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Play 23, Parliament of Hell; Temptation


1 Here God ascends the temple’s pinnacle while the devil says the following

2 Here Satan places Jesus on the pinnacle, saying

3 Then Jesus goes with the devil up on a mountain, and the devil says

4 Here come angels singing and ministering to him, saying: "Glory to you, Lord," and he [Jesus] saying


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

Based on the gospel accounts (in Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12–13, and Luke 4:1–13), the subject of Christ’s temptation was performed in many parts of the British Isles and conti­nental Europe. The other existing English cycle plays such as the York Smiths’ Play (22) and the Chester Butchers’ Play (first half of Play 12) focus on the episode as Satan’s attempt at discerning Jesus’ true identity. N-Town’s Temptation begins, as some Continental versions do, with a Parliament of Hell in which Satan asks his captains the best way to discover Jesus’ identity. It is possible that this parliamentary scene served as a model for the Parliament of Heaven from the Mary Play, or vice-versa.

This play is written entirely in thirteener stanzas.

1–65 Spector notes that demonic dialogues of this sort are found in other medieval works such as the Gospel of Nicodemus and the Deuelis Perlament, citing Moore, "Infernal Council" (S 2:484). See also Woolf, English Mystery Plays, pp. 220–21.

4, 9, 13 dowte. Could also be "fear."

27–30 Wee observes: "Aquinas quotes Ignatius and Jerome, who suggest that the reason for Mary’s marriage is ‘that the manner of His Birth might be hidden from the devil, who would think Him to be begotten not of a virgin but of a wife.’ He then goes on to quote Augustine, who explains the deception in Christ’s incarnation and youth as a protection against the devil’s malice" ("Temptation of Christ," p. 5).

50–52 "To tempt him in the three sins that always cause man’s frail nature to fall most quickly" (S 2:484).

57–61 Lucifer and the demons regularly comment upon the darkness of hell and the darkness of their minds (reason). These facts contrast Lucifer’s original condi­tion as an angel of light who, through pride, dared to sit in Goddys se / Above sunne and mone and sterrys on sky (1.56–57). Theologically speaking, Christ’s career in the plays moves from obscurity to glorification; Lucifer’s in just the op­posite direction. Pride is often noted as the first apostasy; compare Gower’s Confessio Amantis 1.581 ff.

66–143 Compare Matthew 4:1–7 and Luke 4:1–4, 9–12.

75 wronge. Likely "sinful" or "spiritually entangling" (MED), but because of its prox­imity to glotenye, it probably should be rendered "excessive."

92–104 In the N-Town ministry plays, Jesus’ words (while revelatory and self-reflexive) also conceal his true nature. In contrasting material bread (which he is) with the spiritual word of God (which he is), he can at once confuse Satan, hide his (Christ’s own) divine nature, and act as the fulfillment of both abstract and con­crete divinity. This simultaneous contrast and consummation of material brede and Goddys wurde foreshadows his teaching at the Last Supper (27.361–448).

100 This line is a command.

109 This line is a command.

117, s.d. Satan gets Jesus onto the pinnacle of the temple but, uncharacteristically, there is no stage direction getting him down. Woolf observes: "Here one must imagine that, insofar as stage properties permitted it, Christ was shown standing upon the topmost tower of the Temple, and that, after refusing Satan’s taunting invi­tation to reveal His divinity by throwing Himself down unscathed, He walked calmly down some steps . . . and returned to the ground in the natural, human way" (English Mystery Plays, p. 221).

144–47 Spector observes that, according to Gregory, Jesus overcame the three sins that Adam first committed at the fall: gluttony, pride, and covetousness (S 2:485).

157–76 Compare Matthew 4:8–10 and Luke 4:5–8. Spector remarks that such alliterative catalogues were part of a stock braggart’s (or tyrant’s) boast as in the Towneley Play 16, Play of the Sacrament, and Castle of Perseverence (S 2:485). While it is likely that these particular place-names were chosen for their alliterative value (and thus not necessarily for their connotations), the list can tell us about the play­wright’s and the audience’s reference points and worldviews.

161–75 Spector has identified most of these places (see note to 23.157–76). Naverne or Navarre is in Spain. Zabulon, Neptalym (or Nephtalim), and Galilee are all men­tioned in Matthew 4:15. Zebee and Salmana are Midianite kings from Judges 8:5. Archage is probably Arcadia in Greece. Januense could be either Genoa or Janina in Ioni­an Greece. Archas is likely Arcas, in Arabia. Aragon is in Spain, and Almonye is Germany. Pownteys is likely Poitiers, known in the fifteenth century for its uni­versity and its posh bourgeois hotels. Poperynge is in Belgium. For Arcas and Janina, see Setton, History of the Crusades, vols. 5 and 6.

195 For sorwe I lete a crakke. In his frustration, unable to determine whether Jesus is God or man, which had been the goal of the Temptation scene, Satan makes another sulfurous exit with gunpowder farts. See note to 1.81.

195, s.d. "Gloria tibi Domini" is a response or doxology in the Sarum rite (Dutka, Index of Songs, pp. 172–73). Compare Matthew 4:11 and Mark 1:13. The stage direc­tion admirably exemplifies Stevens’ affiliating angels with music and the voicing of heaven.

215–16 Compare 1 Corinthians 10:13.

222 Amen. See note to 15.321–22 on a response said by all.


Abbreviation: S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991).

2–5 MS: large play number 23 in right margin.

9 bedene. MS: beden, remainder cropped.

17 clene. MS: l altered from another letter, possibly h.

25 ryght. MS: rygh.

26 oure. MS: several letters canceled before.

33 lore. MS: a word canceled before.

34 than be. MS: be ll.

65 dede. MS: caas dede.

100 MS: capitulum erased before line.

122 with. S: that, but probably is not warranted.

125 thralle. MS: tharalle, with deleting dot under first a.

134 is. MS: two letters canceled before.

137 brennynge. MS: re corrected over another letter or two.

146 travayl. MS: trar travayl.

181 world. MS: l corrected over another letter.

189 no. MS: several letters canceled before.

After 222 MS: remainder of fol. 119v blank (90 mm) except for scribbles. Fols. 120r and 120v are blank as well, except for scribbles and what look like mathematical calculations.























SATHAN Now Belyard and Belzabub, ye derwurthy devel of helle
And wysest of councel amongys all the rowte:
Herke now what I sey! A tale I shall yow telle
That trobelyth sore my stomak, therof I have grett dowte!
BELYALL Syr Sathanas, oure sovereyn syre, with thee wol we dwelle!
All redy at thi byddynge to thee do we lowte!
If thu have any nede of oure wyse counselle,
Telle us now thi qwestyon, all out and oute
Sey al thi dowte, bedene.
BELSABUB Ya, sere, telle us thi dowte by and by
And we shul telle thee so sekyrly
That thu shalt know verryly
What thi dowte doth mene.

SATHAN The dowte that I have — it is of Cryst, iwys:
Born he was in Bedleem, as it is seyd,
And many a man wenyth that Goddys sone he is,
Born of a woman, and she a clene mayd.
And all that evyr he prechyth, it is of hevyn blys.
He wyl lese oure lawe — I am ryght sore afrayd!
Fayn wold I knowe who were fadyr his,
For of this grett dowte I am sore dysmayd,
If that he be Goddys childe
And born of a mayd mylde,
Than be we ryght sore begylde
And short shal ben oure spede.

Therfore, serys, sumwhat that ye shewe
In this grett dowth what is best to do:
If he be Goddys sone, he wyl brede a shrewe
And werke us mech wrake, both wrech and woo!
Sorwe and care he wyl sone strewe!
All oure gode days than shulde sone be goo,
And all oure lore and all oure lawe he wyl down hewe,
And than be we all lorn if that it be soo!
He wyll don us all tene;
He wyll be lorde over hevyn and helle,
And feche awey all oure catelle!
Therfore, shewe now sum good counselle,
What comfort may best bene.

BELYALL The best wytt that I kan say —
Hym to tempte, forsoth, it is.
With sotyl whylys, if that thu may
Asay to make hym to don amys.
If that he synne — this is no nay —
He may nat be Kynge of Blys!
Hym to tempte, go walke thi way
For best counsell I trowe be this —
Go forth now and assay.
BELSABUB The best wytt I hold it be:
Hym to tempte in synnys thre,
The whiche mankende is frelté
Doth falle sonest alway.

SATHAN So afftyr youre wytt now wyll I werke.
I wyll no lengere here abyde.
Be he nevyr so wyse a clerke,
I shal apposyn hym withinne a tyde.
BELSABUB Now lovely Lucyfer in helle so derke,
Kynge and lorde of synne and pryde,
With sum myst his wyttys to merke,
He send thee grace to be thi gyde
And evyrmore be thi spede.
BELYALL All the develys that ben in helle
Shul pray to Mahound, as I thee telle
That thu mayst spede this jurney well
And comforte thee in this dede.

JHESUS Fourty days and fourty nyght
Now have I fastyd for mannys sake.
A more grett hungyr had nevyr no wyght
Than I myself begynne to take!
For hungyr in peyn, stronge am I pyght,
And bred have I non, myn hungyr for to slake.
A lytel of a loof relese myn hungyr myght,
But mursele have I non, my comforte for to make.
This suffyr I, man, for thee —
For thi glotenye and metys wronge
I suffyr for thee, this hungyr stronge!
I am afferde it wyl be longe
Or thu do thus for me.

SATHAN The Sone of God if that thu be,
Be the grett myght of thi Godhede,
Turne these flyntys, anon lett se,
From arde stonys to tendyr brede!
More bettyr it is as I telle thee,
Wysely to werke aftyr my reed
And shewe thi myght of grett majesté
Than thorwe grett hungyr for to be dede!
These stonys now bred thu make,
Goddys Sone, if that thu be.
Make these stonys bred, lett se!
Than mayste thu ete ryght good plenté,
Thyn hungyr for to slake.

JHESUS Nott only be bred mannys lyff yitt stood
But in the Wurde of God, as I thee say!
To mannys sowle is nevyr mete so good
As is the Wurd of God that prechid is alway!
Bred materyal doth norch blood,
But to mannys sowle — this is no nay —
Nevyrmore may be a betyr food
Than the Wurd of God that lestyth ay.
To here Goddys Wurde, therfore, man, love:
Thi body doth love materal brede.
Withoute the Wurde of God, thi soule is but dede.
To love prechynge, therfore, I rede,
If thu wylt duellyn in blysse above.

SATHAN For no grett hungyr that I kan se
In glotony thu wylt not synne.
Now to the temple com forth with me,
And ther shal I shewe thee a praty gynne!
Up to this pynnacle now go we.
I shal thee sett on the hyghest pynne.
Ther I preve what that thu be.
Or that we tweyn part atwynne,
I shal knowe what myght thu have.
excelle­nt devils; (see note)
among; company; (t-note)

troubles; doubt; (see note)

Express; doubt (fear), indeed; (see note); (t-note)

so surely
(see note)

believes; God’s
virgin; (t-note)
heaven’s bliss
will destroy
Gladly; his father

mild maiden
Then; totally beguiled; (t-note)
success; (t-note)

sirs; in some degree; (see note)

God’s; cause a wicked result
work; much harm; pain
soon spread
good; soon be gone
teaching; cut down; (t-note)
then; lost; (t-note)
do us all harm

fetch; chattel (souls)

best be

subtle wiles
Try; to do amiss
this is for sure

test [him]
three sins; (see note)
mankind’s frailty

Even if he’s the wisest
test; in a moment
dark; (see note)

mist; wits to dull
May he
devils; are
Shall; Mohammed
succeed in
deed; (t-note)

(see note)
no one

bread; none; to appease
a loaf
morsel; none

gluttony; sinful meals; (see note)

afraid; a long time

rocks, now let’s see
hard stones; bread

work; advice
great power
through; to be dead

let’s see
Then; eat
to lessen

by bread man’s life; (see note)
man’s; food
is preached
Physical bread; nourish
man’s soul; this is the truth

lasts forever
hear God’s Word; (see note); (t-note)
physical bread
Word; dead
will dwell

show; clever trick
(see note)
Before we part

  [Hic ascendit Deus pinnaculum templi dum diabolus dicit quod sequitur:1


Whan thu art sett upon the pynnacle,
Thu shalt ther pleyn a qweynt steracle
Or ellys shewe a grett meracle,
Thysself from hurte thu save.
play a strange scene
else perform

  [Hic Satanas ponit Ihesum super pinnaculum, dicens: 2; (see note)









Now if thu be Goddys Sone of myght,
Ryght down to the erth anon thu falle,
And save thisylf in every plyght,
From harm and hurte and scappys alle!
For it is wretyn: with aungelys bryght
That ben in hevyn, thi Faderys halle,
Thee to kepe, both day and nyght,
Shul be ful redy as thi thralle,
Hurt that thu non have.
That thu stomele not ageyn the ston
And hurt thi fote as thu dost gon
Aungell be redy, all everychon,
In weys thee to save.

JHESUS It is wretyn in Holy Book:
“Thi Lorde God thu shalt not tempte.”
All thynge must obeye to Goddys look.
Out of his myght is non exempt.
Out of thi cursydnes and cruel crook,
By Godys grace, man shal be redempt!
Whan thu to helle, thi brennynge brook
To endles peyne shal evyr be dempt,
Therin alwey to abyde.
Thi Lorde God thu tempt no more —
It is nott syttenge to thi lore.
I bydde thee sese anon, therfore,
And tempte God in no tyde.

SATHAN Ow, in gloteny nor in veynglory it doth ryght nott avayl!
Cryst for to tempt, it profyteth me ryght nought!
I must now begynne to have a newe travayl:
In covetyse to tempt hym it comyth now in my thought,
For if I went thus away and shrynkyd as a snayle,
Lorn were the labore all that I have wrought.
Therfore in covetyse oure syre I shal asayle
And assay into that synne yf he may be brought.
Anon, forthryght.
Syr, yitt onys I pray to thee:
To this hygh hyl com forth with me —
I shal thee shewe many a ceté
And many a wurthy syght.
by means of angels; (t-note)
Father’s mansion
Shall; servants; (t-note)
So that you will not
stumble; against
foot; go
Angels; all of them

the Bible

be obedient in God’s eyes
nothing; (t-note)
burning; (t-note)
to remain

fitting; doctrine
cease now

does no good; (see note)
approach; (t-note)

Lost; done
see if
Right now
yet one more time

show; city

  [Tunc Ihesus transit cum diabolo super montem, et diabolus dicit: 3








Into the northe loke forth evyn pleyn:
The towre of Babolony ther mayst thu se;
The ceté of Jerusalem stondyth ther ageyn;
And evyn fast therby stondyth Galylé;
Nazareth, Naverne, and the kyngdom of Spayn;
Zabulon and Neptalym — that is a rych countré;
Bothe Zebee and Salmana thu mayst se, serteyn;
Itayl and Archage, that wurthy remys be;
Both Januense and Jurye;
Rome doth stonde before thee ryght;
The Temple of Salamon, as sylver bryght;
And here mayst thu se opynly with syght
Both Fraunce and Normandye.

Turne thee now and this syde, and se here Lumbardye,
Of spycery ther growyth many an hundryd balys;
Archas and Aragon and grett Almonye;
Parys and Portyngale and the town of Galys;
Pownteys and Poperynge and also Pycardye;
Erlonde, Scottlonde, and the londe of Walys;
Grete pylis and castellys thu mayst se with eye!
Ya, and all the wyd werde — withoute mo talys —
All this longygh to me.
If thu wylt knele down to the grownde
And wurchepp me now in this stownde,
All this world that is so rownd
I shal it gyve to thee.

JHESUS Go abak, thu fowle Sathanas!
In Holy Scrypture, wretyn it is,
Thi Lorde God to wurchipp in every plas,
As for his thrall and thu servaunt his.
SATHAN Out, out! Harrow! Alas, alas!
I woundyr sore — what is he, this?
I cannot brynge hym to no trespas
Nere be no synne to don amys!
He byddyth me gon abakke!
What that he is I kannot se —
Whethyr God or man, what that he be?
I kannot telle in no degré!
For sorwe I lete a crakke.
look staight ahead; (see note)

Navarre; (see note)
Zebulon; Nephtali
certainly see
Italy; Arcady; realms
Genoa(?); Judea
right before you
see clearly

spices; bales
Arcas; Germany
Paris; Portugal; Galicia
Ireland, Scotland; Wales
towers; castles

this instant

Get away

As if you [were]; slave

greatly wonder
Nor by; do wrong
go away

in any way
sorrow; a fart; (see note)

  [Hic venient angeli cantantes et ministrantes ei: “Gloria tibi Domini,” dicens. 4; (see note)






JHESUS Now all mankende exaumple take
By these grete werkys that thu dost se
How that the devyll of helle so blake,
In synne was besy to tempte me.
For all hise maystryes that he dyd make,
He is overcom and now doth fle!
All this I suffyr for mannys sake,
To teche thee how thu shalt rewle thee.
Whan the devylle dothe thee assayle,
Loke thu concente nevyr to synne,
For no sleytys, ne for no gynne.
And than the victory shalt thu wynne:
The devyl shal lesyn all his travayl.

To suffyr temptacyon, it is grett peyn:
If thu withstonde it, thu wynnyst grett mede
Of God, the more grace thu hast serteyn.
If thu withsett the devyl in his dede,
Thow that the fende tempt thee ageyn,
Of his power take thu no drede,
For God hath thee govyn both myght and mayn.
Hym for to withsytt, evyr at nede,
Thu hast more myght than he.
Whan the devyl doth tempte thee, thoo,
Shewe thi myght agens thi foo
Whan thi sowle partyth thee froo
In blysse, than, shal it be.

great works
so black
cunning tricks

conduct yourselves

tricks, nor; wiles
waste; work

win great rewards
resist; deeds
Even though; fiend; again
no fear
given; strength; (see note)
to resist

When; though
against; foe
soul parts from you
(see note); (t-note)

Go To Play 24, Woman Taken in Adultery