewly with all myn hert!
To sese, it were grett synne,
For Goddys Sone, I wurchypp thee!
From hevyn, thin hygh magesté,
Thu comyst hedyr from dygnité,
Mannys sowle to wynne.

JHESUS Johan Baptyste, thu be wyttnes:
The trewth loke that thu nat hyde,
For now I passe forth into wyldernes,
The Holy Gost shal be my gyde.
beloved; (see note); (t-note)
Spirit; extends

deed; (t-note)
Wisely to guide; wild ways
to his teaching; advise; (see note)
ears to listen

the healer of all of you
dark devils

in plain view; (t-note)
Father’s; distinctly hear
I assure you
as I am sound and whole

To cease; it would be
here; high position
Man’s soul

truth see; not
(see note)

  [Hic Ihesus transit in desertum dicens et cetera.6













In whylsum place of desertnes
Fourty days, a terme ful wyde,
And fourty nyghtys, both more and lesse,
Withowtyn bodyly fode, therto abyde —
For man thus do I swynke.
Into deserte I passe my way,
For mannys sake — as I yow say —
Fourty nyghtys and fourty day
I shal nowther ete nor drynke.

JOHANNES In place where I passe, wyttnes I bere.
The trewth shal I telle wheresoevyr I go
That Cryst, the Sone of God, is become oure fere,
Clad in oure clothynge to sofer for us wo.
I baptyzid with myn owyn handys Cryst Jhesu ryght here,
And now he is to wyldyrnes, penawns ther to do,
Informyng so all us that Lord that hath no pere
To do for oure trespace, penawnce here also.
Of penawnce do I preche
In wyttnes ryght be this:
That what man for his mys
Doth penawns here, iwys,
His sowle he doth wel leche.

All men on ground that be yitt on lyve:
For youre grett offens, loke ye be repentaunt!
Of all youre venym synne, I rede that ye yow shryve;7
For God is ful redy, mercy for to graunt.
Be contryte for youre trespas, and penauns do belyve!
Reconsyle youreself and be to God plesaunt.
With contryscyon, schryffte, and penauns the devyl may ye dryve,8
For fro youre felachep he shal not be erraunt!
Yow for to meve
To penauns, and synne forsake
Shryfte of mowth loke that ye make;
And than the fende in helle so blake,
He shal yow nevyrmore greve.

A tre that is bareyn and wyl bere no frute,
The ownere wyl hewe it down and cast it on the fyre!
Ryght so it be man that folwyth the fowle sute
Of the devyl of helle and werkyth his desyre!
God wyl be vengyd on man that is both dum and mute
That wyl nevyr be shrevyn but evyrmore doth delyre.
Clothe thee in clennes: with vertu be indute,
And God, with his grace, he wyl the sone inspyre
To amendynge of thi mys.
Schryfte of mowthe may best thee save.
Penauns for synne, what man wyl have.
Whan that his body is leyd in grave,
His sowle shal go to blys.

Corne that is good, man kepe it ful clene;
Chaff that is sympyl is sett wul nere at nought:
So good men of levynge to God chosyn bene
Whan synful men be lyke chaff and to helle shul be brought,
Good penauns yow to preche ful hertyly do I mene,
Shryfft and satysfaccyon evyrmore to have in thought.
What man in good penauns and schryfte of mowth be sene9
Of God, he is wel-belovyd, that all this worlde hath wrought
And allthinge of nowth dede make.
Now have I tawght yow good penauns.
God graunt yow grace at his plesauns
To have of synne delyverauns,
For now my leve I take.
wild; desolation
long time
(the whole duration)
to remain

man’s; say to you


I go

our friend
to suffer; woe

in the wilderness, penan­ce
Teachin­g; peer

witness; by
penance; indeed

yet alive

do quickly

(see note); (t-note)
fellowship; wandering
Oral confession
then; fiend; black; (t-note)

barren; (see note)
does the same foul deeds; (t-note)

avenge­d; dumb
confes­s; goes astray
be covered

Penance; is what
When; laid

Grain; (see note)
Lowly chaff is nearly worthless
living; are
penanc­e; mean to do

who all
everything of nothing did



Go To Play 23, Parliament of Hell; Temptation