Medieval English Mystery (or Guild or Corpus Christi or Pageant) Episodes
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       1 The Fall of the Angels   (ready) York   10 Shepherds (1)  (to be done) Wakefield
       2 The Fall of Man (ready) York   11 Shepherds  (2) (on its way) Wakefield
       3 The Killing of Abel (ready) Wakefield   12 Shepherds  (to be done) Chester
       4 Noah and the Ark (ready-extensive notes) Wakefield   13 The Woman Taken in Adultery(to be done) York
       5 Abraham and Isaac (to be done) Chester   14 Pilot and His Wife, Procula   (to be done) York
       6 The Annunciation and Salutation (to be done) N-town   15 The Buffeting of Christ    (to be done)   Towneley
       7 The Trial of Joseph and Mary   (to be done) N-town   16 The Crucifixion    (to be done)    York
       8 The Wise Men (to be done) Chester   17 Harrowing of Hell (to be done) Wakefield
       9 Herod the Great (ready-extensive notes) Wakefield   18 The Last Judgement      (to be done) Wakefield
  Resources and Acknowledgements          


The “Corpus Christi”, “Mystery”, or “Guild” Plays

 Here is a modern English selection of 18 episodes from the four complete cycles covering the period from the Creation to the Day of Judgement. They are intended to be acted.  They are close both to the original text and to the original tone. And, to help readers get a sense of the active involvement of the playgoers in the  episodes there are new stage directions suggesting ways for actors to speak to and with the playgoers. 


   For more information on stages and playgoers, see

  Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare.  McGill-                                                 Queen’s UP 2002


These episodes were played for 200 years all over England, well into Shakespeare’s early lifetime. Unfortunately, nowadays, we find it difficult to see what remarkable theatre they were, possibly because they seem unfamiliar.

We don’t have to treat these plays with the sombre solemnity with which they are usually treated-

The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia).   If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.




1. Creation & the Fall of the Angels    

Actors:   from York -  The Barkers (Tanners)[1]
Sources: God’s creation-- early books of Genesis; the Fall of the Angels—traditional apocryphal stories 


God creating the spheres of the world

 Characters: GOD, SERAPH, CHERUB, LUCIFER, 2nd ANGEL, 2nd DEVIL (plus other Angels who can sing, and Devils)



Ego sum Alpha et O: vita, via, veritas, primus et novissimus

I am Alpha and Omega: the life, the way and the truth, the first and the last


I am great, I grant grace, I am God without beginning,

I am the maker unmade, in me is all power.

I am the way to winning the life perfect and spiritual.

I am highest and first; whatever I command will be.

The blessing of my countenance will permeate the world,  

Will pour forth, protect it from harm,                      

My body forever remaining in bliss.

Unending, without end.


Since I am maker unmade, and greatest in power

And will always be endless, and nothing is but I,                 10

Suiting my position I will create properly

A place full of plenty, formed to my wish,

And then, I, with that act,

Will have made an abundance of things, 

And my work will continue.                        

All created from nothing.[1]


My spirit will inspire[2] my power

To make work only of high worth.

And first, in truth, to fulfil my thoughts.

With my blessing  I say let instantly be her[3                      20

About me, joy, all-protecting,

Into which bliss I say let there be here

Nine orders of angels, most pure[i]     

Praising and worshipping me forever.


Then the angels sing "we praise thee O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord"  (original stage direction)


Now, here[4] beneath me, I name a new place;

This island is “Earth.”[1]  Now let everything be:[i]

All of Earth and Hell, and the highest place, Heaven.

Those living good lives will live in these[2] places.

[To the angels]

My ministers, I grant this to you,

While you are upright in thought.


And to those who are worthless, I promise

My prison where you will suffer.


Of all the powers I have made, I create one

Just below me in rank, as master, as mirror of my might;

I establish you here, to live in bliss obediently;

I name you Lucifer, Bearer of Light.

Nothing shall harm you here.

In this bliss is your dwelling

All that is good will be at your call

For as long as you obey your God.              


Then angels sing "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts" (original SD)



Ah, merciful creator, great is your might,

Who has made at a word all these marvellous works.

Let us who just now were but nothing and now

Have great strength, live in bliss through his blessing.

Praise that[1] lovely lord for his light,                        

In praise let us worship him always

In obedience flourish about him                  

Nevermore without joy.                              


LUCIFER (to the audience)[2]

All the mirth that was made shows in me!               

The beams of my brightness burn bright,                             50

And now I see me, how fine my appearance

How like a Lord I remain in this light.                     

I'm more striking by far than my fellows.[3]

In me there is nothing to tarnish;

I know I am handsome and glorious.                       

My power surpasses my peers'[4]



Lord with praise everlasting we praise you alone.

You, mighty maker who created us, made us,

And shaped us so worthily to live in this place,

Where feelings of filth will not foul us or fade us.               60

The bliss all around here protects us.

We need never fear harm

As long as in thought we are upright

In the worship of him who made us


2ND ANGEL[1] (to the audience)

Oh I'm handsome and glorious,[2]  how well-shaped my body!

I’m the model of all that is beautiful,

All that is good is mine; that's very clear.

The beams of my brightness rank me with the best.

I’m so firmly in bliss

That I shimmer and shine in the light.                                  70

Here no worries will gnaw at me.

Pain never torment me.



With all of our being we worship your will

You, glorious God, the source of all grace

With a strong voice let us always stand firm.

O Lord, to be fed with your food--

The gift of grace, Lord, you always provide--

In life everlasting!

Who tastes of that food[3]

And sees your face can never be hungry.                              


Oh truly, indeed, I am made of great worth;

In glory my glittering radiance gleams;

I control such power I'll always have pleasure.

Through my bright beams for ever I'll bide in this bliss.

I have no need to think about harm.

I control all joy at my whim.

And shall dwell on high,

Above, in the highest of heaven.


There I'll array myself gloriously,

There all will revere me for my fame.

I'll be just like him who is highest in height.[1]

Oh how worthy and exalted.-- Oh God![2] All falls down! 

My power and strength are all weakened—

Help, friends![3] In truth I am falling.



Wherever I look we are dropping from heaven

One thing is sure, we are going to grief.


             The angels fall into the mouth of hell



Out, out[i] Oh horror! I am helpless.  Here is so hot.

I am mired in a dungeon of misery.             

Where have I gone, so handsome and pure?

Now[1] alas I, once so happy, am loathsome.                      100

What was brightness in me is now blackness and dark,

My misery burns me up without ceasing—

Insanely I wail and I grimace[2]

Oh misery!  Now, I am boiling in woe.



No, no. I go mad with agony; my mind cannot think[ii]

The food we have here now is just filth.[3]

We were set up in bliss but are now burned in pain--

Wretch, Lucifer, [4] go; you lost us our light

Your deeds cause our misery now,

You set us up for the harm we endure,

You were our light and our leader,[iii]                                 100

You promised we'd end up highest in heaven.



Oh alas! Woe now is me, it is all getting worse.


Your blame doesn't help us—I just told you my thoughts.



Well scoundrel you ruined us.



You lie, out, alas!

How could I know we'd end up like this.

Curse on you scoundrels you smother me in smoke.



You brought this misery on us.



You lie! You lie!



You are the liar, and you'll pay for it too.



Yeah, scoundrels, prepare for a fight.  Just let me get at you.[1]



Now our leader Lucifer has fallen

And will burn in grief for his disobedience—

Oh Lord, praised be your name who gave us this light,

In your righteousness it was always your way

To assess and reward the deeds that are done.


Through the grace of your merciful power

I see the cause clearly

Why he is mired in misery.



These fools fell deluding themselves, with dreams of their beauty  

Complaining of my power that created, that made them.     130

They will boil in woe according to their actions.

Some have fallen into filth that will taint them forever,

Them my grace will never protect;

My wrath will follow them always.


But all who worship me will dwell here[1]

I will continue with more of my work now.

Since the power is destroyed of those wanting ruin,[2]

To replenish this bliss I will make mankind

Out of earth,[i] in my likeness.


But before making him, I will form first

Those things to sustain him,

Which will naturally please him. 

And in my first making, to show all my might,

Since earth is void, empty, and in dreariest dark

I instruct, as I bless, you, angels, give light

To the earth, for it faded when the fiends[i] fell.

In hell darkness will never be gone

"Night" is the name I give darkness;

And I call this light "the day."

They will be guides for all I do after.


And now by my blessing I part them in two,

The night from the day, so they never  unite

But each by their nature will go its own way.

Day and night, you must both do your duty.

In everything I shall work by your guidance.

I have now done the work of this day

All that I've done pleases me greatly

And gladly I give it my blessing.


For more information on stages and playgoers, see
Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia).   If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.


Press to Return to List

 1 The Fall of the Angels (York) © Barry Fox and Janet Hill, 2005


[1] Why did the Tanners put on this episode?  Was it their access to skins, or to the vats where the skins were treated, or to something else that they wanted to advertise?


1] Contrast  Herod in the later episode who boasts of his powers.  God doesn’t boast.

[2] “Breathed life into” ( cf Chaucer’s Prologue to the CT: “inspired. . . in every holt and heath”)   

[3] "Here" is used again and again.  It refers simultaneously to both onstage and to the areas from which the playgoers watch the plays. 

[i] There were three main ranks, with each subdivided: the highest were Seraphs, Cherubs, and Thrones; then came Dominations, Virtues, Powers; then Principalities, Archangels and Angels.  

[4] “here” again.  It’s important to notice the immediacy of such directional words as “here,” “there,”  “this,”  “that.”  God is speaking from one of the raised places on the stage, and the world he speaks about is very much visible “here,” below him.

[i] The first episode started at 4:30am.  The world began at the same time as light arises on the day of the performance.  Here, God on his raised locus is addressing the world below him, both onstage and where the playgoers actually sit and stand.  Does the beginning of the play take place in the dark with the audience and playgoers only seeing shadows? 


1] The play moves between Heaven and Hell with the playgoers part of the play at the mid point, Earth.  They know they are Earth because of how they are spoken to.

 [2] To what  does “these” refer?  Is God pointing to where he stands, Heaven, and to where the playgoers stand or sit, Earth?



[1] Why “that” not “this”?  What’s the effect of the word? 

[2] Lucifer mimics God but doesn’t know how to be a God.  He’s showing off.  Could he be swinging on a pole?

[3] Lucifer explains his prowess as a boast, contrasting with God's justified declaration of his characteristics.  Lucifer's approach is very similar to Herod's.



[4] Dramatically, his confidence grows as he speaks.


[1] God and the angels who will fall speak to the crowd.  Seraphs and cherubs speak to God. 

[2] These are the words of Lucifer. The 2nd Angel copies Lucifer. 


3] Compare this food with Lucifer’s food later in the episode.

For more information on stages and playgoers, see

Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

[1] Lucifer has a limited view of what it is to be omnipotent and omniscient.  He thinks it means physical beauty, pleasure, self gratification, and admiration from others. 

[2] At the time of boasting, Lucifer and his followers fall.  Here the break in the line coincides with the start of the literal fall. Are they onstage on an elevated stage-level, higher than the playgoers but lower than God?  Could they fall into one of the tanner’s cauldrons full of the tannin they use to tan their leather? 

[3] Could  he be asking the playgoers (“friends”) for help?



[i] Lady Macbeth uses the same phrase 200 years later.  Shakespeare could well have seen performances of Coventry’s version of these episodes.  They were still produced well into his lifetime.


[1] Note the emphasis and weight on “Now.”

[2] Hell is both terrifying and funny.

ii] The original has "my wit is all went."  The use of "went" instead of "gone" has a long pedigree.  Or is Lucifer speaking non-standard English as another source of humour for the educated members of the audience? 

 [3] What substance have they landed in that covers them with grime? Are they picking things up; turds, for example, and eating them?  Is this an early version of  “In Yer Face” drama? Their food in hell contrasts with grace, the food from God. A great deal is made of food through the whole play.  Why?  What does this suggest about the audience? 

[4] The fallen angels have left off addressing the audience to quarrel amongst themselves. 

[iii] Did Shakespeare think of this in Henry V when the importance of the leader is discussed.

1] Their grand speeches have deteriorated into school yard squabbling. Or perhaps, even lower, into the rhetoric of Canadian politicians.

[1] Is he pointing to the area from which the playgoers watch?

 [2] “Ruin” (from Latin “ruina”) here still has much the original meaning of “tumbling down,” “downfall.” 

[i] The original York play has "mould"; that is, God makes everything out of earth; in Towneley's Noah,  (another episode in this version) Noah points out that he is like "muck upon mould"

[i] At what time did it get light in fifteenth century York.  Here is God asking for light.  Does it become appreciably brighter during the course of the episode?

 A very readable version of the York plays is Beadle, Richard and Pamela M. King. York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.




            2. The Fall of Man   


       Actors: supplied by the York coopers (barrel and pail makers)


                Characters: SATAN, EVE, ADAM, GOD, ANGEL


                                         Sources: the early books of Genesis



My wits are awhirl[1]

My fury is smothering my head.


I knew the Godhead well

Knew He'd take on himself

The likeness of a being He’d created.


It offended me he would not

Take on an angel’s likeness.

We were beautiful and bright.

I thought that He might

Assume our nature.                                                                       10

That’s what offended me.


[Eying the playgoers]


The nature of a man, He took on;

That’s why I’m angry.


[He eyes Eve]


Now God has made a mate for him!

I’ll go quickly to her,

That way,[2] just there, to undermine his plan

And try to snatch that prey from Him.


That would be time well spent

If I could betray Him there.                                                           20


I’ll try to, now.


I’ll look like a serpent and go up to her

And fake, make up, a monstrous lie.


Eve, Eve.



Who's there?



It's me, a friend.

I've been looking for you

To show you something for your own good.


Why do you eat none

Of the fruit you see hanging in Paradise?



We may take from any tree                                                                        30

Everything we think will be good for us.

Except for one.

This is the one that will harm us if we go too close.



And why that tree I’d like to know,

Rather than any other one nearby?



Because our Lord God forbids it us.

Neither Adam nor I

May go close to its fruit.

And if we did, he said,

We would both die;

Our pleasures here would end.                                                       40



I see.  Eve, pay attention to me;

Listen carefully and I will tell you

What he meant

When he spoke of this matter.


He forbade you to eat the fruit--

I know for certain this is why--

Because he wanted no one else to know

The special virtues that belong to it.

For you will find

Whoever eats the fruit of good and evil                                           50

Will know as much as God himself.



Whey! What type of thing are you

That tells me this?



A serpent who knows well how

You yourself may be honoured.



But what honour would we gain by that?[i]

We have no need to eat from it.

We have the power to be masters

Over everything that lives on earth.



Stop it, woman!                                                                            60

You can be raised to a higher state[3]

If you only do what I tell you to.



But we are very loath

To do anything that would displease God.



No, don't give it a thought; it isn't dangerous;

You can eat it in complete safety.


There's no risk to you at all if you do that;[4]

Instead, you'll win honour and have tremendous gains:

You will be wise, like God,

Equal to him in everything.                                                             70

Yes, you will be gods

As wise as he, knowing

The difference between good and evil.



Is this true what you say?


SATAN [playing offended]

Yes, why? Don't you believe me?

I would never tell you anything

But the truth; never.



Then I will trust what you have said[5]

And take this fruit as our food.


Then she must accept the apple.(original  SD)



Bite on it firmly, don't be shy,                                                         80

And take some to Adam to add to his delight

And increase his joy.


Then Satan will go away.[original SD][6]


Adam, try some of this marvellous food.



Oh no!  Woman, what made you take this?

Our Lord instructed us both

To watch out for this tree of his.

What you have done will made him angry.

Alas, you have done wrong.



No, Adam, don't be upset by this.

I'll tell you why.                                                                             90

A serpent has let me know

We will be like gods, you and I,

If we eat

Of this tree here; so Adam,

Don't lose the chance to gain that honour.[ii]

We will be as wise

And as raised up

As God himself, who is so great.

That's why you ought to eat some of this food.



I wouldn't say no                                                                          100

If I was sure that what you say is right.



Bite on it firmly, for it's true

That we'll be gods and know all there is to know.



To gain that name of god, I'll take your advice,

And taste it, then.


And he takes and eats.[7] Original SD


Whatever  have I done; I am ashamed![8]

Wicked advisor. I curse you.

Oh, Eve, you are to blame.

It was you inveigled me into this.

I am ashamed of my body;                                                            110

I see now I am naked.



Adam, alas, and so am I.



For all our sorrows, we should sink down.             

For we have grieved almighty God

Who made me a man-

Wickedly broken his instructions.

Alas that we ever started this.

You are the cause of all this, Eve;

You made this bad bargain.



No, Adam, you can't blame me.[9]                                                    120



Then who should I blame? You can’t deny it, Eve, my dear.



The serpent deserves all the blame

Betraying me with terrible untruths.



Why did I ever listen to your talk,

Take in that tale you told me?

Now I must pray for mercy

And curse that wicked act,

The dreadful deed I did.

I stagger with grief at our bodies.

What can we hide them with?[10]                                                      130



Since what has happened's happened[iii]

Let's use those fig-leaves.



We'll let it be just as you say,

For we are naked, our bodies bare.

Oh if I only knew where

I could hide[iv] myself from my Lord's sight[11]

Where I wouldn't be noticed.[12]                                                      



Adam, Adam!






Where are you? Quick.[13]



I hear you, Lord, but do not see you.[14]



Tell me the reason for it.                                                                140

Why did you do this deed?



Lord, Eve made me do this wrong.

She made me break your trust.



Tell me, Eve, why did you cause your mate

To eat the fruit I said should remain hanging on the tree,

Commanding you to take none of it?



A serpent, Lord, enticed me to do it.

I wish

I'd never done anything so foolish.



Ah, wicked serpent;[15] woe be to you for ever.                                 150

Because you made misery for them,

In such a way,

Right here[16] you have my deepest curse

With all the power I can give it.


On your stomach you will slither

Forever hostile

To mankind, no matter where or who.

And earth alone will give you

Your food and drink to live by.

Adam and Eve, you too                                                                160

Will sweat and labour upon earth,

Will work hard to get your food.



Alas, how soon before we fall,

We, who had all the good in the world?

This is too loathsome. 



Now, Cherubin,[17] my angel bright,

Quickly drive down these two to Earth.



It will be done, Lord, as is right.

What you wish to be.                                                                     170

Adam and Eve, move on you two

You may live here no longer.

Quickly. Get on your way;


(He pushes them offstage into the playgoers’ area.)[18]


They are about to lament

You may well sing of sorrow.



Alas, grieving and full of sorrow

We have to wring our hands. 

For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia).   If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

2 The Fall of Man (York) © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005                   Press to Return to List

For more information on stages and playgoers, see

Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002.


[1].  In the original, the line lengths, especially of Satan's opening speech, are much shorter than those of God, the main speaker in the previous episode. What effect might this have on how the playgoers perceive the speakers?










[2] Which way? In through the audience? If through the audience, what has the play turned the playgoers into?


























[i] Banquo: as long as I lose none in gaining it?  Falstaff on honour? Does Shakespeare remember episodes like this when he is writing?



[3] Doesn't this sound like Macbeth to himself? Lady Macbeth? Banquo?






[4] Doesn't he sound like a modern politician who has removed funds from a country's health budget and then tells the people there's no danger. Or perhaps a dishonest broker.







[5] She sounds as if she's just bought one product over another, from a TV soap powder huckster.









[6] )He leaves them to it but, based on what happens later, remains visible onstage, watching.]

For more information on stages and playgoers, see

Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002.

 [ii] How different is Lady Macbeth?









[7] This original stage direction turns Adam’s action into a parodic reminder of Holy Communion. 

[8] Like Lucifer’s fall, there is no lead up to Adam’s awareness of his fall.  It happens suddenly.





[9] This is the first of the domestic quarrels to appear in Corpus Christi plays. Others include that between Noah and his wife and that between a sheep stealer and his wife.  Lady Macbeth and Macbeth also quarrel.

 [10] From the start they could have been wearing goatskin body-stockings.(Source?)

 [iii] In the original she says: "Sithen it is thus betidde" ("since it has happened like this").  Her matter-of-fact attitude is similar to that of Lady Macbeth when she talks to Macbeth.  It might be worth contrasting Adam's position with Macbeth's.

[iv] Macbeth too is deeply concerned by who or what can see him.  In fact the more I read this episode the more I think Shakespeare must have been aware of an episode similar to this when he was writing Macbeth. (Note by BJF, not by JH.)

[11] Of course there is no way that anyone ever can be hidden from God’s sight. Adam’s utterance here reminds the playgoers of this  

[12] In a later episode, Cain asks for something similar, but God, on his dais, sees everything.

 [3] Note the abruptness of God’s order.  God wants instant response; we invent excuses.  He is an omniscient God who knows where Adam is.  Here he makes Adam confront what he has done.   

[14] The playgoers all see God and Adam; that Adam cannot see God because he is too scared to look up.  Perhaps he is grovelling in self-pity.



[15] Although the earlier, original stage direction has “Satan will go away.”  Clearly he’s been hanging around, visible to the playgoers for the whole episode. 

 [16] Again, action occurs at this very moment in this very place--both on stage and the area around the stage.  What does this make the playgoers?








[17] Cherubin is an old singular form of Cherub.





[18] Adam and Eve move out into the audience, into the world of sin.  This is no longer Eden.


A very readable version of the York plays is Beadle, Richard and Pamela M. King. York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.















3 The Killing of Abel

3 The Killing of Abel


The Actors: from Wakefield? (Towneley MSS)


Characters: Pick-harness, Cain, Abel, God.


What happens: The piece opens with Pick-harness speaking directly to the playgoers, preparing them for his master, Cain.  Cain enters driving a team of plough horses.  Abel joins him and the two go off to burn their tithes—Cain reluctantly.  When his tithe won’t burn properly, Cain reviles Abel.  God reprimands Cain who then murders Abel. God curses Cain and anyone who might slay him.  Cain calls in Pick-harness to help hide the body. Pick-harness argues with Cain and relays directives from Cain to the playgoers.  The play ends with Cain directly addressing the audience, informing them he is going to hell.


Acting areas: Most action takes place on the lower level of the stage, close to the audience (the platea).  God speaks from the raised, isolated area (the locus).



Enter Pick-harness,[1] Cain’s servant [2]


PICK-HARNESS: [directly to the playgoers]

Hello. . . . Hello. . . . . . OK everyone[3]

Stop this racket;

Yes, here I am again

A merry lad,

Always ready for a bit of fun.


Don’t forget, my master’s sent me on ahead

To stop your din.

And if you won’t,

The devil himself will make you.


Anyone who wants to carry on chattering

Can blow my arse hole

From the front and the back

Till their teeth bleed.


Everybody here, listen;

I forbid you to carry on this racket.                                                                 10


Anyone crazy enough to disobey—[perhaps eying a particular playgoer]

The devil can hang him out to dry.

By the neck!


Listen.  I’m a pretty important person. [Turning to others?]

And my master is a very fine farmer.

All of you know him well.

And if you make problems for him

I’m telling you, you won’t get far.


I’m pretty sure some of you serve him.  [Who is he looking at?]                         20

Already. So,

All of you out there,

Pull your lips down over your anger

And pretend to smile.

And when my master arrives

Make sure you make him welcome.


Goodbye, I’m nipping off for a while.


[Cain enters driving a team of plough horses][4]


Go on, Greenhorn! Look out Grime.

Go on, pull.  Let God strike you dead.

You stand around as if you’ve fainted.

What, Mare! Aren’t you going to move?

Look out; let’s see how Down can pull.

Now, rascal, now.  You’d better pull, or else.

What?  You look as if you’re not afraid of anyone.

Come on, Donning, you know how to pull.

Aha! May God make your lives miserable.

Ha, now she’s heard what I said.

No doubt about it, you’re the worst mare

I’ve ever had ploughing for me.


Ho. Pick-harness, ho. Come here quickly.


PICK-HARNESS: [At Cain but for the playgoers]

I hope to God you never prosper.[5]


CAIN: [roughly, to Pick-harness

Here, boy, do I have to hold the plough and drive the team?

Can’t you hear me yelling for you?                                                                              40


PICK-HARNESS: [ignoring Cain; to the team]

Yo, Mall  Stott, shift won’t you?

Leming, Morell, Whitehorn, Yo!


[To Cain and the audience, full of satisfaction]

Now, can’t you see? They’re hurrying.



May God make you sorry, boy. 

It’s the lack of food that does it.


PICK-HARNESS: [to playgoers]

That’s because I hang their food behind their arses.  

And tie up their necks so they can’t reach it.


And stow stacks of stones in the racks for hay.



You’ll pay for this across your false pink cheeks.[slaps him][6]



Well you can have that blow back again. [slaps him]



I’m your master.  Are you going to fight me?                                                   50



I tell you plainly,

I’ll repay you with the same amount and weight

As you give me.


CAIN: [giving up]

Well, there’s nothing for it now but to shout at the team

So we can plough this land.


PICK-HARNESS: [to the team]

Harrer, Marrell!  Go on, quick.


[To the playgoers]

But let the plow stand still. 


[Enter Abel][7]


May the Lord smile on you, dear brother

And on your servant, Pick-harness.


CAIN: [aggressively]

Come kiss my bum.

I don't particularly want to curse you                                                              60

But I want you somewhere else, not here.

Why can't you wait till I summon you?

Come here and help drive the team,

Hold them at least.


Oh, kiss the devil's arse.

On second thoughts

Go grease your sheep under their tails.

That's the best thing you can do.                                             65


ABEL: [mildly]

Brother, no one around here

Wants to create problems for you.


Dear brother, listen to what I have to say:

It's a long established custom with us

That wise people worship God                                                                                    70

By offering up a sacrifice.

Adam requested of us and taught us

To burn a tenth of our belongings.

Step up, brother, and let us go to worship God;

We've been dilly-dallying here too long.

Let's offer up to him part of our possessions.

It doesn't matter whether it's wheat or animals.


So, brother, let's set off,

Making sure we've cleansed ourselves of the devil

Before we make our sacrifice.                                                                         80

And, for this holy action

Happiness will be ours for ever and ever,

Given by him who nourishes our souls.


CAIN: [ironically]

Oh yes, that’s a really good idea!


It's as stupid as letting the geese out                                                                          

So they can hear the fox preach to them.[8]


How much longer are you going to keep me from my chores

With your eternal sermonizing?

Just hold your tongue, won't you,

Put it where the long grass tickled the old woman.


Or go and sit down, right where you expect to find the devil walking.

You and your empty prattle!


So you want me to leave my ploughing and all my other work

To go and make an offering with you?

You must be daft.  I'm not crazy. 

Go to the devil and say I sent you!


[Could this be to the playgoers?]

What does God do for you that makes you want to praise him?

All he does for me is bring sorrow and misery.



Cain, stop your complaining.

Don't you realise that God gives you everything you have in the world.



Amazing, isn't it?   He gives me everything, you say. 

Maybe so, but when I actually need something

He won't let me borrow so much as a penny.  

And that’s not bullshit; it's the absolute truth.                                                            100



Brother, our elders taught us

First we should willingly pay our tithes[9]

And then, afterwards, in praise of God, we should burn them.



A fine example our priest sets!

He's still holding on to that penny I gave him

Last time I went to church.



Dear brother, let us walk on.                                                                           106

We really ought to offer up our tithes.


CAIN: [mocking]

But why should I offer tithes up, dear brother?

Each year I'm worse off than the one before.[10]

And you know that’s not bull-shit, either.                                                                   110

My earnings are puny.

No wonder I'm so skinny.

By Christ who ransomed me at such great expense[11]

I could complain to God for as long as I wanted

And he wouldn't let me have anything.



All the goods that you have in plenty

Are but a gift from God.



They're a "gift" to me, are they?

I hope you get as much of his "gift" as I got.

He's always been my enemy. 

If he'd been my friend                                                                                      120

I’d certainly have known.

When everybody else's wheat was growing well

Mine wasn't worth a needle.


When it was the time for me to sow

And I was short on seed

And had a real need

For wheat,

He never let me have a bit of his.


So he'll get the same back from me.


You can scarcely blame me

For treating him the same way he treated me.



Dear brother, don't speak like that.                                                                       130

Let us, instead, go forward together.

Good brother, let us set off right away.

I don't think we should delay any longer.



Yea, yea, yea.  You're jabbering nonsense.

I want the devil to come to my help if I'm ever in a rush

To hand over my possessions

To the devil, God or man.


If I give away everything I own                                                                             140

I'll have to make do with torn clothes.

I'd do better to hang onto what I've got

Than go begging from door to door.


They keep stopping and starting, Abel trying to break out into a run.



Brother, come on.  In the name of God                                                                144

I am very afraid we might get into trouble.

Let's move fast so we can get there soon.



Wee! In the name of the devil, run on ahead.

Come on, get on with it. I reckon you're mad.

Do you really think I want to skip around

Giving away my worldly wealth?                                                                           150

Let  the devil take anyone who taught me

To do something as crazy as that.

Why would I want to lose the benefit of my hard work

Just to wear out my shoes and tear my leggings?



Dear brother, it would be one of the wonders of the world

If you and I should go our ways separate from each other.

Our father would weep deeply if we did so.

Aren't we brothers, you and I?



No, [to playgoers]

But keep on nagging, if you think it'll help.

I still think you're out of your head.

I couldn't care less if the old man's happy or sad;                                                        160

I hate giving my belongings away.

Though, to be honest, I’ve often gone that route

When I thought I’d gain something from it.

But I see I'll have to move on.

Since we'll be going in any case

Now go ahead --.


[To the playgoers]

I hope things go poorly for you.



Dear brother, why do you speak like that?

Let the two of us go on together.


And, may the Lord be thanked, isn’t it beautiful weather?


[They reach the place of sacrifice.]



Place your sacrifice-bundle on this mossy bank                                                      170



Yes, brother, I think I will.

May the lord of heaven accept it kindly.



You must offer up your sacrifice, first,


[To the playgoers]

But only if you’re mad. 


ABEL: [Praying]

God, who shaped all on earth and in heaven,

I pray to you to hear my voice

And, if it is your will, take in thanks

The sacrifice that I here offer you. 

I give this with the purest of motives

To you, my Lord, who sent us everything. 

I burn it now with my thoughts set on high                                                         190

And worship Him who has made all the world.


[Burns his sacrifice-bundle]



Shift your knees. Now you've finished, let me get at it.                  182                             


Lord of heaven, make sure you listen to my prayer

And God forbid you should show me gratitude or courtesy;

As sure as I want to carry on using these two legs

Let me make it quite clear

That giving  you this sacrifice of wheat

Or whatever it is I’ve just grown

Is fundamentally against my will.

Got it?


But I suppose I’d better get started since I’ll have to burn my sacrifice

Some time or other.


[Begins to count the first ten sheaves, keeping the best for himself.][13]


One sheaf, one, and this makes two

But I don’t want to hand over either.

Two, two, now this makes three:

Yes, this one, too, will stay with me.


[Explaining to the playgoers]

I’m going to choose carefully and make sure

I keep back the best of the grain.

That’s just plain common sense.



OK, OK, four, see, here

I didn’t grow anything better than this, all year.


[To playgoers]

At exactly the right time of the year I sowed beautiful wheat                                     200

Yet this is what it was like when I went to cut it down:

Thistles and briars—yes, huge amounts of them—[14]

Not to mention every other type of weed that ever existed.


Four sheaves four, so fourth and so fifth.


If I hurry about handing over my sheaves like this,

It'll be a long time before I prosper.


Five and six and this makes seven.

But God in Heaven is never going to get them.

He won’t even get a sniff of these four here,

Not while I’ve got breath in me.


Seven, seven, now this makes eight                                                               210



Cain, brother, you are not devoted to God.                                                              



At last! You’ve got it!

That’s the reason I say

I won’t hand over my goods.

If I’d given him these as my tithes

You’d think he was my friend.[15] 

But he accepts my belongings so easily

He can’t possibly be.


Well, eight, eight and nine and this makes ten: 


[He looks over them to select the smallest. Questioning the playgoers]


We won’t really miss this little one.[16]

Shall I give him the one that’s lying over there?                                                 220


But even that goes against the grain.



Cain, hand over a tenth of all your produce, properly.


CAIN: [Starts to count the second ten]

Grrr. 12, 15, 16



Cain, you’re not counting properly, and you’re choosing the worst sheaves.



OK then. Come here and cover up my eyes

So I won’t be able to select the worst ones for God.

Confound you, why don’t you shut up?

Or would you prefer me to close my eyes for myself?

Either way you’d have to agree I’d done no wrong.


[covers his eyes and carries on counting. Then he looks to admire how he’s laid out his sheaves.]

Now let’s take a peek at what’s happened—

I’ve got to admit it, that’s pretty good.                                                                       230

I did it perfectly, considering I did it by guess-work.

Just look how neatly I laid those sheaves out.



Cain, I don’t think you’re afraid of God at all.                                                            233



May the devil take me if God gets so much as

A handful a grain more than is in that sheaf.


Ah, he’ll get a real bargain with that one.


I won’t give enough to that guy in the castle  

[Cain points to God who is watching from his raised site (his locus)]

For him to use to wipe his arsehole.[17]


After all, I had to put a lot sweat into producing

That one, and all the others lying here.

I made my back ache

Cutting it down and then stacking it up.

So don’t ask me to hand over any more.


I’ve given as much as I'm going to.



Cain, my advice is that you give your tithe properly                                                    245

Out of fear of the one who sits up there on high.                   

[Again the audience is reminded of God who is watching everything from a raised place].



Don’t concern yourself with how I make my offering.

Stop interfering and look after your scabby sheep.

I tell you, if you carry on paying attention

To how I do it, it’ll be the worst for you.

Would you like me to give him this sheaf? 

Or this sheaf?

Nah, I don’t want to give him either of them.

But take this,  Now he’s got two.


[He chooses his second sheaf for his tithe. To the playgoers]

I’ve got to lose it for the health of my soul.


For what God is about to receive

He’d better be duly grateful.



Cain, I have to say it again.  My considered opinion

Is that you make God your friend

By making your offering properly.



God my friend? Not a chance, unless he makes the first move.

I’ve never done anything but right by him.                                                                  260

I don’t care how much of an enemy he’ll be.

My considered opinion is that I won’t give him anything else.

Why don’t you change your mind?  Think like me.

You still haven’t offered up a tenth of your miserable pigs, yet, have you?



Why don’t you sacrifice properly? You’ll find God is your friend.



Yeh.  And why don’t you go kiss the devil’s rump.                                                     266

May the devil hang you by the neck.

How I’ve sorted out my sacrifice is none of your business.

Just keep your nose out of it.

My advice to you is to stop this jabber.                                                                     270

Whether I offer well or poorly

You can still stay calm and talk reasonably.


And now, since you’ve made your burnt offering

I’ll set light to mine.


[He sets his tithe alight but it won’t burn well]


Hey, get out, help, help me, blow!

My offering’s never going to burn.

Puff,  this smoke is humiliating.


[He bends over and blows on it to get flame]

Burn stupid fire, in the name of the devil.


Oh, what devil in hell caused this?

I nearly stopped breathing;                                                                                        280

I nearly choked to death.

It stank like hell.

I can’t stay down there any longer.



Cain, this sacrifice is not worth a turnip.

Your offering should burn without smoke.



Get out of it; go and kiss the devil right in his backside.

It’s because of you it burns so poorly.

I just wish that fire and that sheaf, every little bit of them,

Were down your throat.                                                                                           290


[God speaks from his raised spot.]



Cain, why are you so hostile to your brother Abel?

You have no need to argue as you do.

If you offer your sacrifice properly you receive your reward.

But if you fail to prosper because you’ve made a bad sacrifice

You receive only what you are owed.


[To the audience]


Who’s that hob-goblin yapping up there?

That one with the squeaky voice?


[To Abel]

Come on. It’s dangerous here; let’s set off, now.

God’s out of his mind.                                                                                     300


[Cain tries to get Abel to leave the spot with him]

OK, Abel, let’s stretch our legs.

It’s pretty clear God isn’t my friend.


I think we should move from this spot.



Oh Cain, brother, you have done wrong.



No I haven’t.  But we can still get moving.


[To audience]

I’m going to seek out a place to hide                                      

Where God can’t see me.



Dear brother, I will go

To the field where our animals are.

To see if they’ve fed well or are hungry.                                                              310


CAIN: [angry, picking up a jaw bone]

Oh no you don't.  Stay here.  I’ve got a bone to pick with you.                              

We’re going to have a little talk before you go anywhere.

D’you really think you’re going to get out of it as easy as that.

Na.  After what you did to me, I owe you one.

And now’s the time for you to get your just reward.



Brother, why are you so angry with me?



Oh thief. Why did your fire burn so bright

When mine just smoked like it would choke us?



I think it was God’s will                                                                                       320

That mine burned so clear.

How can you blame me if yours smoked?



Damn you, you’re going to pay for it.

Before I finish, I’m going to use this jaw bone


[Strikes him with a   jaw  bone]

To separate you from your life.


So lie down there and take a break.

This is the best way to deal with all rascals.



O Lord, I ask for vengeance, vengeance,

For I have been killed but am guilty of nothing.                                                          330




Yes, lie down there, you rascal, lie there, lie.


[To the audience]

And if any of you out there think I did wrong            

I’ll make up for it

By doing something far worse to you,

For everyone to see.

That'll teach you what wrong means.


But now, since he’s been put to sleep,

I'd feel better if I crept into some hole.

I’m quaking with fear, and can't think of a plan

To escape.

If I’m caught, I’m as good as dead.

I’ll rest up here for forty days.                                                                         340


[To the audience]

And I’ll curse whichever of you makes me move on.


[God from his locus]


Cain, Cain.                                                                                                       342



Who’s that calling me?

I’m  over there, can’t you see?                                                                        



Cain, where is your brother Abel?



What are you asking me for? I think he’s in hell.

Yes,  that’s where he is, hell.

Whoever’s down there can tell you for sure.


But he might have fallen asleep somewhere.


You don’t really think I’m my brother’s keeper, do you?



Cain, Cain, you were insane!                                                                           350

The voice of your brother’s blood

Whom you so treacherously killed

Calls out for vengeance from earth to heaven.[18]         

And, because you have brought your brother low,

I lay upon you now my own curse.



Ho, you can hand out as much punishment

As you like. But, I’m telling you

I’ll take no notice of it.

It will be unused so

You can take it back and use it on someone else after I’ve left.


Because I’ve sinned so much

You won’t show me any mercy.

You’ll take your grace from me.                                                                        360

So I’m going to hide myself somewhere.


[To the audience]

And if anyone can find me                                         

I give them permission to kill me,

Wherever they meet me--

On a path or a road, it doesn’t matter;

And when I am dead make sure you

Bury me in Goodybower, at the head of the quarry

Just outside Wakefield.[19]


No doubt about it, if I manage to get out of this place safe and sound,

I won’t give a fart for anyone.



No, Cain, it will not be as you wish.                                                                370

My will is that no one ever kills another.

And he that kills you, whoever he is,

Will be punished for the deed seven times over.



No matter, I know where I’m going to go:

The right place for me is hell.

There’s no point asking for mercy

Because even if I do ask for it, I won’t get any.


[Pointing to Abel]

But I wish this body was out of sight;

Someone might come along and find it.

And say something like "Flee  foul criminal, "                                                            380

Thinking I’ve killed my brother,


If my servant Pick-harness were here

We could bury it together.


Come on, Pick-harness, rascal; Pick-harness, come here.



Master, here I am



Didn’t you hear me, boy.  We’ve got a job to do.

Take that, and that boy. [Hits him]



I curse that round thing on top of your shoulders,

Even if you are my real life master.


I spend all day, running here and trotting there,

And you constantly hit me.


I just keep walking into blows.



Peace man, I only used my hand.                                                                            393

I have a plan I want you to hear.


Today I killed my brother.


I’m asking you, you lovely, lovely, lovely boy, if you can,

To get rid of the pile of bones.[20]



You haven’t really killed your brother

Have you?



Peace, man. By the pain Christ suffered on the Cross,                                                            400

I only said it for a joke.



Hey, if it wasn’t that I’m afraid you’d injure me too, I’d leave you.

We’re sure to get into serious trouble if the bailiffs catch us.



Ah, dear servant, please stop this noise; hush

And I will grant you a pardon.



Will you make it public throughout the land

That I am under the special protection of the king?



Yes, I swear to God, right now.                                                               410



How will you do it?

It may be a long time before you’re important enough.



Be a good boy.  Stand up quickly       

To the audience

And silence these people out there—every man and his wife.

And everyone who does as I ask

Will have a smooth run to good fortune.

I guarantee it.


But you have to be a well-behaved servant.


I need you to call out to them: “Listen carefully”                                                        417

D’you understand? I want you to stop their chatter.



I see. “Stop their chatter.”  Ok.


[To the audience]

Everybody, “chop your shipper”


No, that’s not it.


“Kiss my whopper”


No, nor that.


“What’s the matter?”



I’ve got it!


“Hiss my patter.”


CAIN: [to Pick-harness, to be announced to the crowd]

“I command you in the king’s name.”


PICK-HARNESS: [To the playgoers]

“And in the name of my master, the murderer Cain”



“That you out there find no fault with us”



“Yes, even though he only ever serves cold roast at home.”                                       422



“Neither with the master nor with his servant.”



What’s he on about? I think the guy’s crazy.



“They are utterly and completely honest.”



But I should make it clear,

My master is so miserly.  He only ever eats cold pottage.[21]



“This is the king’s message.”



And even then, I’m never allowed to eat more than half of what I want.



Tell them the king wants them all to be safe.


PICK-HARNESS: [to the playgoers]

I could really do with a pint of beer right now.



He will allow them to wander wherever they want to.



My belly is ready for a good meal, too.                                                                  432



“Nobody in the world is to reproach either the master or the servant.’



I want to remind you.  The man speaking

Is the chap who has just murdered his brother.



“Ask every one to bow down to them, lovingly.”


PICK-HARNESS [To the playgoers, again appearing to mishear his instructions]

“Poorly woven cloth always looks slovenly.”



If you carry on making pronouncements like that

I hope it will be a long time before you get a decent pair of socks.


Go out there now and ask everyone

To “give a gift for what I say.”



OK Everyone,

“Give your goat a whisp of hay”


[Pick-harness tries to climb up the locus on which God sits, to escape Cain who is chasing him].



Come down from that castle in all the devils’ names.                     450                 

And may you go to the devil.

I’ve got to say it:

I’ve never met anyone before

Who comes even close to my brother Abel

For wickedness.



[to the playgoers]

And I’ve got to say to                                                              444

Everyone of you,

old and young,

men and women,

Before you leave

May you all have the same blessing

That God in heaven bestowed on my master.


Enjoy it well for as long as you live.


I hope he grants what I’ve just said. 



Get down here this moment, by the devil,

And stop making me angry.

Now, take that plough

And get on with your ploughing.

I’m going to teach you another lesson.

I warn you lad, you’d better not irritate me ever again.

In any way at all.


For by the wounds of Jesus who died for us

At such great cost to himself, if you get under my skin

Once more

I’ll hang you from this plough                                                                          460

With this rope.

Got it?


[To the playgoers]

Well, goodbye everyone                                               


I have to move on. I've got no choice.                                               

It’s been solemnly decreed

That I’ll be living with that fiend Satan.

I’m to be his servant in hell, for ever and ever.


Even so, I wish ill-luck on anyone

Who wants me to go there now.


So, good bye, those of you who aren’t very important

And fare well those of you with all the power,


I’m off to hide myself

For ever.












[1] Pick-harness is called “Garcio” in the original.  The Garcio type of character, an insolent young man, also appears under different names in other pageants.  He is the type who acts as an impresario, bringing the noisy, waiting audience under control, preparing them for the arrival of his master.

[2] There are no original stage directions for this play.  We are told that Glovers presented this pageant.

[3] Pick-harness is a cheeky boy.  His job here is to settle the noisy crowd in an entertaining way, preparing it for the arrival of his master, the first murderer.














[4] We do not know how the plough team appeared on stage. There are many possibilities: at least nine real horses come onstage and then leave; one old nag of a horse appears and is addressed by nine different names for comic effect; the horses are to be imagined by the audience (there was no “off-stage” so the effect of nine offstage horses could not have been created); it was a horse on wheels they couls sit on whose different parts were addressed by the nine names, again for the opening comic effect.  






[5] The discontented servant and bullying master/ disobedient servant and troubled master relationship may have been one some members of the audience lived. 









[6] This comic exchange of blows still exists in children's Punch and Judy shows. We see a lot more of it in the Noah episode.














[7] The audience's attention has been captured by the slapstick humour.  Now for the important business.  The man who wrote the Wakefield plays is assumed to have been a priest.



















[8] Note that Cain likens God to the destructive and wicked fox who spends his life killing vulnerable geese and chickens














[9] "Tithes" means a tenth of your possessions.







[10] Cain's complaints are similar to those of the shepherds in other guild plays.

[11] Ironically, Cain doesn't notice the object of honesty he has chosen to swear by is related to the God he mocks.  The apparent anachronism, that Christ doesn’t appear until after he is born later in the series of plays acting during the day, is not considered anachronistic.  Etc.



[12] Cain uses the audience as a union leader might address a union meeting: it’s a clear case of us against them; workers against the boss. 




























































[13] This business with counting the sheaves can be very funny onstage.













[14] Problems with weeds was a problem everyone, including present day farmers, knows about.











[15] Who is "you" ?




[16] What is the effect of "we"?
















[17] This fecal-ablutionary joke is in the original.





































































































[18] Macbeth/Hamlet





[19] And since this is a reference to a particular geographical place, the name of any local spot could be substituted in a modern performance.






















[20] Was this somewhere in Shakespeare’s mind when got Hamlet to lug the guts into the neighbour room.?



















































[21] A humble sort of stew.  Poor quality food




For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

3 The Killing of Abel © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

 If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

 Press to Return to List








4 Noah and his Sons

Actors: from Wakefield

Characters: Noah, God, Noah’s wife, First Son Shem, Second son Japhet, Third Son Ham, First Wife, Second Wife, Third Wife,

Main Actions:

Noah speaks to God (and the playgoers) from an unspecified place.  God announces his plans to Noah from above. 
Noah goes home to his wife. Noah and his wife fight and both address the audience.
Noah goes to his shipbuilding site and after finishing the ark goes to fetch his family     
Eventually they all cross to the boat and enter, although Mrs Noah waits outside until the water is very high.
They wait in the ark until the flood subsides.
They leave praising God.

 See Genesis 6-9



NOAH: [praying to God][1][2]

God, true and mighty, maker of all that is,

Three persons, one God, in endless happiness,

You made night and day, animals, birds, and fish;

You made all the creatures in the world according to your wish,


Truly, you made the sun and moon;[3]

And more: you made the heavens,

And made the stars to shine. 

In truth, you made the angels in all their ranks[4]

To enjoy the bliss of heaven.

All this, so marvellous to mention, you did.[5]

  [Turns to audience][6][7]

Yet despite all this good

Some creatures behaved badly,

More monstrously, more unnaturally

Than I can tell in words.


God gave to Lucifer the greatest light,

Far more than to other bright angels.

But Lucifer, full of pride, quit his throne

And set up a new one equal to God's.


Lucifer thought himself as worthy                                   

As God who had made him                                                                               20

With brightness and beauty. 


Because of these actions,

Soon after, in an instant, God[8]

Brought him low, Lucifer and all his fellows,

Sent them away, from where

They could not flee till doomsday

To share misery always,

In torment forever to burn;[9]

Never to leave.


Soon after, that[10] merciful Lord made man

Just like himself

To restore that place as it was at the start.


With the Trinity’s concord, God

Placed Adam, the man, and the woman ,Eve,

In Paradise where together, in harmony,

They could create their kind.

Then, he commanded them both

Not to touch the tree of life.


Yet the false fiend

Made God angry with them.

Enticed them to gluttony

Stirred them to sin, full of pride.


But in Paradise, of course, sin could not be.


So, straghtaway, man was put out

To wander in pain, too dreadful to tell.                                                    40

First on Earth , then in Hell

Living with demons

Unless God declares his mercy

To those of us who believe in him.[11]                                                                   

I’ve heard tell that he promised the oil of mercy

To us and to all living creatures who would love and revere him.
But now, in the full sight of God, [12]

Every living person??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Day and night sins in word and by deed,

Quite openly.                         , hardly ceasing.

Some live in pride, in anger, and in envy,

Some in covetousness and gluttony

Some in sloth and lechery.

And so it goes on and on. 

So I fear God[14] will take vengeance upon us: [15]                                         55

 Sin has now spread all over the world,

And no one repents.


For six hundred years, give or take,--

I have to admit -- I have lived in great wrong.

Always, shuffling along, [16] on the Earth

Like any other lump of clay.[17]


Now that I’ve grown old

I’m sick, sorry and cold

And I wither away
Like muck upon mould[18]                                                          63


 Even so, for mercy[19] I will call


      [Returns to praying, more strenuous and urgent]

I am Noah, your servant, oh Lord over all.                                   65

Save me and my children who will fall with me,

From evil. I ask you to bring us

To your hall, in heaven.

Keep me from sinning

In this world.

Marvellous king of mankind,

I pray you hear my voice.[20]


God speaks from above [ie, He calls out from his raised locus, to the playgoers][21]


Since alone without aid I made everything living [22]

To have what they pleased, on land and on sea,

Mankind should bow gladly

--duke, emperor, king --, 

When I bid them bend,

I, who made such creatures,[23]

The best that could be.


Man must by rights with devotion                       80

Repent of his sin and love me.


I showed man love when I set him,

Like the Father, the  Son, and the Holy Ghost

Above angels.  But now rebuking me

They crawl,[24] committing those sins

That displease me most.


I will take vengeance

On the Earth for those sins,

Arousing my wrath

For their wrongs, great and small. 

I deeply repent that I ever made man                                                       91

Who ignores what I am though I am his Lord.

I will kill for that reason men, women, and beasts,

Large and small, smite them all.

They can curse then their bargain

That brought them this ill.                       95

I see nothing on earth

Except unatoned sin.[25]


I see just a few

Of those doing good.
For this, I’ll undo the whole of the world[26]                                  100

With roaring floods that will flow and run.

I have just cause, for no one reveres me.

As I say, I will do.  My sword of vengeance[27]

I will draw, make an end

Of all that lives,

Save for Noah and his wife

Who would never defy me

And never offend.


I will go[28] to my servant, Noah,

And profit him greatly.

I will warn him at once of his danger.


Sin rampant everywhere I see on Earth, [29]

Among rich and poor. Everyone eager

To be each other’s foe.


I will undo all                                                                            115

With the torrent of my floods.

I will fill them with sorrow

Who will not repent.


To Noah[30][31]

Noah, my friend, to save you from sorrow,

I order you to build a stout ship of boards bound with nails.

You always worked well, were true as steel to me,

Obeying  my commands. You will enjoy my friendship

As your reward.


I instruct you to make the boat:[32]

300 cubits long

Exactly 30 high

And fifty broad.


Anoint this noble house, the boat,

Inside and outside with pitch and tar, to keep water out.

Let no one hinder you. You’ll need three tiers of rooms

And many planks and wooden studs                                                                    130

Before the job is finished properly.

And make sure, too, you build into the plans

One or two private rooms,[33]

And stables for the animals you will take with you.                                                135


Make a window 1 cubit high.

Skilfully beneath it, at the side, make a door.

No one will fight with you, or do you harm.

When everything is ready, take your wife, your mate,

In with you                                                                    140

And take in too

Shem, Japhet and Ham

Those fine sons of yours,

As well as their three wives.


Everything living, except you, will be destroyed,

Wiped out by the floods of falling rain.


It will start to rain within a week

And will not stop

For 40 days at least.

This is fact.


Take onto your ship,

As well,

Before you raise your sail,

Two of each type, but no more,

Of animal,

One female, one male


They will be a great help when all this is over. [34]

Pack your boat with food, to stop you dying of hunger.

And keep in mind the needs of the beasts and fowls

For my plan is that you provide for them


They must always have wheat and hay

And other fodder.                                                                                  160

In the name of the Holy Ghost

Do what I say

This very moment.


Ah, blessings to you, but what are you

That tells in advance what is to happen?[35]

You are indeed so marvellous.

For the sake of goodness itself,

Tell me your gracious name.                                                                                165


My name is full of honour, and is glorious

To know. 

I am God all mighty

One God in the three-personed Divinity

I created you and every human being[36]                             170

To love me as you ought.


I thank you, beloved Lord, who would allow himself

To appear to a simple servant like me.

I beg you now, out of love, to bless us, Lord, here,[37] 

So that, for certain, we can steer well this boat that will be ours.


Noah, to you and your children

I offer my blessing.

When all the floods have passed and fully gone away

You will grow and multiply

And fill the earth again.                                                                                       180


Lord, I will rush home as fast as I can[38]

To see what my wife has to say about this.



God withdraws

But I’m afraid there will be trouble

Between us:[39]

She’s very bad-tempered

And gets very angry about nothing.


If even a small thing goes wrong

That’s it, she’s up in the air.


Noah goes to his wife.[40]


God bless you, dear wife; how’s it going?



The worse for seeing you, to tell the truth.[41][42]

Just tell me, where have you been so long?

We[43] could just as well be dead as alive

For all you care.


While we’re sweating and labouring                                                         195

You’re just getting on with whatever you want.

Yet we’ve got hardly anything

To eat or drink.


I’m afraid, those new taxes have really hit us hard.[44]                                   200



You’re afraid! That’s just it, you’re always afraid

-- of something or other. You lily liver,

You ought to go around dressed in white.[45]

God knows,[46] I’m treated something awful,

You don’t know how much I regret it,


I swear

You’re moaning and lamenting

From the minute you get up

To the minute you go to bed.


I hope one day God stuffs you with all the misery you want.


To the women playgoers

We women have to watch out for rotten husbands.

And by Mary who delivered me in childbirth,[47] that’s what I’ve got.


If he’s vexed, I have to stop, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing.[48]     210

Then I have to wring both my hands out of fear

Trying hard to look sorry.


But at other times

I use cunning and guile                                                                            215                  

To pay him back:

I hit him and smile.


Weh, hold your tongue, ram shit,[49]  or I’ll make you.



As I hope to prosper, if you strike me I’ll strike you back.[50]


We’ll see about that right now.  Take that, woman

This’ll bite right to the bone.

 Hits her                                                                                                             220



Ha, ha, Mary, is that the best you can manage?

But don’t think

I’ll move from this spot

Just because of you.


Take up your laces

And tie up your hose.

Hits him


Ho! So that’s your game.  Then, by Mary, here’s mine.

Hits her



I swear by the pain God suffered on the cross

I’ll give you three hits for every two I get from you[51]


And I won’t take long to repay you for that,



Take this then, ha!

[Hits him]


You certainly know how to bite and whine

And roar in anger.                                                                      230


[To the playgoers]

For all that she can strike

She’s just as quick to shriek.[52]

Yes, you’ll never find anyone like her

If you search hard for a week.


But I will be loving[53] for I have things to do.



Nobody wants to keep you here: go on, vamoose!

We’ll certainly miss you, if I’m to have peace


I’ll get my ready to spin.[54]                      

[Sits down to spin]


Good bye then.


But, wife, pray for me earnestly

Till I come back to you.


[To playgoers]



I’ll tell you this for sure,

I’ll pray for you as much as you pray for me.


[To playgoers]

I think I’ve stayed away from my work too long.

I’ll get my tools, now, and go back to it.                                                               245


[The stage was very fluid so it would be wrong to see what follows as a new scene.  Noah has just walked a short distance, perhaps close to the playgoers, and here he is by his boat.]


[Returns to the ship making site

To playgoers]


To tell the truth, I may not do so well at all.[55]

In the meantime, unless God helps,

I’m going to be known as a silly old fool.


Now I must put to the test

How much I know of carpentry.


[Makes gesture]

In nomine patris, et filii,

Et spiritus sancti. Amen[56] [57]


I’ll bend my bones to start with, with this tree.

[Actions demonstrating the weight of the wood]

But I firmly believe the Trinity will send me help.


[Time passes[58]]

This work I have in hand is going well;                 255

Blessed be he who can make this right.



Look, this is the length  

Exactly three hundred cubits

The breadth, look, is fifty;

And the height is a full

Thirty cubits.


[Shows signs of getting hot]

Now I’ll take off my gown and work in my coat.


But first, before I move another step,

I’ll make the mast.


[Lifting; to the playgoers]

Ah, I'm going to break my back, I swear!

This I a sorry business. It’ll be a marvel if I last.

I’m such a foolish old man, plain stupid,

To start on this.

My bones are stiff

It’s a wonder they work

I’m really so very old.                             270


I’ll make both the top and the sail;

Start on the tiller and the tower,  too.

I’ll drive each nail in firmly; I’ll give it all I’ve got.

This rig will not fail,

I can guarantee that.


[Stands back to look and show]

This is a noble piece of work.

Look how these nails

Pierce through the planks,

The big ones and small ones


The window and door are just as He said.

Three tiers of properly built rooms

The pitch and tar laid on thick.

It will last for ever, so I’m glad


It’s built far better

Than I’d ever have thought.


[Changes focus]

I must praise him for this,

The one God 

Who made all things from nothing.[59]


[Changes focus again]

Now I’ll get moving;  go home fast

To bring my wife and household here.[60]



To wife]

Step lively, woman, and think; 

We all have to flee, all of us, together,



MRS NOAH: [still spinning]

Why, mister, what’s up with you?[61]                                                                      294

Don’t tell me, someone’s after you?

If you’re so terrified,

The best thing you can do

Is run away.


There’s more thread on the other reel [62]

Than you’re aware of, my lady.



I’ll decide that.

Give me the details, all of them

Or I’ll give you what.                                          300


He who eases our cares--blessed be his name—

Has promised to save us from disgrace.


He said the whole world

Would be overrun by fierce floods

Massive mountains of water.


He said every creature would die

Except us two,

Our obedient sons and their three wives.

He told me to build a boat to save us

And what is ours.


For this let us give thanks with all our strength

To that noble Lord, that healer of pain.


Let us hurry. Let us go there.

[dragging her]



Go where? Where do we go?

I’m bewildered and tremble

In terror at your tale.[63]                                                    315


Don’t be afraid.  Stop quaking. 

Let’s gather our stuff

Without more ado

So we get there by noon.


We’ll do it straightaway.  Brothers, help with the lifting.                              318



Of course.  I won’t hold back off from my duty.

Brothers,  let’s pack.


SON 3:[64]

I’ll help all I can

And won’t even boast.


MRS NOAH: [having problems]

Well, don't just stand there, help your mother

Or you’ll get a thick ear.


[They go to the Ark.  Everyone enters except Mrs Noah

Well, we made it.  We got here

Just as we were supposed to.

Sons, I’m proud of you. 

Now, let’s stow our gear and the livestock,

On board our ship.


MRS NOAH: [to playgoers]

As I hope to prosper, I’ve never been holed up

In such a strange inn as this![65]

Just look, it's plain stupid.  You can’t even tell

The front from the back.


[To husband]

As you hope for eternal bliss, Noah,

Do you really expect me to pen myself up in here?


Be reasonable, woman; we must wait here for God’s grace.

So, come onboard and show some good will.



Sir, I won’t change my mind for Jack or Jill                                              336

Till I've spun some more wool from my distaff,

On this hill.


[To the playgoers]

Good luck to the person who gets me to budge.


Now I’ll sit down.


Don’t anyone stop me

Unless you want a thump.[66]


[To playgoers]

Look up at the heavens!  The floodgates[67]

Are wide open; storms of all sizes spread over the sky,

The seven planets have left their places.

These thunderbolts and flashes of lightning

Fall heavily.

On halls and cottages

Castles and towers[68].[69]

The falling rain

Is piercing and sharp.


[To wife]

So, wife, have done;[70] come into the ship fast.                                          352



Oh, go dust your shoes;

They’ll last longer that way.



Good mother, come in now;

The sun, the moon -- everything is overcast.



And the blasts of so many

Fierce winds.

Wild storms are exploding.

So mother, come in.



I don’t care. I’m going to carry on spinning.[71]

So it’s no use you nattering.



Mother, you can spin all you want in the ship.


By our friendship, woman, for the second time, come in.



I don’t care whether I lose or win your friendship.

It’s not worth a pin. I’ll wind off my yarn,

On this hill,                                                                                365

Before I stir one foot.


By Peter, this is all nonsense.

Come in, now,

With no more fuss.



Yes.  The water’s so high

My seat’s[72] getting wet.

I’ll dash into the ship, 

I’m afraid I’ll drown.

[She rushes onto the ship]


Woman, you’ll pay for 

Staying out of the ship all this time.



Get this straight:

I wouldn’t walk as far as the kitchen door to the rubbish heap[73]

If it was you who asked me.



OK, then, for your stupid dawdling

You can taste this staff.

He hits her


MRS NOAH: pretending she doesn’t notice his blows

Don’t hold back, please; hit me more, if you want to.

Tough words can’t hurt me.                                                        380


Stay woman; take your punishment.

I’ll beat you with this staff till you fart.

Tell me, are these blows hard enough?



What’s that you say, little Walter Winkie[74]?



Speak up.

Ask me for mercy, I tell you.



My answer is no.



Unless you do, and quickly,

I’ll break your head.


To the women playgoers


Well, I’ll be perfectly well, the day they say

I can eat "widow’s food"-- I mean when he's dead--

That'll be the happiest day of my life. [75]


to Noah

The day I pay the church my pennies

To pray for your[76] soul

That day I'll wear a big smile --.              


And no doubt, so would other wives here. [77]                                                       391

Just look at them there.

They want their husbands dead,

For the terrible lives they’ve been led.


To playgoers

Oh, yes, as sure as I've ever eaten bread

I wish our[78] old man was buried and dead.    Is syre aplural here? check


NOAHaddressing the men playgoers

Each man with a wife, [79] if you love your life,

Curb her tongue while she’s young.


I feel my liver, lungs and heart split and burst,

At the strife you husbands are cursed with.                       400


As I hope to be happy

I will curb it.




Not a chance,

Nicholas Noddy.                                                                                   405


They fight

I’ll make you stand still as a stone, you spring of all trouble!

I’ll whack your arms and back till you’re blue and black.



Stop, stop. I’ve been killed.  Get away you monster.


to the playgoers

See how she groans, but  she’s on top of me![80]


to wife

Come wife, let’s hurry and get out of here

My back is nearly broken in two.



And I’ve been beaten so blue

I’m sure I’ll die.[81]


SON 1:

Mother, father, why are you behaving like this?                              415


SON 2:

You shouldn’t be so spiteful, get so angry.


SON 3:

These storms are dreadful; look at those planets; disease is on the way.[82]


We will do as you ask, dear children. 

We will hold back our anger.


Now I must speed to the tiller

And tend to my ship.

Goes to the tiller        



I think I see the seven planets in the heavens.[83]


This is a mighty flood, wife; be careful.



I think that too.  We are afraid.

These waves are so wild.


Help us, Oh Lord, in our need.[84]

You are the best of all helmsmen

That ever was.

Guide us through this flood

As you promised me you would.



Our case is perilous. 

Help us, God, when we call on you.        432


Wife, look after the tiller, and I’ll test

How low we are in the water.  ????????   bere check  434



I’ll take great care. Now do what you have to do.

It’s been so hard for us

Being afloat for long

On this flood.


To playgoers

Now I’ll try the depth. Of the water                                                                    438

drops plummet for the first time


Ah, it’s a long way to the bottom


That was a fruitless piece of work.                                                                       440


Time passes

The water has risen 15 cubits above all the hills.

I don’t think it will rise any more.

I know for certain

It’s been raining for the past forty days.

It ought to

Abate soon.


I’ll quickly test

The depth again.

Drops the plummet the second time


It’s really amazing. 

It has dropped such a lot.                                                                                               450


Now the bad weather has stopped and the floodgates are closed off.

There are no storms, or showers.



That looks to me like the sun shining in the east. 

Look! Isn’t that it?

If these dreadful floods would only dry up

We could have quite a feast.[85]                                                                              455


We’ve been here, all of us

For three hundred and fifty days.



Look, the sea is dropping.

Lord, we’re still well.


I’ll test the depth a third time



Don’t hang around.  Throw your line in over there.


Is about to throw it over

I can touch the earth with the palm of my hand.



Happiness and joy will soon begin for us.

But husband, what land is this?                                                                            465


The hills of Armenia.



Blessed is He who has provided for us.



I can see the tops of high hills, many, all at once.[86]

The weather is so bright nothing gets in the way.


MRS NOAH: Such signs of God’s mercy to us.



Woman, tell me what bird would

Be able to fly

Off swiftly

And come straight back to us

From north or south

With some sign of God’s mercy.


This is the first day of the tenth month.




I’d put my money on the raven to come back quickly,

As fast as you want.  Send him off. No more talk.                                                480


He might even be back before noon, today.



I’ll also send off

One or two doves.


[He sends off doves][87]

Go where you want to, set off now.

May God send you good hunting.   Wathe???????


[Time passes]

These birds have now flown into many lands.

Let each of us bow down on our knees and pray

To the only God, the most noble,

That he will soon send our birds back with a sign                                      490

That will gladden us.



The water is falling at such a rate.

They can’t fail to find land.



We thank all-powerful God,

The Lord that made us.


It is really quite strange

The birds we sent out this morning

Have stayed away so long.



Sir, it may be they delay

Till they’ve something to bring.



The raven is hungry,                                                                               500


He has no mind, no reason.

If by chance he finds carrion

He’ll stay to eat it.


The dove is more gentle, I put my trust in her.

Like all turtledoves, she is always true.



Look, look, she’s coming; she’s not far away.

It's important news she holds tight in her beak.

Just look!

It’s a twig from an olive tree, I think.



It’s true, by heaven;

That’s what it is.


Dove, oh marvellous bird, may all good things happen to you.

You’re as firm and reliable as a stone in a wall.

I knew for sure you’d return to your home.



Time passes


It’s a true sign that we’re all to be saved


Since she came back

The depth of the water

Has fallen six feet

And more.


Time passes

SON 1:

Look, father, the floods have all gone.



There’s no water left, that’s for sure.


SON 3:

But our ship is stock still; it’s stuck fast as a rock.



I want us to step onto this land right away.


Dear children,

Shem, Japeth, and Ham,

Let us set out together

Exulting in joy.


We will stay here no longer.


[They leave the Ark]


Noah, we’ve been here long enough,

In misery and suffering and dreading great harm.[88]



Look over this green field.[89] Not a cart nor a plough

Is left. Not a tree. Not a branch.

There’s no thing at all.

All things have gone.

This great flood has washed away

Every strong castle

And glorious town.                                                                    540



All over the world nothing held back these floods

They moved off everything, on sea and land.




The proudest of the proud are dead,

Every sinful

Man and woman.

They have all been killed

And sent to the torment of hell.



Will they be able

To come back again?



Come back? No, never, unless God,[90] ever powerful,                               550

Bears in mind their loss and admits them to grace.[91]


Because in our troubles, God[92] is our joy  

From this space where I stand[93] , I pray Him

Prepare us a place in high heaven,

So that we, with his saints in full view

And bright angels around

May enter into his light.

Amen.[94] Through God’s holy love.














[1] Is it important that God at this moment is invisible to him, out of his sight?
Why might he be invisible? 

[2] A measure of his faith is that Noah prays to a God he cannot see; the playgoers, on the other hand, clearly see God above in his locus.


He speaks out of a geocentric view of the world.  He starts with the creation of the earth and expands through the spheres of the sun and moon, through the sphere of the stars, to the outer spheres of God and his angels.


[3] Noah expands on God’s acts with increasing awe. 


[4] In the Wakefield Creation episode, Lucifer states that there were ten ranks of angels.  The equivalent of one rank fell along with Lucifer, leaving nine in heaven.


[5] This line returns to God as “maker of all that is” (line 1)


[6] Notice the shift of the addressee from second to third person (“you” to “he”).  He’s not addressing God now; he’s reflecting on Lucifer and human sin and garnering the playgoers’ agreement.  Like Noah, they all know the story well.


[7] In this long speech Noah now embraces the playgoers.  He goes through the fall of man, checking that they understand all the circumstances.  In this way he enrols them into his own speech.  He is their spokesman.  They are integrated into the play as he goes around the stage or among them addressing this observation to one, and that to another.


[8] Even though the narrative is a familiar one, Noah orders and presents it in dramatic form, carefully controlling the sequences, the motivations, and the explanations.  It lends itself to shifts of pace, tone, gesture.


[9] Note on Lucifer and on Lightborne needed here


[10] “That” could be taken as a marker of Noah’s assumption that the playgoers and he share a belief in the same God.  It could also be dramatically powerful in that Noah unknowingly points to “that” being whom the playgoers can see clearly.  We know that Noah can’t see God because he doesn’t recognize him when he speaks to Noah.


[11] He steps out of the narrative here to address the playgoers;  “us” is all of us; play characters and playgoers.  The tense, too, changing to present, compresses past and present.


[12] Notice the time shift.  A very emphatic “now.”  Place is also indicated by “in the full sight of God”  Is God in heaven overlooking play and playgoers (“all beings on earth”), thus reinforcing the power of Noah’s condemnations?  Does this mark a physical move towards the playgoers as he lists everyone’s sins?




[14]Time shifts again.  It becomes comprehensive.  “That”, ie what I’ve just told you about yourselves, makes me scared.  Afraid of a future action.  Then again a strong “now” coupled with “no one.”


[15] “Us” is simultaneously Noah and his family, the whole human race, and the modern playgoers.


[16] He is talking about his part in the world’s failings.


[17] An Old Testament patriarch (someone very highly revered) sees himself as utterly and frailly human, as no more than a clod of earth.


[18] Mould is earth.


[19] A difficult decision for someone who has just said he is no more than a “frail old man.”  Next his tone changes as he addresses God 

[20]Should it be heard as pathetic? Sad? Sympathetic? Comic? All?  Loud? Desperate?


[21] God is sonorous and still as he addresses the playgoers. Unlike Noah, who seeks the approval of individual playgoers, God does not eye different members of the playgoers. He simply states what is to be.


[22] Inclusive of every where and one in history and contemporary playgoers.


[23] Unlike Noah, God does not ally himself to the world.  He is unequivocal in his statements.  How would these be said?


[24] Again NOW, this very moment, as everyone hears the God’s-eye view of themselves.  Is there sadness in his voice or anger only?


[25] These are difficult lines.  God’s sentiments here are angry and fierce, and there’s no way around their harsh intentions.  Has it been sufficiently established that the world has been ruined by the sins of the people? Is God explaining himself? Or is he justifying himself?


[26] The repetitions make very clear God’s justification for his vengeance. For Tolkein fans, God’s word for earthe is “medill-erd”


[27] Is he literally drawing a sword? Is he bringing it down as he marks “here,” a point that is probably at once a temporal and a special marker (the “here and now”) of immediacy?


[28] Wrongly, some editors have added the stage direction “God descends to Noah” at this point in the episode. 


1. In all other episodes of the Wakefield Cycle, God remains above; his contact with human beings being through the physical aspect of the trinity, Jesus.  The convention of having God physically separate from the rest of the play establishes God's special character. 


2. In the original, God announces: hastly will I go,/ To noe my  servand” (109/110)  “Go to” especially when used of the Godhead’s movements can refer to a wide range of movements.  There is no reason to assume it means “descend”  or that God’s lengthy talk with Noah takes place in the manner different from that in which He speaks to the other human beings in the cycle.


3.The original Latin stage directions in the opening episode of the Wakefield cycle when God is instrumental in setting up earth, and before human action becomes the matter of dominant interest, show God acting twice.  The first stage direction occurs as God, already onstage, creates the world.  Stage directions announce: “hic deus recedit a suo solio” [here God withdraws to his throne].  The second stage direction for God occurs as he is creating the human race: “Et tangit eum” [he touches them]. 


The first, ("God withdraws") thus, has God moving in an unspecified manner on his locus.  The second ("touches") has him making contact with the earth at a distance.  So even while the earth and its contents are being created, no evidence suggests the unique occurrence of God coming down to earth from his throne.


[29] God repeats his explanations in shorter, simpler phrases.  Shakespeare use similar techniques (see M ).  Note too the simpler language which regularly appears at particularly important moments in his plays, especially the tragedies.


[30] From above?  God probably remains raised on a heaven scaffold.  Christ, who became man, later comes down to earth level.


[31] The play opens with two long speeches. If it is recognized, that  rather than remaining separate from playgoers, this play instead uses the dynamic between play and playgoers (“playing the playgoers”)  as dramatic, there is no reason why the speeches should be static After his prayer, Noah eyes particular members of  the playgoers; here, after his announcement, God speaks directly to Noah who can be engaged in stage business, perhaps trying to keep up with God as he tries to take down God’s instructions.


[32] The following instructions are so concrete and exact it needs a delivery that emphasizes that God (a) is making absolutely sure that the boat is fail-safe and (b) shows he understands that practical human action is how Noah and his family will save themselves.  It’s difficult for the player to make the building instructions engaging.  Yet it’s crucial that the physical specificity is conveyed.  Gesture, timing here need to be carefully worked on so that the details themselves interest and that the speech builds to the orders to include the family followed by the bleak warnings.


[33] Langland complains that houses are being built with private chambers.  Formerly when people read books, they were read aloud to everyone present; with private chambers you read only for yourself.


[34] Again God says,” Be practical in your world, the only world you have.  The actor can perhaps find someway to employ the spatial elements (heaven, the earth of Noah, and the playgoers) here to give urgency to this second order.


[35] God seems to be both known and unknown to Noah.  (a) Does Noah physically “see” God up close here or (b) does he only hear his voice and “picture” him. (though, of course, God is visible to the playgoers) or, (c) does he look up to heaven at this point?


[36] A telling reference to God’s awareness of modern playgoerss.  How should the actor direct the “You” that follows?


[37] The “us” and the “here” to be blessed.  Is this an inclusive gesture by Noah; that is, does he include the playgoers in with the characters on stage?


[38] There is a change of pace and register here as he returns to a very ordinary, mundane world.


[39] And now into the extra messy part of Noah’s world.  He tells the playgoers openly about his worries.  Does he talk to the men? the women? both?  He’s (a) embroiling the playgoers and (b) setting them up for what is to come.  The playgoers probably looked forward to the next part of the action with cheerful anticipation.


[40] This is a translation of this episode's only original stage direction.  All other stage directions are the editors'.


[41] This is dialogue but it constantly draws in the playgoers. Notice “we sweat” rather than  “I sweat.”  She’s playing the playgoers here.


[42] Noah’s wife here is very different from the obedient wife of the Bible.


[43] Who is the “we”.  Cd it be Mrs Noah and all the owmen in the playgoers, as it clearly is a few lines on.  If so she is bringing the playgoers into Noah act of saving his family.


[44] For Noah trying to deal with his carping wife, the immense news about the destruction of the earth is less significant than the problem of new taxes.


[45] The original has her wishing him dressed in “Stafford blue” with a pun on “staff,” a stick for beating someone blue with.


[46] Wonderful unconscious ironies are possible by the characters on this stage.  Of course God knows.  The playgoers have been told as much and they can see God watching Mrs Noah themselves.


[47] This anachronism reminds the women (and men) that more great things are to come in this great cycle of plays showing the history of the world.


[48] In and around the playgoers, perhaps.  With extravagant gestures (like Hamlet talking about the players).


[49] This is in the original. It’s comic and true. Human beings are earthy people.


[50] Knockabout comedy has been and is popular in all dramas.  Greek comedy exploted it (eg Lysistrata).  Punch and Judy shows still have husband and wife fights. Dramatic portrayals of strife between the sexes perhaps now come under the banner of “politically incorrect.”  Here it is hilarious and shocking.  Patriarch and wife wrangle, curse, bash one another.  And at a turning point in history, just before the world is to be destroyed.  This faulty, squabbling pair are God’s chosen, the only people who are to be saved!  It would be a mistake to underplay the shove-about.


[51] Note here on Ananias


[52] Now they’re really dragging the playgoers in. Dividing them, too.  Pushing them to take sides.


[53]  In the original, Noah uses the same word for his actions-- “charite” -- as he uses earlier when he asks God to bless everyone (line 168).


[54] Spinning was the traditional job of women.  This is acknowledged in the maxim used during the Peasants Revolt of 1381: "When Adam dug and Eve span/ Who was then a noble man?"  This role of women is still  preserved in the word "spinster" which has expanded its meaning to refer to all single women, where they spin or not.


[55] Here is a space and mood shift.


[56] In the name of the Father, and of the Son

And of the Holy Ghost.  Amen


[57] All would have understood this devout utterance in Latin.


[58] The passage of stage time and its relationship to real time in these plays is always complex.  Rarely do they wholly synchronize or correlate.  It can be handled in many ways.  In these plays playgoerss knew that in one day they would watch the whole history of the world.  The plays exhibit many temporal perspectives.  God’s view of time, for instance.  Set up high above everything and everyone, he sees the moment within eternity.  It’s important here to exhibit the strenuousness of the efforts ancient Noah has to make, and the way he foregrounds in tiredness his sense of time, so the lengthy undertaking becomes the playgoers’s.  Notice how his mood changes throughout as do his responses to his work.  Sometimes he’s embroiled in it; sometimes he stands back.


[59] Is this final awed assessment directed to the playgoers?


[60] Change to bustle and movement.


[61] Contrast Noah’s urgency with Mrs Noah’s balking and her need for proofs and details.  She hasn’t heard God’s instructions.


[62] Noah’s metaphor for “other business” also refers to the fact that his wife is spinning yarn at the moment he speaks.


[63] Fear paralyses her, whereas Noah proposes action.  Then his sons busy themselves packing up and loading the Ark.


[64] Son 3 always seems a bit detached from the action.


[65] Here she is, inspecting her new quarters.  For the playgoers she draws attention to the strangeness of the vessel, perhaps because the Ark as part of history had become familiar.  The others accept that—however unusual—what God proposes is right.  The playgoers know it conforms to God’s instructions.  But Mrs Noah’s recalcitrance here is very human; she clings to what she knows.  She’s also faulty in her failure to trust anything beyond the everyday.  Could she play this among the playgoers?


[66] This is a threat to the playgoers.


[67] Visually redirecting the sightlines.


[68] On everything the playgoers lives in and amongst.  Notice “now” and “us.”


[69] Lear


[70] Looking from the sky to the earth


[71] She is literally spinning it out.  What will it take to convince her?  There’s real suspense here.


[72] Is she raising her skirts?  Her entry to the ark is jokey.


[73] Their fighting continues on the Ark with even more ferocity and appeals to men and women in the playgoers.


[74] The name is an insult; it diminishes him.


[75] That is, when her husband is dead.


[76] “Your” here shows her referring to her husband.  It doesn’t imply that she is talking directly to him.


[77] She’s playing the playgoers for all she’s worth.


[78] The introduction of "our" unites the women in the playgoers with Mrs Noah


[79] Now it’s Noah’s turn to invoke the playgoers.


[80] This is a  visual joke as the playgoers see Noah pinned down by Mrs Noah who is sitting on him and moaning.


[81] This is a fight that gets taken to its last gasp.  Make it as physical as the words imply; obedience, trust don’t come easy between the sexes or anywhere in the human world.  It’s important to let the violence, the silly arguing, stand against the displays of obedience and faith elsewhere in the play. Interestingly, it’s the young generation who complain.


[82] He’s referring to the assumed influence of the alignment of the planets on the earth. Again, he’s not interested in the details of the domestic situation.


[83] New mood. Concentrating on the terrors of being displaced at sea.


[84] They both pray; they are together in this.


[85] Is this  a reference to the feast of Corpus Christi that follows the performances?

[86] Looking towards the playgoers?


[87] Were these live doves? And did the childen look forward to seeing them released, perhaps a little bored by th acting?

[88] Is the boat wobbling, stuck on the mountain?


[89] It’s as if the modern world, too, has been erased.


[90] The original has “he” rather than “God.”  The use of a pronoun assumes that Noah and the playgoers are part of the same community, jointly understanding who is being referred to. The relationship between play and medieval playgoers was an intimate one. It is changed here because a modern playgoers may well not share that common understanding.


[91] This is the promise of the play as a whole.  At the close of the day the playgoers will see and take part in the Judgement Day episode in which the good of history will be admitted to grace.

[92] ditto

[93] Here is asking for God’s help both on Ararat and in a street or field of Wakefield. For the laygoers there would have ben no idffernce between there and here, then and now.

[94] The original Latin statement here translates as "Here ends the story of Noah."




For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

4 Noah and the Ark © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

 If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

 Press to Return to List


5 Abraham and Isaac

still being developed -- come back soon , 


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

5 Abraham and Isaac © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

 If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

 Press to Return to List


6 The Annunciation and Salutation



still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

6 Annunciation and Salutation© Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

 If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

Press to Return to List



7 The Trial of Joseph and Mary


still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

7 The Trial of Joseph and Mary © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

 If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

 Press to Return to List



8 The Wise Men


still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

8 TheWise Men © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

 If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

 Press to Return to List



  9 Herod the Great

Herod the Great
and the Slaughter of the Innocents

Speaking Characters:
Three soldiers,
Two counsellors,
Three other soldiers,
Three women.
A modern production could have many more than three soldiers etc.

Action: (The fluid stage means that these are not separate scenes)

From the platea, a messenger gives orders to the crowd, treating them as if they were Herod’s subjects. 
Herod enters and establishes his court here. Soldiers speak to him and leave; counsellors join Herod to offer advice. 

Sent by Herod, a messenger finds soldiers talking in the countryside.

The  soldiers go to see Herod. 

Having received orders from Herod, they leave the court and conduct the massacre of young children. 

They return to Herod’s court with their news and Herod addresses the crowd, telling them to behave before he walks off stage, irritated at his effort to be helpful to them.


HEROD'S MESSENGER: (To the playgoers, assuming them to be Herod's subjects)[1]

May the mighty Mohammed[2] make you all merry

Whether you’re from borough or town, moor or mountain

If you’re a king with a crown or well-bred barons.

Stop your noise right now, 

And you’ll be protected from troubles and harm.                                                  5


              (Frustrated and threatening)

Listen very carefully

To the instructions I shout out.

              (Moves down into the crowd, eying individuals)

If you don’t, troubles and nasty things

Will happen.  D’you hear?

            He proclaims from an official scroll

“Herod, by the grace of Mohammed,

Crowned high king of Israel,

Surpassing everyone living, in town or castle,

Greets you politely, commands you to be bound

By his orders.”

Love him loyally.                                                                                    15

Revere that strong man!

He insists you get ready

To kneel before him whenever he wants you to.                                       18


If  ever you complain about him—

Knight, squire or just ordinary man--

You’ll soon learn what sorrow means.

It doesn't matter

How fierce you are, you’ll pay

For what you say

Twelve thousand times more than I can describe.

You can be sure. 


He is wonderfully worthy.


At the same time,

Seriously sad:

Some nasty kid born near here

Has deeply disturbed him.


They call this kid "king"—can you imagine?

Ask yourselves,

How could such a thing happen?                                                             29

That’s why I've been told to proclaim everywhere


(Eying individual members of the playgoers)

That you spread

No more lies from now on. 

Don’t mention any monarch

Except Herod, our lord.

Or you’d better

Rush home and hide your heads.                                                             36


Herod is king of all kings, I know that for sure.

He is lord of lords; mightiest of rulers.[3]

The men at his beck and call are themselves bold boasters,

Great dukes fall on their faces before him

And revere him, with awe.


Tuscany and Turkey

All India and Italy

Sicily and Syria

From Paradise to Padua, to Monte Fiascone
From Egypt to Mantua, even as far as Kemp Townnnnnnn[4] 

From Normandy and Norway  All bow before his crown.

No one can ever match his fame

Between Heaven and Hell.

The only one who comes close

Is his cousin Mohammed.


He is the noblest of all men ever born; nobles are his slaves—

He’s wounded them all. Just as soon as a man causes a disturbance,

Herod attacks him, full of scorn;

We must all obey Herod or else you’ll be lost[6]


Dump yourselves down on your knees

When you see him.

If you don’t, he’ll break your bones.                                                         63


Here he comes, the lord I spoke about.

I’ll hurry to him fast, quick as I can,

And welcome him with honour, with glee,

For indeed, very worthy, is he. I will kneel

Lowly out of respect for him.

              (Exaggerated gestures here showing the playgoers how to bow--To the playgoers)

Drop down

Before the most royal of men.

              (To Herod who enters at this moment)

Hail, most honourable man in the world

To you I must bow. [7]                                                                             72

Hail beloved lord! I read out your letters (holding up the scroll)

I did what I could – I asked them to settle.

And a lot more too. I made it very clear.

But they (at the playgoers) keep yelling out

Rumour after rumour to each other.

They carp on about some king

And won’t stop jabbering nonsense.                                                         79



I’ll rein in their rattle

And let them go hang themselves. 

(To the playgoers going down among them from time to time)

Shut up you wretches, yes all of you.

You'd better listen to me till I leave.[9]

Because once I start, I’ll break every bone in your bodies,

I'll cut the skin off your carcasses. Right here and now.

Oh yes I will. So stop that imagining.[10]

If you make trouble for our royal self

I’ll tear you apart. I don’t care how tough you are.                                                 90

Young and old, shut up when I tell you to.

I control your lives -- and deaths. 

(Turns to somebody talking among the playgoers.)

I’ll bash the brains out of the head

Of anyone brazen enough to keep on talking.

Nobody speak till I’ve said what will happen.

You haven’t a clue about the trouble I can cause.


(To the young children in the playgoers)

Don’t move unless I tell you to.

If you do,

I’ll dice you up on the spot

Ready for the pot [11]                                                                   99


My joy's turned to grief; my meekness to anger.

My insides are burning. Just because of a boy.

Let me catch a glimpse of him, I’ll give him his due.

If I don’t do what I intend just call me fool.

As sure as I’m king,


(Does he weep here, out of self pity, looking for playgoers’ support?) 

If I had that lad in my clutches

I’d break every one of the bones with this steel sword .(pulls it out)              106


My name blossoms throughout the world. They call me the noblest man

That ever fought with a spear, a lord, a royal king.


(Again eying individuals in the playgoers. Is he pretending to weep to get playgoer sympathy)

What joy can I feel

To hear of a lad who will take my throne?

If I'm to able to wear this crown,

That boy will pay for my trouble.


I’m angry.

I don’t know what the devil’s got into me.

They trouble me so with these rumours

That by the holy nails that pierced God’s hands[12]

I’ll hold my peace no longer.[13]


He gets visibly angrier and angrier, bashing whatever he is holding violently onto the ground[14]

What the devil’s happening!

I think I’ll burst with anger and grief.


        Calmly, on a new topic)

I think those kings who just visited me

Have gone past.[15]



Yet they promised me, sincerely,

They would call in on their way back.

If only I'd known,

I’d have used a different trick.                                                                 122


They said they were looking for a boy

And had gifts for him.

I’m looking for that little boy

But I’d be glad to break his neck.                                                             127


By Mohammed in heaven, if they've passed me by

I’ll set the whole world at sixes and sevens.[16]


(To individuals playgoers)

D' you  think a king like me will allow them to appoint

Anyone with all a king's power, unless it’s me!


No chance. The devil can hang

Me and cut out my guts

If I meet the rascal and don't whack him so hard

He dies of the blow.                                                                               135


I’m in great danger. I need to know if they have left.


(To the playgoers)

If someone told you about them here, quick,

Let me know.  If they were that bad mannered,

By God who sits on his throne,

Words can’t describe the pains

They’ll suffer, each one of them,

Because of my anger.                                                                              140

No one has heard of those pains. Fearsome and cruel they are.

Lucifer in hell

Will tear apart their bones.


          (Three soldiers sidle in, terrified[17])


Lord, don’t think ill of me if I tell you they’ve gone by.                              145

I won’t keep anything from you, honestly. 

They found another way home



What! They’ve passed me by?


Oh! Hell! I’m bursting with rage.[18]


(To playgoers)

Damn the devil. Where can I go

Where I won’t boil with grief?


(To the soldiers, beating them)

You scum, you should have watched for them

And told me when they went by. 


You think you’re trusty knights? You’re thieves and scoundrels!                   155

I’ll give up the ghost, my heart hurts so much.


SOLDIER 2 (with an eye to the playgoers, feeling a bit more confident)[19]

Why are you so on edge? They’re not the sorts of things

Worth gnashing your teeth about.



Why have you turned on us

Without just cause?

You shouldn’t threaten us

Beat us, berate us.

You shouldn’t do that

Unless you’ve got all the facts.



Traitors, and much worse; anything but knights..


If you’d been worth your ears  they wouldn’t have got away  like that.

Sanz doot [20]

Agifimarus nostris.                                                                                 171


(To the playgoers, unable to see his throne))))))

I don’t know where to sit, I’m so angry and cross.


But we haven’t[21] done everything yet, if it’s up to me.


(To the soldier)

Fie devil,[22]  How is it?  While I have eyes to see

I won’t budge.[23]

I will be seen as king

For ever.


To tell you my greatest wish:

To be safe and sound

I’ll get them to quiver with fear

(Or never trust me again)                                                                                    180



Sir, they moved fast. Before anyone knew.

Or we’d have found them. Absolutely. No doubt about it.



Not one of that trio was bold or brave enough to cross our paths.

They were too scared to meet me in a fistfight.[25]



I’d’ve given them what for.


What more could we have done to save your reputation??????



We were ready to save it and will be, every hour.



Since you’ve told the truth, you shall have honours.[27]

Go where you want to, by town and by tower.

Now go away. 

(Exit soldiers)


(To playgoers)

I have matters to discuss

With my privy counsel.


(To counsellors who have been standing in the background talking secretly to each other, constantly looking around, afraid that someone is listening in)

Counsellors, you’re the best of the bunch.[28]

It’s your job to make me angry now.                                                       198


Someone has whispered a curious tale in my ear

Saying a virgin would give birth to someone who’d be king.

Sirs, I ask you to investigate this— go to the written records

Go to Virgil . . .  Homer . . . . and anyone else

Except saints’ lives. Don’t bother with religious rubbish.                            203


Look for poems with a good story.

But don’t bother with epistles and antiphons.

And masses and matins will be useless—

I forbid you to look at these.[29]                                                                207


I beg you to tell me quickly what you have discovered.


[Evidently if they are to give the instant response the script expects, while he was talking they must have been looking furiously –and comically—for the information.  They must also look very frightened because the Wise Men have already left]



Truly, sir, prophesy is not blind.

“Virgo concipiet

Natumque pariet”[30]]]]]]

To tell you his name,

He will be called “Emanuel”


That means: “God is with us.”



And others say this—you can trust me:

A gracious lord will be born in Bethlehem

Who will be glorious king of the Jews,                                                     220

A mighty lord, forever.

King and emperor

Will honour him.



What! You think I’ll cower in front of him?


You tell lies too easily.    

[He launches himself at them again.]  [Someone is holding a drinking vessel                 225


Fie, may the devil help you, and me—quick, I need a drink.[31]


[He stops to take a drink and then launches himself at them again]

You deliberately wound me up to get me angry.

And you, rascal, by God’s dearly bought bones, you’ll get your reward all right.

You don’t even know your alphabet.  Get out of my house, thieves.

Fie, knaves

Fie, thickheads; you and your books!

Go throw them in a ditch!


(To the playgoers)

My mind rages

At such ruses and crookedness.


I’ve never heard of such a trick. That a child so insignificant

Should come in like a saint and deprive me of what is mine!


No, he’ll come a cropper; I’ll kill him right now--


[To players and crowd]

Time out a minute, I need a good pant. 


[He pants and then returns]

Now I’m going to start fighting

Out of anger.

My guts will spill out

If I don’t hang this lad.

I can't cope with living

If I don’t get vengeance.


Why should a one-year-old kid

In a cave

Make me rave?                                                                                      245


(The counsellors have not left, despite Herod’s order.  Instead, in sight of the playgoers they have been working on something, with piles and piles of books)


Sir, calm your fury.

Give up on language like this.

Saving your Honour, he’s nothing but a lad

A year old.


We two will deal with him,

Working  … cooperatively.

If you do as I tell you,

He will die on a spear.[32]                                                                          252      



To keep him from the throne, do as we advise.

Order your knights to put to death

All male children two-years old and less

In and around



In this way you may kill the child

Just as you wish.



What you’ve just suggested

Is brilliant.[33]

If I get to live the life I want

I guarantee: I’ll make you Pope.[34]


My heart is palpitating now with passion.

For this noble scheme you can have a touch

Of my favour.

Marks, revenues, pounds

Vast tracts of land, great castles.

And I give you the right to hunt                                                               270

Anywhere in the world.


Mishoor;[35]]]]]] a good future could be ahead of you.



My Lord, I’ll quickly bring them

To you.

(Goes over to knights and speaks to them)

Listen, knights, I bring

You important news. 

Hurry as fast as you can

To Herod the king.

As quickly as possible, in your bright, shining armour

Make sure you’re decked out and looking your best.



Why do we have to fight?



I don’t think we should have to.



But, guys, I think we’ll be fighting pretty soon.



Gentlemen, please

Reach him today.

Go as fast as you can.



All dressed up in our finery?



Yes, I just said.

(Perhaps a lot of action as they try to get into their armour)



Something’s about to happen, though I’m not sure what.       



Don’t hang around till we reach Herod’s court.


They travel back to Herod's Court


King Herod, all-powerful, We acknowledge you.

Your knights have come in armour most bright

At your will.



Hail, noblest person in the word,

We have come as you asked

To do what we can

To fulfil your wishes.                                                                              297



Welcome lords, all of you, each of you.

This is the reason I sent for you all:

A lad, a wretch, has been born who wants to be king.[37]

If I don't kill him and his family, my gall-bladder will explode.[38]

Therefore, sirs,

You are to take revenge

On this foul baby;

And I’ll make you important men

Wherever you go.                                                                                   306


Make certain you go to Bethlehem and all around it.

Kill all the boy-babies there, two years old and younger--

Lords, you will have to be fierce with that mob.

Make sure not a boy wrapped in baby clothes is left breathing.

I advise you.


Spare no stripling’s blood

Let it run in a flood down the road.

If the mothers act crazy

I tell you, sirs, do the deed quickly.                                                           315


Off with you; on your way, get there quickly.                                                                   



I bet we have a battle; dibs on front place.[39]



Just wait; I can sharpen my tusks like a boar.



I want front place. I’m good enough to fight twenty of them[40].

Any time.                                                                                              320


On your behalf, sir, we will

Have some miserable fun.



If you avenge me well

You’ll find me a good friend.


SOLDIER 2  (to the other soldiers)

Get on with your job and handle them well.[41]



I’ll beat them up if I get violent.


They meet up with women and children


Come on, guys, you’re talking nonsense.  Here comes misery on legs.

I bet you a pound she won’t like me 

By the time we part.[43]


(To woman)

Madam, please don’t get mad                                                                 330

If I kill your young lad.



What, monster! You’ll ignore my pleas?[44]

I beg you, lord, preserve my child.   



Wait, now, wait; don’t go further.





I’ll cut your pride from under you.  Let’s kill these boys.



No matter what, protect your nose.

False thief!

Take this, and this, on your head.[45]



What, you lousy tart, are you mad?                                                           340


The boy is killed.


Oh no, alas, my child’s blood.

Shame on you; disgraced man.


Oh horrible! For shame! The sin!  Oh that I was ever born!

Who wouldn’t weep to see her child killed.

My comfort and my offspring; my son so torn to bits.

Now and for ever, I call for vengeance for this sin,.


A second scene for a murder[46]


Well done.


(Sees another mother and child

To woman)


Come here you old cow:

That lad of yours will die right now.



Mercy, lord, I beg you.                                                                           350

He is my own dear son.



You don’t excite my mercy, Maud.[47] It won’t help you.




Stop, stop, now get away.



Stop it, hag.



Fie, fie; shame on you! Stuffed full of fraud

You’re no man.

Just look at your lord's pretty coat of arms,

Wretch,  fornicator.

You won’t be spared.

I’ll yell and I’ll curse you.


[Kills son]

Shame on you murderer, traitor and thief!

Shame, alas, oh misery! My child who was so dear to me

My joy, my blood, my toy,  who never harmed anyone!

Alas, alas this day! I want my heart to break

Vengeance,I call out,

On Herod and all his knights;;;;;

Oh Lord, may vengeance and all

The plagues of the world fall on them.                                                     369


 A third murder site


 SOLDIER 3 Sees a third mother and child

This business was as well done as anything ever has been.

To woman


Come to me.  You don’t need to flee.


MOTHER 3 (who seems calmer than the other two)

Are you going to harm me and my child?



He’s going to die.  I swear to you.  You’ll see his heart’s blood.


He kills the boy.

MOTHER 3 (cradling the body with blood all over her)

God forbid! Wretch,

You are shedding my child’s blood!

Shame, I cry! I’m going mad!

Oh, woe! I am overcome,

To see my child bleed like this.


By God, you will pay for the deed you’ve done.                                                   379



I take no notice of you, harlot, not now, not never.



Get ready, I say.  Take that jab.

Fie on you, I cry! Prepare your nose

For another!

I was holding that one back.



Peace, now, no more!



I will yell and roar

Fie on you, murderer!                                                                             387


Because of the sorrows that God has sent me, who can save me from misery?                                                       

Your body is all torn. I’ll cry out forever

For vengeance for the blood shed here. I’ll cry out “Help,” and “Vengeance.”[49]



Go on, hop it,

Get out of here,

Old hags, right now

Or by God’s dear bones                                                                         395

I’ll make you move fast enough.


They chase the women away.

There, now they’ve fled, you see;

They certainly didn’t hang around for long.



Let’s run hot foot—come on, let’s hurry—

And announce what happened when we did our job.


SOLDIER 3 (it sounds as if he sees himself in charge now)

You know how to do your job, I’ve noticed that.                                                 400

So set off now

And tell Herod our tale.

He'll praise us

For all our hard work

--No doubt about it.


Soldier 1 dislikes Soldier 3's attitude and retaliates


I am the best of us three; and always have been.

If I’m not the first to report to Herod

The devil can have my soul.


I think it’s for me to address my lord.



Why do you have to brawl? Don’t be so bitter

With your anger.

I’ll tell him you were the best—


(to the playgoers)

After me.



Well, that’s fair.



Let’s go. Don’t hang around.                                                                   414


 Back at Herod's. Perhaps the soldiers act out their “heroics” for Herod


Hail Herod, our king.  You can rejoice.

We bring you good tidings.[50]  Hear what I say:

We have ridden throughout Israel,

And one thing you can be sure of, we have killed off

Many thousands.[51]



I made it so hot for them.

Gave them such pain.

I don’t reckon those women

Will want babies again.



You should have seen how I did when I got in amongst them![52]

I didn’t spare a single one, but laid into them and bashed them![53]

I’m worthy of a reward.  When I was in amongst them

I stood and really glared; I showed no pity

When I hanged them.



Now by the powerful Mohammed

Renowned through the world,

As king of all around

I shall present you each with a lady

To lie close with. And you can marry her if you want.


SOLDIER 1 (who does he say this to?)

You’re always saying that; when will you do something about it?[55]


SOLDIER 2 To Herod

And I wasn’t defeated, for any reason whatever.


SOLDIER 3 To Herod

You might think you paid well, allowing us to do what we wanted to.

I think, though,

If you don’t mind,

You should give us a huge supply

Of untold wealth--

Of silver and gold.



(Who is Herod speaking to?)

As sure as I'm king, he's perfectly right.

Nobody anywhere has such a man                                                           442

Working for him.

A hundred thousand pounds is a good wage for a soldier.

To soldiers

Quickly, take a good supply

Of beautiful round pennies.[56]


And you, our knights,

Shall have castles and towers

For yourselves and your relations

For now and evermore.


SOLDIER 1 [He sounds cynical again; not surprising after being offered pennies when he was told pounds would be a good wage. Who is he saying this to?]

No one was ever born anywhere else

Or before our time

Who was rewarded so well.



We'll have castles, and wheat, and a lot of gold in our bags[57].



Truly, it will never be used up.

Hail gracious lord!

Hail lord! Hail, King![58]

We are hastening onwards.

They leave


HEROD (to the soldiers who have just left)

Now may Mohammed take you

To where he is the friendly lord--[59]



I thank thee, oh Mohammed, I now live in peace.

And can give out parcels of the land[60] that I own as king.


(to the playgoers whom he assumes still to be his subjects)

Draw around me, close, wherever you’re from:

I will dole out to each one of you, a thousand marks--

When I am ready.[61]


I shall be very glad 

To do what I’ve promised.

Just watch for me,

When I come back again

And you can ask me for it.[62]


Now that my heart is at ease I don’t worry a bit

That I shed so much blood. Peace, all my kingdoms!

To see this high flood rising up to my nose

Doesn’t faze me at all.  I laugh till I wheeze!

Ah, Mohammed,

My soul is so glad,

That my gall’s

Turned to sugar.                                                                                    475

I can do what I want to

And still wear the crown.


I was deep in despair, full up with fear;

But I need not lose hope for he’s been laid low.

I have defeated the creature I dreaded. 

I’m certain my orders brought about what I wanted.

It would be a marvel --so many dead boys strewn out

In the streets--

That one should be unharmed

And escape, destitute,

Where so many children

Cannot come back to life.


A hundred thousand and forty are slain                                                    486

I know.  Then add another four thousand. [63]

I ought to be glad of it.

Never again

Will there be such murder on a stage.[64]


If only I myself had had a go at that wretch,

That little boy, (mock sympathy)                                                                  490

They’d tell such stories

Of my clever exploits

In the strange languages of the world                                                       495

Long after I was dead and rotten.


And so I teach rascals a lesson          

Who’re mad enough to claim power, like that child.

 (Directly to the playgoers)

So, upstarts, don’t go around boasting![65]

No sovereign will save you. I’ll shake your necks   500

Till your bodies fall off.


Don’t call for help

From any king, except Herod,

Or many a man will

Look at your bodies, amazed[66].


And when I come back, if I hear that you have,                                        505

Consider your brains bashed in.  So do as I say.

If you start to complain, I will think words

Far too trivial.


Everyone, this is  my advice:                                                                    510

Don’t be too cruel.

Adieu![67]  Damn it.

I’m being too civilised.[68]


Perhaps an attempt at an elegant flourish of his arm; then he changes his mind as his arms get mixed up



A very readable edition of this episode with scholarly notes about language is AC Cawley’s The Wakefield Pageants, Manchester University Press.(1958). A less technical version appears in the Cawley’s Everyman and the Medieval Miracle Plays, Dent, Everyman Edition  BJF



















1 The original manuscript has no stage directions other than two Latin notes, one announcing the beginning and one the end of  "Herod the Great."

This is another example of a character who enters specifically to silence the playgoers waiting for the episode to begin.  There would have been no curtains and no lights to go down.

[2] Historical accuracy was not important to playwright or playgoers.  Mohammad was thought of as someone very evil and therefore associated with another evil, anti-Christian character, Herod.






















3] The same phrases used to describe Jesus.





[4] This is deliberate bathos.  The original  “Kemp Towne,” is apparently somewhere local. Try substituting the name of a little village near where you live.

[5] Is he showing his superiority by implying that he knows of two places with the same name?




[6]  This move from “we” to “ye” is in the original. Does he unite himself with the crowd in “we” and then, comically, exclude himself from those in greatest danger?








[7] This is sound stage-management, to get the playgoers worked up in anticipation of the appearance of one of the most popular characters in medieval drama.





[8]  He speaks from the raised level of the locus.



[9] Herod is a bit like Hitler, both dangerous and comical. He is a funny little man and his ranting is comic but he is unpredictable and perpetrates the most dreadful atrocities.  On stage we can imagine relief show on the faces of those whom he has finished ranting at or talking to as he moves on to talk to others who show increasing concern.

[10] The National Enquirer clearly exploits a very ancient human interest.






[11] This is comic here but is vicious too, when he actually does kill the children.












[12] This anachronism unites time present with time past.

[13] All this is ironic.  He hasn’t held his peace at all. For him he’s being peaceful, for the playgoers he’s been very boisterous.

[14] Herod was well-know for acting violently on stage.  Civic records show guild members in England might pay a lot to have Herod’s stage props repaired.

[15] This is a reference to the three wise men who called on Herod trying to find Jesus but who are told not to return to Herod on their way back home.


[16] This sounds a little like Macbeth bargaining with the witches, offering to allow the good in the world to be overthrown.











[17] On the medieval stage these three soldiers would have been understood as representing a group of soldiers.  If this is put in on a modern production a group of soldiers could step forward, only three of whom speak.  They seem not to have heard Herod’s ranting;  they try to speak reasonably to him.

[18] The angry Herod was one of the most popular of the Corpus Christi characters.  Financial records of the time show that he was so violent on stage and in the streets that he often broke the props he was supplied with.  They and the stage had to be repaired.  Some of the props had to be replaced.










[19] Note the comic effect of soldiers with a matter-of-fact attitude talking to an extravagantly excited Herod.









[20] The original has Herod speaking a corruption of a French phrase.  He was trying to impress with his knowledge of French but got it wrong.  His pretensions are shown up here.  This is just a nonsense sounding like French and Latin, meaning nothing.



[21]  Is this a royal “we” or does Herod incorporate the crowd into his actions?

[22] "Devil" is in the original. Since we don’t have the original punctuation, this could be “Fie devil,” to the soldier or  “Fie! Devil! (He’s just cursing aimlessly)

[23] The attitude to his servant, his refusal to flee, and his insistence on being king are all similar to Macbeth’s, as Macduff and Malcolm invade from England.



[24] The soldiers provide different ways of seeing the situation in the best light.


[25]  The soldiers are comic boasters. And obviously fists isn’t what Herod is thinking of.






[26] His sudden extreme change of mind for such shallow reasons is comic.

[27] The angel tells Mary she will be honoured, too.





[28] They could  be standing in the background from the start, remaining on the stage, reading their books, backs to the playgoers throughout the play.


[29] Herod wants light reading, nothing moral. His pompous delight in his knowledge and his references to categories of literature are similar to Polonius’s.




[30] A virgin shall conceive and bear a child.












[31] Taking a drink, and later, pausing to pant, in the middle of his ranting is part of the comic bluster.





























[32] I think he sounds like Nigel Hawthorne  in Yes Minister.  Calm and deliberate with no emotional involvement and totally in charge. 

[33] Another example of the comic blusterer changing moods instantaneously.



[34] Comic rewards












[35] When he speaks French from time to time to add dignity to his statements , it is always comically bad.







[36] Again these soldiers who will do such evil deeds are presented comically.  Although only three speak, a modern production could well have dozens of soldiers.







[37] Macbeth has the same problem, hence tries to kill Banquo and Fleance.

[38] Comic literal-mindedness.















39] The soldiers treat killing as a game, hence the translations of “at the front” as frontsies.  Modern directors may prefer another, similar term.

[40] These are babies he’s talking about fighting.

[41]Well” is in the original

[42] In a modern production the counsellors could have their heads in their books and their backs to the massacre.

[43][43] This is clearly comic understatement.

[44] Again only three women speak.  A modern production would need many more, all suffering as other soldiers kill their children.  An effective representation of the blood is to use red silk scarves which at the end cover the stage.  The soldiers could pick them up and wrap them around them before reporting back to Herod, and Herod could be seen stepping through the red scarves as he receives the soldiers and speaks to the crowd.







[45] The pathetic response of a mother who can't comprehend the thorough villainy of political action.

[46] Did Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays borrow from these successive scenes of murder?



[47] Giving Mother 2 an alliterative false name continues the soldier’s mockery.






[48] These women have no adequate response to the fatal violence of the soldiers.

[49] This scene is similar to the scene in Macbeth where Lady Macduff and her children are murdered.

[50] Sounds to me like a parody of the angel visiting Mary

[51] Notice how he builds up tension and then give the facts.

[52] He describing it as if he's fighting an army rather than individual women.








53] like an excited little boy he’s possibly imitating his actions in nosey exaggerated form.

[54] Herod steps over the stage, though the red silk of the blood while the soldiers (not just the three leaders) are wrapping the scarves around themselves.

[55] The employer who keeps promising but never comes up with the goods is clearly not new.

[56] They would have to take 240 000 pennies to make one thousand pounds.  He’s being tight fisted again.

[57] Pennies were made of silver so I don’t know what he’s referring to, unless it’s irony.

[58] This scene of hailing Herod is a parody of the scene in the shepherds play of this cycle where the shepherds greet the baby Jesus.

[59]  That is, to Hell.  Is this part of the address to the players that the soldiers have been part of? Evidently in a dictatorship no body trusts anybody.

[60] The good king as presented in Macbeth

[61] Again he’s full of promises, this time to all his citizen subjects in the audience--but doesn’t fulfill them.

[62] His promises of gifts are hollow as he reminds them that they have to come to him and only when he is around next.

[63] He might have problems counting.

[64] The original phrase is “on a flat.” This might mean “in a field.” If so Herod is boasting that he’s got the world record for murders, and one that will never be broken. It is possible that “on a flat”  means “on a flat space” and refers to the platea from which he is declaiming. If this is so it’s a bit of self-advertising, reminding people to come next year because the murders do take place again, take place every year, in fact.

[65] His advice to his subjects is, of course, ironic.

[66] A nice use of political euphemism

[67] He's trying to establish that he's cultured.  The original says: “I know no more French.”  The notion of French as the language of a refined court and of diplomacy would be lost on a modern playgoers.  Hence my change.

[68] The original has “I know no more French’ .  I take French to refer to the language of  civilized rulers.  He can’t put on the pose of being civilized any longer.  The strain of appearing civilized for so long has been too much.




For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

9 Herod the Great © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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10 The First of the Shepherds' Episodes from Wakefield


still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

2 The Fall of Man (York) © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

 If you use any of this material, please acknowledge your source.

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11 The Second of the Shepherds' Episodes from the Wakefield Cycle

still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

2 The Fall of Man (York) © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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12 The Shepherds Episode from Chester


still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

2 The Fall of Man (York) © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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13The Woman Taken in Adultery


still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

13 The Woman Taken in Adultery © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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14 Pilot and Procula

still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

14 Pilot and Procula © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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15The Buffeting of Jesus


still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

15 The Buffeting of Jesus © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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16 The Crucifixion

still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

16 The Crucifixion © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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17 The Harrowing of Hell

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17 The Harrowing of Hell © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005  



The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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18 Judgement Day

still being developed -- come back soon


For more information on stages and playgoers, see Janet Hill Stages and Playgoers: From Guild Plays to Shakespeare  McGill Queen’s UP 2002

18 Judgement Day © Barry Fox and Janet Hill 2005


The text, stage directions and notes were prepared by

Dr Barry Fox (Acadia University, Nova Scotia and Dr Janet Hill (Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia)

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