Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose

By Kenneth Sisam | Go to book overview

XVI
THE YORK PLAY 'HARROWING OF HELL'

British Museum MS. Addit. 35290 (about 1430-40), f. 193 b.

The miracle play Harrowing of Hell is assigned to the craft of Saddlers in the York cycle, edited by Miss L. Toulmin-Smith, Oxford 1885, pp. 372 ff. This is the text reproduced below. It is also found, though in a less perfect form, among the Towneley Plays, ed. England and Pollard, E. E.T.S., 1897, pp. 293 ff.

All the mediaeval stories of Christ's Descent into Hell are based on the gospel of Nicodemus, which seems to date from the fourth century, though the legend is referred to nearly two centuries earlier. This apocryphal narrative was popular throughout the Middle Ages. There is a prose translation in late Anglo-Saxon, and a Middle English verse rendering supplies some of the phrases in the play.

Two points deserve notice for their bearing on the development of miracles. A trace of their origin in the services of the Church is seen in the use made of the Scriptural passage 'Attollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini portae aeternales, et introibit rex gloriae', the dramatic possibilities of which were recognized in ritual from an early date. And the growing taste for comic scenes is met, without prejudice to the serious characters, by the rudimentary buffoonery of the Devil and his companions.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE.
ADAME IOHANNES BAPTISTA BELLIALL
EVA MOYSES MICHILL (Archangel)
ISAIAH BELSABUB PRIMUS DIABOLUS
SYMEON SATTAN SECUNDUS DIABOLUS
IESUS DAVID

(SCENE I, outside the gates ef Hell.]

Iesus. M〉anne on molde, be meke to me,
And haue thy Maker in þi mynde,
And thynke howe I haue tholid for þe
With pereles paynes for to be pyned.

-171-

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