Wakefield Mystery Plays

mystery play

The Wakefield Mystery Plays, or Towneley Mystery Plays, are a cycle of thirty-two mystery plays which were probably performed in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The cycle originated in the 14th century but reached its final form around the middle of the 15th century.


Translations are taken from Martial Rose (ed.) The Wakefield Mystery Plays (London: Evans Brothers, 1961).

  • Say, felows, how semys now me
    To sit in seyte of trynyte?
    I am so bright of ich a lym
    I trow me seme as well as hym.
    • Say, fellows, how fits it me
      To sit in seat of trinity?
      I am so bright in every limb
      I trust I seem as well as him.
    • Lucifer, in The Creation, line 104.
  • We, that were angels so fare,
    And sat so hie above the ayere,
    Now ar we waxen blak as any coyll,
    And ugly, tatyrd as a foyll.
    What alyd the, lucifer, to fall?
    • We that were angels so fair,
      And sat so high above the air,
      Now we are made as black as coal,
      And ugly, tattered as a foal.
      What ailed thee, Lucifer, to fall?
    • 1st Devil, in The Creation, line 134.
  • Lord, I were at ese and hertely full hoylle,
    Might I onys have a measse of wedows coyll;
    For thi saull, without lese shuld I dele penny doyll,
    So wold mo, no frese that I se on this sole
    Of wifis that ar here,
    For the life that thay leyd,
    Wold thare husbandis were dede,
    For, as ever ete I brede,
    So wold I oure syre were.
    • Lord, I were at ease and heartily hale
      With a pottage of pease and my widow's kale;
      For thy soul it would please me to pay penny bail,
      So would more than these I see in this dale,
      Of the wives that here stir,
      For the dance they are led,
      Wish their husbands were dead,
      For, as ever eat I bread,
      So, would I our sire were.
    • Noah's Wife, in Noah, line 388.
  • He shall out of preson pas,
    For that he begyled was
    Thrugh the edder, and his wyfe;
    Thay gart hym towch the tree of lyfe,
    And ete the frute that I forbed,
    And he was dampned for that dede.
    Ryghtwysnes wyll we make;
    I wyll that my son manhede take,
    For reson wyll that ther be thre,
    A man, a madyn, and a tre:
    Man for man, tre for tre,
    Madyn for madyn; thus shal it be.
    • He shall out of prison pass
      Because that he beguiled was
      Through the serpent and his wife;
      They made him touch the tree of life,
      And eat the fruit that I forbad,
      That doomed him to a life full sad.
      Righteousness will we perform;
      My son shall take on human form,
      And reasons therefor shall be three,
      A man, a maiden, and a tree:
      Man for man, tree for tree,
      Maiden for maiden; thus shall it be.
    • God, in The Annunciation, line 23.
  • Ffyrst must us crepe and sythen go.
    • First we must creep and afterwards go.
    • 2nd Shepherd, in The First Shepherds' Play, line 100.
  • Now god gyf you care foles all sam;
    Sagh I neuer none so fare bot the foles of gotham.
    • Now God give you care, all fools to a man:
      Saw I never none so fare but the fools of Gotham.
    • Jack Garcio, in The First Shepherds' Play, line 186.
  • Bot we sely shepardes that walkys on the moore,
    In fayth we are nere handys outt of the doore;
    No wonder as it standys if we be poore,
    For the tylthe of oure landys lyys falow as the floore.
    • But we simple shepherds that walk on the moor,
      Are soon by richer hands thrust out of door;
      No wonder as it stands, if we be poor,
      For the tilth of our lands lies as fallow as the floor.
    • 1st Shepherd, in The Second Shepherds' Play, line 10.
  • We ar so hamyd,
    For-taxed and ramyd,
    We ar mayde hand tamyd,
    With thyse gentlery men.
    Thus thay refe vs oure rest oure lady theym wary!
    These men that ar lord fest thay cause the ploghe tary.
    • We are so lamed,
      Overtaxed and maimed,
      And cruelly tamed,
      By our gentleman foe.
      Thus they rob us of our rest, may ill-luck them harry!
      These proud men are our pest they make the plough tarry.
    • 1st Shepherd, in The Second Shepherds' Play, line 15.
  • Thus hold, thay us hunder,
    Thus thay bryng us in blonder;
    It were greatte wonder,
    And ever shuld we thryfe.
    For may he gett a paynt slefe or a broche now on dayes,
    Wo is hym that hym grefe or onys agane says!
    • Thus they hold us under,
      Thus bring us into blunder;
      It were great wonder,
      If ever we should thrive.
      If one gets a modish sleeve or a brooch nowadays,
      Take care if you him grieve or once cross his ways!
    • 1st Shepherd, in The Second Shepherds' Play, line 24.
  • He can make purveance,
    With boste and bragance,
    And all is thrugh maintenance
    Of men that are gretter.
    Ther shall com a swane as prowde as a po,
    He must borow my wane my ploghe also,
    Then I am full fane to graunt or he go.
    Thus lyf we in payne anger, and wo,
    By nyght and day;
    He must have if he langyd,
    If I shuld, forgang it,
    I were better be hangyd
    Then oones say hym nay.
    • He grasps for his gain
      In his bragging vein,
      And boasts men maintain
      Him, who are far greater.
      There shall come a swain, a proud peacock you know,
      He must borrow my wain, my plough also,
      This for my gain I must grant ere he go.
      Thus live we in pain, anger and woe;
      By night and day
      He craves what comes to his head,
      And I give in great dread;
      I were better be dead,
      Than once say him nay.
    • 1st Shepherd, in The Second Shepherds' Play, line 33.
  • Whoso couthe take hede and lett the warld pas,
    It is ever in drede and brekyll as glas,
    And slythys.
    This warld, fowre never so,
    With mervels mo and mo,
    Now in weyll, now in wo,
    And all thyng wrythys.
    • Who knows should take heed, and let the world pass;
      It is doomed as decreed and brittle as glass
      And slithers.
      This world fared never so:
      As great marvels grow,
      Move us from weal to woe,
      The whole world withers.
    • 3rd Shepherd, in The Second Shepherds' Play, line 120.
  • Ryse, hyrd men heynd! for now is he borne
    That shall take fro the feynd that adam had lorne:
    That warloo to sheynd this nyght is he borne.
    God is made youre freynd now at this morne.
    He behestys,
    At bedlem go se,
    Ther lygys that fre
    In a cryb full poorely,
    Betwyx two bestys.
    • Rise, shepherds, attend! For now is he born
      Who shall fetch from the fiend what from Adam was torn.
      That warlock to end, this night is he born.
      God is made your friend; now at this morn –
      Leave your flocks:
      To Bethlehem go see
      Where he lies so free,
      A child in crib poorly,
      Between ass and ox.
    • Angel, in The Second Shepherds' Play, line 638.
  • For I am he that may make or mar a man;
    My self if I it say as men of cowrte now can;
    Supporte a man to day to-morn agans hym than,
    On both parties thus I play and fenys me to ordan
    The right.
    • For I am he that may make or mar a man;
      Myself if I it say as men of court now can;
      Support a man today, tomorrow against him plan,
      On both parts thus I play, and, feigning, fight in the van
      Of right.
    • Pilate, in The Conspiracy, line 19.
  • Here is a bag full, lokys,
    Of pride and of lust,
    Of Wraggers and wrears a bag full of brefes,
    Of carpars and cryars of mychers and thefes,
    Of lurdans and lyars that no man lefys,
    Of flytars, of flyars and renderars of reffys;
    This can I.
    • Here is a bag full of looks
      Of pride and of lust,
      Of wranglers and twisters, a bag full of briefs,
      Of carpers and criers, cutpurses and thieves,
      Of lubbers and liars, that no man believes,
      Of a rout of rioters that robbed goods receives;
      These know I.
    • 2nd Demon, in The Judgement, line 141.

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