The "Fygure" of the Market: The N-Town Cycle and East Anglian Lay Piety
Fewer, Colin, Philological Quarterly
The biblical narratives in the N-Town plays--as in the mystery cycles generally--refer insistently to contemporary medieval beliefs, practices and institutions both in dialogue and in stage directions. Some of these anachronisms can be attributed to a need on the part of the dramatists to adapt sacred history to a contemporary idiom, as when Joseph fears on the eve of Christ's nativity that he has offended "God in Trinyte" (15.44).(1) Others, however, clearly have a more complex function in the plays, which critics have traditionally analyzed either as reformative satire of civic or ecclesiastical authority,(2) or in purely aesthetic terms, as dramatization of the typology of sacred history.(3) Lynn Squires, for example, argues that the Trial of Mary and Joseph invites the audience to accept "Jesus' two simple laws: to love God above all else and to love thy neighbor as thyself," and in so doing to reform the common law.(4) Alison Hunt's claim that the Trial of Mary and Joseph castigates those heretics who attack the "shared beliefs that also hold communities together" assumes the same positive view of civic community and institutional authority.(5) Martin Stevens has argued that the social function of the Herod plays in N-Town and Wakefield was to "serve the purpose of urban renewal" by holding a "grotesquely exaggerated figurehead of urban political power" up to the mocking disapproval of the people.(6) Similarly, Gail McMurray Gibson sees in the plays a harmonious marriage of orthodox religious authority and civic piety, "that hybrid blend of monastic and lay spirituality that is such a signature of fifteenth-century Suffolk and Norfolk culture."(7) The few critics who have dealt at length with the N-Town plays, then, all acknowledge that anachronism creates a close link between representations of community in the plays and the developing culture of late-medieval East Anglian communities. But this link remains only tentatively explored --Gibson's is the only full-length study--and critics who do address it tend to see in the plays a rather uncomplicated reformist satire that promotes amendment of the mechanisms of institutional authority without examining the constitution of that authority in general. In this view, social protest--generally conceived as being directed at local corruption and heterodox forms of lay piety--is evoked, recognized, and then subsumed in a vision of transcendent wholeness, a sublime social body that the plays (and the Corpus Christi processions originally associated with them) work to produce? The plays, in other words, represent and finally affirm a conservative social vision, leading their audiences toward a fairly non-specific sense of "charity," "wholeness," or "renewal" that does not threaten established institutions.
As a number of recent histories have emphasized, however, English religious culture in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries was a complex and heterogeneous field--one in which the various interests were highly sensitive to traditional networks of power relations (including those in which the church was involved), to their own place in those power relations, and to the radical transformations taking place in social structure. In the wake of the population collapse in the 1350s, laborers, the emergent merchant and artisan classes, women, and towns themselves, all struggled for a measure of autonomy and official recognition, often against the considerable legal, political and economic power of dioceses and monastic boroughs. And as David Aers, Lynn Staley, Sarah Beckwith and others have shown, this struggle was conducted largely at the ideological level, over all the symbols of religious and civic life--which were, as Aers suggests, "enmeshed in the deployment and daily legitimations of power."(9) Beckwith's claim that "Christ's body is less the forum for integration and social cohesion than the forum for social conflict" is symptomatic of the recent focus in historical and cultural criticism on the struggles of marginalized groups against a church that came increasingly to be seen more as a repressive economic institution than as the medium of salvation(10) These struggles are largely responsible for the growth of the non-institutional forms of lay piety that historians have seen as characteristic of fifteenth-century English popular culture: Lollardy, saints' cults, confraternities and beguinages, and the private devotions reflected in popular vernacular manuals. While it could be integrated with church authority, heterodox lay devotion was more a symptom of dissatisfaction with that authority. The conceptual vocabulary of lay devotion, with its non-institutional emphasis on private affect, could thus become an important stage for challenges to the temporal (especially economic) power of the church.
The N-Town cycle is uniquely sensitive to the discourses of popular devotion, and given the turbulent social context in which East Anglian lay piety arose, I would suggest that the plays are far less integrative and generalized in their social vision than has been assumed. Like the other cycle plays, N-Town depicts Old Testament society as contemporary English society: a world structured and sustained by the marketplace, the spectacle of the courts, and the other institutions of the "old law." What is striking about the cycle is that in its staging of the typological fulfillment of the old law--the movement from a community dependent on "mede" to one founded on the plenitude of grace--the new dispensation is expressed not in terms of an ahistorical transcendence but in the quite historically specific language of lay piety. As N-Town represents it, the old law is the marketplace and ecclesiastical court of contemporary East Anglia, where "mede" dissolves traditional social relations and hierarchies (including, most importantly, traditional religious authority).(11) The old law prefigures a new dispensation articulated in terms of contemporary forms of lay devotion that emphasized spiritual life as mystical, non-rational, and private --closed off from the affairs of the social world. Notwithstanding the complexity of the text itself, with its multiple strata of revisions, the plays in all their diversity still reflect the characteristic habits of thought or mental structures of an audience that grew increasingly disenchanted with the institutional church in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, instead turning their attention and patronage to heterodox forms of lay piety: as Ritchie Kendall has observed, "the medieval dramatist and the itinerant Lollard preacher vied for the loyalties of much the same audience."(12) For the playwrights and the audience of N-Town, the necessary answer to the profound disruption of institutional religion is not a reformed version of the institutional church but the mystical body of Christ, identified with the complex of new, non-institutional forms of lay piety that was the particular hallmark of late-medieval East Anglian religious culture.
1. N-TOWN AND EAST ANGLIAN RELIGIOUS CULTURE
Any discussion of the East Anglian audience of the N-Town plays is of course complicated by the relative lack of information on the cycle's origin and production history. Most modern histories of the drama agree that as a rule the cycle plays involved large-scale collaborations between civic authorities, the large and influential lay craft and religious guilds, and (to varying degrees) ecclesiastical or monastic authorities.(13) But while theories abound in the scholarship, almost no hard evidence exists about the production of the N-Town plays specifically.(14) Equally problematic in the study of the plays is the question of audience. Hardin Craig's argument that the plays originated in Lincoln has been displaced in recent years by theories favoring various other centers of learning in East Anglia, including Thetford and Bury St. Edmunds.(15) Moreover, as many critics have noted, the N-Town Proclamation seems to imply that at least an early version of the play was designed for touring; it may therefore have circulated among several different communities in East Anglia.(16)
Wherever the N-Town plays were produced, though, it is clear that--at least around the time of their compilation in the mid-fifteenth century(17)--they were being produced primarily for a wealthy and urbanized lay audience. As John Coldewey suggests, late-medieval East Anglia was a "densely packed network of towns and villages" dominated by a few large urban centers, and the acceleration of the wool and cloth trade in the fifteenth century created what he characterizes as "prosperity at almost every level of the social order."(18) The plays themselves--the central metaphors of which are those of the city and marketplace--speak to an audience thoroughly informed by the structures of commerce central to the developing urban culture of late-medieval East Anglia. As Gibson suggests, the commercial wealth of fifteenth-century East Anglia created a religious climate ideal for some of the dominant (and most controversial) metaphors of the late-medieval church, "a spiritual climate in which the merchandizing metaphors of debt and payment and the materialism of holy images and relics formed the most coherent and consoling means of religious definition."(19) However, as Gibson emphasizes, the new East Anglian wealth also produced significant economic conflicts between church and civic authorities, and a closely related movement in popular religious culture away from the institutional structures of the church.(20) The rise of the Lollards after 1382 was only the most visible manifestation of a popular discontent with ecclesiastical corruption that intensified steadily after the 1350s, in the wake of the economic and social unrest created by the plague and the Hundred Years War.(21)
These tensions worsened in the fifteenth century: the wealth of the cloth trade and the chartering of urban centers throughout the southeast greatly expanded the power and wealth of the merchant class, exacerbating long-standing conflicts between local civic and ecclesiastical authorities over matters of legal jurisdiction and land ownership.(22) In 1404, for example, the city of Norwich was granted a charter giving it legal and economic control of its own land and many of the surrounding boroughs.(23) The charter immediately brought the city into conflict with the Benedictine Cathedral Priory, which at the time dominated the local economy, owning large amounts of land and controlling tithe revenue from a network of parish churches. While it had evidently been the focus of citizens' hostility before the fifteenth century--as evidenced by a violent attack in 1272 in which part of the cathedral was burned and thirteen people were killed--the chartering of the city was the catalyst for a bitter, litigious and sometimes violent struggle for legal and economic control of various tracts of disputed territory. In the 1420s and 30s the priory, under its aggressive prior John Heverlond, apparently organized its own minority faction in the city government. Not unexpectedly, this greatly increased civic hostility toward the priory, and in 1443, in response to an unfavorable judgment in a lawsuit (brought not only by Heverlond but by the abbots of two other Norfolk monasteries), the citizens of the city finally rioted. The civic authorities later claimed that the insurrection had merely been part of the festivities of Shrove Tuesday (though Shrove Tuesday was a full month away), but a jury of townspeople apparently loyal to the priory faction reported at a 1443 inquest that a large group had armed themselves and plotted to burn the cathedral and murder the prior and monks.(24) The city was later forced to pay extensive reparations, and relations between the secular authorities and the priory remained tense.
The history of Bury St. Edmunds, another important center of trade, closely parallels that of Norwich.(25) Throughout the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, as Bury was growing into a major center of regional and overseas commerce,(26) the St. Edmundsbury abbey owned most of the town and the surrounding lands, controlling civic government and local economic activity. But as the increasingly wealthy and powerful local merchants and tradesmen began to shake off monastic regulation of economic activity, town and abbey were drawn into a two-hundred-year conflict which surpassed that of Norwich in acrimony and violence. Disputes over economic control occurred as early as 1264, when a party of wealthy citizens demanded of the abbot that he recognize them as a secular guild and grant them administrative control of the town.(27) The abbot, Simon of Luton, successfully lobbied for royal confirmation of the abbey's rights, but similar conflicts continued over the next few decades. In 1327, a large group of citizens broke into and sacked parts of the abbey, forcing abbot Richard de Draughton to relinquish all control over the town. Over the next few months, as de Draughton appealed for papal and royal assistance, angry townspeople repeatedly attacked the abbey, on occasion provoking violent response from the monks. Again, however, the abbey eventually enlisted the aid of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope John XXII (the political instability caused by the minority of' Edward III served only to intensify the conflict), forcing the town to cede administrative control and agree to pay an incredible 14,000 [pounds sterling] in damages (most of which was forgiven, apparently in exchange for greater cooperation on the part of civic authorities). In the great Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the abbey was again sacked and the prior hunted down and killed, apparently with the tacit approval of Bury's merchant guildsmen. After the eventual suppression of the 1381 uprising, an uneasy truce prevailed between town and abbey. The aldermen of the town, Robert Gottfried suggests, "concentrated on improving their de facto rather than de jure privileges," consolidating and expanding guild organizations and trade networks.(28) In the first decades of the fifteenth century, a generation after the Peasants' Revolt, the town was wealthy enough to buy the administrative privilege it had sought by force.
The cultural history of the region in which the N-Town cycle took shape, then, is dominated by the struggles of the nascent merchant class (organized into guilds) with a monastic and ecclesiastical hierarchy that they experienced as a powerful, politicized and economically repressive corporate entity. In assessing the impact of these conflicts on the spiritual life of late-medieval East Anglia, it is interesting to note that by the late fifteenth century, commentators both within and outside of the church were criticizing it precisely for its character as a political corporation rather than a spiritual institution. Gordon Left has characterized the ideal of the "apostolic church"--the ideal of an institution stripped of its political infrastructure and returned to a simple form based on Christ's life and that of the early disciples--as "the great new ecclesiological fact of the later Middle Ages."(29) From the mid-thirteenth century onward, as Left suggests, heterodox or heretical commentaries like Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis (1324), the teachings of Meister Eckhart (d. 1327), William of Ockham (d. 1349), and (later and closer to East Anglian culture) Wyclif and the Lollards de-emphasized the role of the church as a mediator of the divine, emphasizing the political motives and historical origins of the church as a human institution. And what Left describes in broad terms as an intellectual movement was precisely what the populace of East Anglia experienced as political and economic reality.(30) While it is dangerous to suggest any simple causal relationship between political conflict and the striking changes in the spiritual life of late-medieval England, the church's ongoing and highly visible exercise of power evidently played an important role in the identification of that power--both in heterodox criticism and in popular sentiment--with its institutional form and rituals. And while it is difficult to assess their degree of contact with heretical doctrine, the burgesses of Norwich and Bury clearly found as a practical matter that the spiritual authority of the church was difficult to separate from the very human economic motives it represented.
There is therefore certainly warrant to suggest a relationship between the long history of conflict between secular and spiritual authority, popular dissatisfaction with church hierarchy, and the growth of the nonconformist spirituality that characterizes late-medieval religious culture. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries particularly in East Anglia were marked not only by overt conflict with church authority but by what Norman Tanner has called a general "movement away from the established structures of the Church."(31) Trade with the continent led to an influx of various models of lay piety inspired by the traditions of continental mysticism--models that were quickly adopted among the members of the disaffected Christian polity. Norwich, as Tanner and Gibson stress, was the only city in which appeared beguinages (communities of pious lay women) similar to those on the continent. Hermits and religious recluses, individuals bent on pursuing mystical contact with the divine outside the structures of both church and state, flourished in East Anglia and attracted considerable interest and patronage from citizens and civic authorities.(32)
Increasingly, East Anglians sought to experience the divine in ways other than the traditional liturgy.(33) And this sentiment manifested itself not only in the marginalized voices of women or of Lollards but in the energetic patronage of a newly self-conscious guild culture, a culture that actively promoted and appropriated the language of lay piety to stage its own ideological claims. The Alderman's guild of Bury, for example, may have sponsored mystery plays, and was a major patron of a community of Franciscans living outside the town (to the consternation of the abbey, which was energetically trying to remove the friars). The St. Nicholas guild was responsible for the care and lodging of foreign traders, but it also sponsored a school independent of abbey control.(34) As patrons and consumers, the guilds also played an important role in the dissemination of the literature associated with the lay piety movement. As Hilary Carey observes, much of this literature was copied and distributed by the nine charterhouses of the Carthusian order.(35) More reclusive and less involved in local and regional politics and commerce, the Carthusian houses did not attract the resentment of their monastic and ecclesiastical counterparts in East Anglia; indeed, Carey calls them "the last flowering of the medieval confidence in the capacity of institutions to accumulate delegated merit in the eyes of God."(36) Stimulated by lay patronage, the Carthusians made a generation of English mystics and devotional writers--Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, Nicholas Love, the anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, and others--available to a broad spectrum of lay society, from landed gentry to the increasingly literate merchant classes. Jeremy Catto suggests that devotional manuals of the English nobility in the fourteenth century demonstrate a shift in focus from "the liturgical chanting of the psalter" to a "more individual, humanized, and intimate expression of religious sentiment."(37) Noble wills and library catalogues indicate a strong interest in mystical and devotional writers, and many of the nobility--including Edward III and Richard II --generously patronized the Carthusian houses.(38) The merchant classes were no different in their interest in and patronage of devotional literature. Gibson notes that vernacular bibles were apparently circulating among East Anglian merchants in the first years of the sixteenth century and, quite probably, earlier.(39) And even the moderately well-off tradesmen of London and East Anglia acquired texts of Rolle, Hilton and others in significant numbers.(40)
The common element in the diverse and eclectic writers who addressed the lay pious is (as in their continental counterparts) a more individualistic model of the pious life, a model based not on official church ritual but on private experience.(41) The venerable Augustinian distinction between active and contemplative life was, in these works, appropriated and adapted for the late fourteenth-century English faithful, an audience in whose eyes the politicized ritual of social life was often in radical conflict with what they saw as the true apostolic ideals of Holy Church.(42) Originally intended as a description of the highest aim of the pastoral life, the contemplative ideal became a central metaphor for the inner life of the individual, protected from and defined against the marketplace of the social world. Love in his Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, a central text in late-medieval lay devotion and an important influence on many of the N-Town plays,(43) complains that church ritual itself has been reduced to empty social performance by "many men & women beringe bedes with trillyng on the fingeres, & waggyng the lippes; hot the siht cast to vanytees & the herte ... sette more vpon worldly thinges" (86).(44) Love does not, of course, deny the reality of the sacraments, but the paradigm of sacred experience for Love is not communal ritual as in the liturgy. The "actif" life, he asserts, is good--that is, it is possible to live a pious life in the social world--but "contemplatif [is] bettur" (123). And the defining experience of the contemplative life is a private mystical contact that can only be described in sensual terms, as when he describes an anonymous friend's experience of the transubstantiated body of Christ:
... in what delectable paradise is he for that tyme that thus feleth that blessede bodily presence of [Christ], in that preciouse sacrament, thorh the which he feleth him sensibly with vnspekable joy as he were joynede body to body? (154).
Though he is of course describing a sacrament, Love's representation of Christ as a bodily presence is notably free of the institutional presence of church ritual, locating sacred power not in performance but in the pure affective power of the moment.(45) The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing (c. 1380) makes the same distinction between active and contemplative lives, and he clarifies in his prologue that the contemplative ideal is to be identified with the private world of the individual Christian--man or woman, religious or secular, "I oute-take none" (18; 27.7)--and not necessarily with physical withdrawal from social life.(46) It is possible, then, for good Christians who "stonde in actyuete bi outward forme of levyng" in the social world of "Fleschely ianglers, opyn preisers & blamers ... tithing tellers, rouners & tutilers of tales, & alle maner of pinchers" to feel the "inward stering" that leads them to the sublime experience of the contemplative act (Prol.; 2.1-9). Similarly, Walter Hilton's Mixed Life offers the possibility of mediating between the radically separate spheres of "wordeli bisynesse" and the inner spiritual life of the individual, in which mystical contact with God "bi goostli occupacioun" (7) is possible: "take thise two lyues, actif and contemplatif, sithen God hath sent the bothe, and vse hem bothe, that toon with that tothir" (32).(47) The Abbey of the Holy Ghost, a devotional text at least indirectly associated with N-Town,(48) addresses itself to "all tho that ne may noghte be bodyly in religyone, that thay may be gostely," instructing its readers in what the author calls the "religeon of the herte."(49) The abbey (of course) is not a physical space but a spiritual one, founded in "mannes saule that es goddes cete" (1.323). Active and contemplative lives, then, are identified in these works with the public and private spheres as understood and experienced by the lay faithful of late-medieval England. As the Cloud-author neatly puts it, "In the lower partye of actiue liif a man is withouten himself & bineeth himself. In the higher party of actyue liif & the lower party of contemplatiue liif, a man is withinne himself & even with himself. Bot in the higher partie of contemplatiue liif, a man is aboven himself & under his God" (8; 17.34-38). In this formulation, active and contemplative are not different kinds of religious lifestyles but modes of experience defined by the subject's relationship with the public sphere ("withouten himself") and with him or herself and with God ("withinne" and "aboven himself") as experienced in a privileged inner space. And the remarkable privileging of the contemplative private sphere, the representation of sacred experience as private and immediate rather than social and mediated by ritual, occurs repeatedly throughout the corpus of lay devotional literature.(50)
Given the social and economic context in which they were written, there is plainly an important ideological dimension to the claims of lay devotional literature for the privilege of private devotion. In all these works, devout lay people--who, as I have suggested, lived in the political and economic shadow of the church--found a model of piety within which the highest form of devotion was a contemplative life based on this sort of essentially private experience and not dependent upon the institutional authority of that church. It is important, of course, not to understate the diverse contexts in which various devotional works arose. Rolle, Hilton, the Cloud-author, Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich all followed private and in various ways heterodox visions, and all differ significantly on important issues like the role of the intellect and of clerical authority in distinguishing true affective experience from false. Love's Mirror, on the other hand, was approved by Arundel himself as an attack on Lollardy. But these works became significant to the developing civic culture of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries precisely because of what is common in them: the emphasis on piety as private, affective, and (particularly in the Cloud-author and Hilton) defined in opposition to the social performance of the marketplace and other forms of "wordeli bisynesse." In the vision of devotional writers, the lay pious, particularly the wealthy merchants and tradesman who comprised the guild communities, saw a displacement of the sacred from the ritual of the institutional church to the sublime experience of private devotion. And the cycle plays, as critics like Rubin and Beckwith have shown, offered a stage that could become an important vehicle for exploring--even exploiting--the political and ideological dimensions of this displacement.
2. N-TOWN, CIVIC CULTURE AND "RELIGEON OF THE HERTE"
As it is preserved in Cotton Vespasian D.8, the N-Town cycle is comprised of 41 plays and the Proclamation. Spector suggests that the manuscript was first compiled in the mid to late fifteenth century and continued to be revised, possibly into the sixteenth century.(51) The play, as Spector observes, incorporates a smaller cycle play, a Marian sequence, two Passion sequences, and several individual plays.(52) Not all of these discrete play sequences draw upon the same devotional literature: the Marian sequence and some revisions of other plays clearly draw on Love's Mirror and (in the Parliament of Heaven) the Charter of the Abbey of the Holy Ghost, sources not identifiable in the original cycle or the Passion sequences.(53)
As various scholars have suggested, though, the plays demonstrate a remarkable degree of aesthetic coherence.(54) This is true for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that the N-Town cycle, patchwork though it is, draws its narrative shape from the same interpretive logic as its cousins in York, Wakefield, and Chester: by contextualizing the life of Christ in the broad sweep of sacred history from the Creation and the Fall to Judgement Day, all the cycle plays in one form or another stage the typology of human history, the relation of adumbration and fulfillment between the old law and the law of charity. While Kolve's attempt to define an originary "protocycle" might be questionable, he is certainly right to say that the metaphysics of history implicit in the logic of typological interpretation underwrites all the cycle plays: "Figures and their fulfillment, the mimesis of total human time ... are the core of the Corpus Christi cycle and the source of its formal shape."(55) In a well-known study, Erich Auerbach concisely summarizes the model of sacred history bequeathed to the middle ages by St. Paul and early commentators like Tertullian: "figural prophecy implies the interpretation of one worldly event through another: the first signifies the second, the second fulfills the first. Both remain historical events; yet both, looked at in this way, have something provisional and incomplete about them; they point to one another and both point to something in the future, something still to come, which will be the actual, real and definitive event."(56) Typological interpretation presents history as an intelligible form, an architecture manifesting (albeit imperfectly) the eternal present of the divine intellect. Figures, events, and institutions of the Old Testament, while historically real, are nonetheless imperfect versions of the redeemed moral world of the new dispensation, brought about by the death and resurrection of Christ.
The N-Town plays, as various scholars have noted, place special emphasis on this intelligible pattern in sacred history. One of the plays of the Proclamation cycle, for example, is the Jesse Root (7)--unique among the surviving cycle plays--in which a personification of radix Jesse introduces the succession of kings and prophets that culminates in Christ, the "flowre" that blooms "out of that braunch in Nazareth" (7.21-22). The image of the great tree extending through time is, of course, traditional, and its staged version expresses powerfully and precisely the idea of form in human history: Solomon reminds the audience that his temple is "fygure of that mayde yynge / That xal be modyr of grett Messy" (7.43-44); Daniel likewise provides an interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the tree (from Dan. 4:10-28) as "fygure" of Christ, the "maydenys frute" who will terrify Hell (7.62-64).(57) Moreover, as Stevens points out, the play sets the stage for the ensuing pagaents--including those of the interpolated Marian and Passion sequences--which develop a pattern of images of ripeness, flowering, and fruitfulness around the figure of Mary.(58) While we cannot know if this is the work of a single author or reviser, it is at least evident that the conceptual vocabulary with which the various playwrights were working remains remarkably consistent throughout the cycle, largely because of the consistency and coherence with which the language of typological interpretation was handed down to the later Middle Ages.
Stevens analyzes the typological patterning in N-Town primarily as an example of the aesthetic coherence of the cycle as a whole. But the metaphysics of history implicit in typology are precisely what define the ideological claims of the N-Town cycle: the limitations of Old Testament civic society, sustained by the mediation of the old law, are also (by way of anachronism) the limitations of the institutional church in East Anglia. Old Testament civic society in the N-Town plays is a community dependent upon systems of exchange for the integrity of its relationship with God and of the relationships between its members. The "hoold lawe" in its various manifestations--and in its contemporary extensions, medieval civil and ecclesiastical law--codifies and institutionalizes these forms of exchange, making civic society and "civic" spirituality possible. Thus in Cain and Abel, Abel conceives of piety as a form of payment for services rendered: "For godys that fallyth bothe hym [Cain] and me; / I wolde fayn wete trewly" (3.30-31). Adam responds by laying out the law of sacrifice that defines the relationship between God and man under the old law:
And suche good as God hath yow sent, The fyrst frute offyr to hym in sacryfice brent, Hym ever besechyng with meke entent In all youre werkys to save and spede. (3.41-44)
Devotion is expressed in terms of this system of exchange, a system that is persistently referred to in Cain and Abel as "tythyng": to know God is to "wete" God, and to "wete" God is to tithe. (59) The pattern is the same in Moses, in which--as God himself says--piety is service to the law: "Hooso wyll haue frenshipp of me, / To my lawys loke thei lowte, / That thei be kept in all degre" (6.42-44). Besides preserving the relationship between God and fallen man, the old law preserves the integrity of the community: it is a form of commerce, and as such it is an essentially communal ritual. As Ysakar says in Joachim and Anna (from the Marian sequence),
Now all the kynredys to Jerusalem must cum Into the temple of God, here to do sacryfyse. Tho that be cursyd my dygnyte is to dysspyse, And tho that be blyssyd here holy sacrefyse to take. (8.37-40)
Membership in the community is defined as mutual adherence to the law of sacrifice administered by the priesthood; to be blessed is to be included in the ritual and to be cursed is to be excluded from it. The temple into which "all this countre of Galyle must come (8.42) also reflects the essentially social nature of the law of which it is an enactment: it is represented as the focal point around which the community gathers and realizes itself as a community, united in service to the "hoold lawe."
This social function of the old law is most explicit--and most explicitly identified with contemporary ecclesiastical institutions--in the Trial of Mary and Joseph. The play opens with a communal gathering similar to that in Joachim and Anna, as Den the summoner calls "all the rowte" (14.6) together to witness the "buschop come / And syt in the courte, the lawes for to doo" (14.1-2). Den's inventory of the members of the "rowte," Sawdyr Sadelere, Thom Tynkere, Perys Pottere, and so on, is of course an allegorization of the network of occupations that constitutes the East Anglian civic polity. As in Joachim and Anna, the gathering of this community suggests its integrity, but also that this integrity depends on spectacle, on the physical convocation that the law brings about. As in the Old Testament plays generally, piety in the form of service to the law is an essentially communal act, and is therefore dependent on the laws and systems of exchange which give the community structure.
The systematic use of anachronism in these plays associates the old law and its paradigm of exchange and sacrifice with medieval ecclesiastical institutions. Kolve points out that Abel in Cain and Abel recalls the consecration prayer of the liturgy in performing the sacrifice prescribed by the old law.(60) Service to this law, according to Moses, includes service to "thi gostly modyr," "Holy Cherch" (6.128). The pattern continues in the Marian sequence, where the temple, the court, and the priests and bishops who administer the