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Play 40, Pentecost


Before 1: Now of the day of Pentecost. Genuflecting, the apostles speak; the Holy Spirit descends on them, etc.


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

Comprising only thirty-nine lines, this Pentecost play is easily the briefest of the existing English play texts; it is only one-fifth the length of York’s Play 43 and one-tenth the length of Chester’s Play 21. Woolf describes it well: “The author . . . prudently does not try to reconstruct a realistic historical scene but compresses into forty lines a doxology of the apostles, the Jews’ contemptuous skepticism, and Peter’s sermon" (English Mystery Plays, p. 284). What is also unusual about this version is the layout of the first four lines (see the textual notes below) in which all of the disciples’ names and virtues (which they speak) are arranged in a three-by-four block. The layout suggests that the main scribe was saving space, was emulating an iconographic design, or was suggesting something about the performance mode. It is possible that this play was performed more as a pageant or a tableau vivant, with the apostles arranged on stage (or a scaffold) holding scrolls or placards.

Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, is the last celebration in Eastertide. A movable feast such as Pentecost (or Whitsun) can be celebrated as early as the middle of May and as late as the middle of June. Hence, this feast day was often celebrated as the beginning of summer.

This play is the thirty-ninth play in the Banns, but is numbered 40 in the manuscript. It is written in three thirteener stanzas.

1-4 Spector cites Gauvin, Cycle du Théâtre Religieux Anglais, pp. 204–05, who suggests that each apostle receives a virtue from the Holy Spirit (S 2:527).

4 This Judas, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot, is the son of James (Luke 6:16, John 14:22, and Acts 1:13) and may be the Thaddeus of Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18.

7 enbawmyd. MED (1a, b) indicates that this word (beside the more familiar modern meanings) also refers to perfuming and to the administration of a sacrament. Thus, the disciples are being inducted into the presence of and receiving a sacrament of the Holy Spirit.

34 pregnaunt prophecye. Besides the familiar meaning, pregnaunt can refer to the significance or hidden meaning of a prophecy; it can also apply to a compelling or cogent argument (MED). Compare Joel 2:28–29.

36 seyn. Spector notes that Gauvin, Cycle du Théâtre Religieux Anglais, p. 204, emends this to sleyn to reflect Acts 2:23, but this emendation hardly seems necessary (S 2:527).

40 Amen. See note to 15.321–22 on the extra-stanzaic response presumably said by all present.


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

Before 1, s.d. dicant. So S. MS, Bl: dicat.
MS: large play number 40 in right margin.

1–4 MS: the speakers’ names appear in larger red script, and there are three speakers’ names and three words to a line so that the word(s) spoken by that speaker are directly beneath that speaker’s name. In other words, there is a block of twelve speakers’ names and words arranged three in a row by four lines.

5 Lord heye. So MS, Bl. S: Lord of heye.

18 MS: fol. 212v marked 210.

19 cheteryn. Bl: chateryn.

23–26 MS: two lines written as one, divided by punctuation.

After 39 MS: amen written again below main scribe’s Amen. Remainder (67 mm) of fol. 212v blank. Fol. 213r blank except for the Lord be thanked for his g in a different hand at the top. Several indecipherable letters and Amen are at the bottom. Fol. 213v blank except for ad mea facta at the top, several indecipherable letters and John at the bottom.
  [Modo de die Pentecostes. Apostoli dicant genuflectentes; Spiritus Sanctus descendat super eos, et cetera.1








PETRUS   Honowre,
ANDREAS              wurchipp,
JACOBUS MAJOR               and reverens,
JOHANNES   Glorye,
PHILIPPUS                grace,
JACOBUS MINOR            and goodnes,
THOMAS         Dygnité,
BARTHOLOMEUS      vertu,
SYMON                                  and excellence,
MATHEUS   Bewté,
JUDAS                     blyssynge,
MATHEAS                              and bryghtnes
PETRUS Be to that Lord heye wurthynes,
ANDREAS Whiche hath performyd that he us hyght,
JACOBUS MAJOR And us enbawmyd with suche swetnes,
JOHANNES Whiche to dyscrye fer passyth oure myght.
PHILIPPUS This we all wel kenne!
JACOBUS MINOR Now, gracyous Lord Jhesu,
THOMAS Conferme us in thi vertu
BARTHOLOMEUS And graunt us grace, evyr it to sew.
SYMON Sey we all togedyr, amen, amen.

[Et omnes osculant terram.

JUDEUS 1 Now, felawys, take hede! For be my trewthe,
Yondyr syttyth a dronkyn felacheppe!
JUDEUS 2 To don hem good, it were grett ruthe!
JUDEUS 3 Ya, I prey God geve hem all shenscheppe!
JUDEUS 1 Muste in here brayn so sclyly doth creppe
That thei cheteryn and chateryn as they jays were!
JUDEUS 2 Ya, were they ony wel browth asclepe,
It wore almes to the revere hem to bere,
There hem to baptyze!
JUDEUS 1 That were as thynkyth me —
A jentyl sport to se;
A bettyr game to be
Cowde no man devyse!

PETRUS Serys, alas, what do ye mene?
Why scorne ye now thus Goddys grace?
It is nothynge as ye do wene —
Ther is no drunke man in this place!
Wherefore, ryght grett is yowre trespace.
But, syrys, lyst what it doth sygnyfye:
Fulfyllyd is now to mannys solace
Of Johel the pregnaunt prophecye
In whiche that he,
That ye han seyn
In wourdys pleyn
Declaryth serteyn.
Now blyssyd God be!
(see note); (t-note)

(see note)

called us to
endued; (see note)
describe far


And all kiss the ground

fellows; by; troth
drunken fellowship
To treat them well; pity
give them; disgrace
New wine in their brains so slyly; (t-note)
twitter; chatter; (t-note)
falling asleep
would be charitable; river them
I was thinking the same; (t-note)

not what you think

sirs, listen to
Joel; portentous; (see note)

have seen; (see note)

(see note)

Go To Play 41, Assumption of Mary