Plays and Representations
Lollards often objected to any visual representation of religious subjects, including paintings, illuminations, and sculptures (even crosses) (see “Lollardy Trials,” p. 59, “Censorship,” p. 242, and the “Chaucer portrait: Thomas Hoccleve, Regiment of Princes,” p. 141). Such a rejection of images was part of a more general late medieval desire for unmediated communication with God and a relationship that was also outside established institutional conventions. Criticisms of devotion to images were frequently coupled with anti-pilgrimage discourse because of a common objection to the veneration of saints (see “Pilgrimage,” p. 32). Lollards and orthodox Church authorities began reviving the much older iconoclastic controversies before the 1370s, but debates flourished in the last decades of the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth century. Written some time before 1425, the Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge offers an analysis of plays that is rare for the Lollards, indeed for any medieval English text, and how much it derives its ideas directly from Wycliffite notions has been debated. The Tretise, which falls into two parts (of which the first is included here), appears in an anthology of writings critical of clerical and other religious customs. The first part on the plays is written in a scholastic style, with objections raised and then methodically answered (see also “Enarratio (Analysis and Exposition of Texts),” p. 249). Here beginnis a tretise of miraclis pleyinge. Knowe yee, Cristen men, that as Crist, God and man, is bothe weye, trewth, and lif, as seith the gospel of Jon1 – weye to the erringe, trewthe to the unknowing and douting, lif to the styinge to hevene and weryinge – so Crist dude no thinge to us but efectuely in weye of mercy, in treuthe of ritwesnes, and in lif of yilding everlastinge joye for oure contunuely morning and sorwinge in the valey of teeres. Miraclis, therfore, that Crist dude heere in erthe, outher in himsilf outher in hise seintis, weren so efectuel and in ernest done that to sinful men that erren they broughten forgivenesse of sinne, settinge hem in the weye of right bileve; to doutouse men not stedefast they broughten in kunning to betere plesen God and verry hope in God to been stedefast in him; and to the wery of the weye of God, for the grette penaunce and suffraunce of the tribulacion that men moten have therinne, they broughten in love of brynninge charite to the whiche alle thing is light, yhe to suffere dethe, the whiche men most dreden, for the everlastinge lif and joye that men most loven and disiren of the whiche thing verry hope puttith awey all werinesse heere in the weye of God.
Thanne, sithen miraclis of Crist and of hise seintis weren thus efectuel, as by oure bileve we ben in certein, no man shulde usen in bourde and pleye the miraclis and werkis that Crist so ernystfully wroughte to oure helthe. For whoevere so doth, he errith in the byleve, reversith Crist, and scornyth God. He errith in the bileve, for in that he takith the most precious werkis of God in pley and bourde, and so takith his name in idil and so misusith oure byleve. A, Lord, sithen an erthely servaunt dar not takun in pley and in bourde that that his erthely lord takith in ernest, myche more we shulden not maken oure pleye and bourde of tho miraclis and werkis that God so ernestfully wrought to us. For sothely whan we so doun, drede to sinne is takun awey, as a servaunt, whan he bourdith with his maister, leesith his drede to offendyn him, namely whanne be bourdith with his maister in that that his maister takith in ernest. And right as a nail smiten in holdith two thingis togidere, so drede smiten to Godward holdith and susteineth oure bileve to him. Therfore, right as pleyinge and bourdinge of the most ernestful werkis of God takith aweye the drede of God that men shulden han in the same, so it takith awey oure bileve and so oure most helpe of oure savacion. And sith taking awey of oure bileve is more venjaunce taking than sodeyn taking awey of oure bodily lif, and whanne we takun in bourde and pley the most ernestful werkis of God as ben hise miraclis, God takith awey fro us his grace of mekenesse, drede, reverence, and of oure bileve; thanne, whanne we pleyin his miraclis as men don nowe on dayes, God takith more venjaunce on us than a lord that sodaynly sleeth his servaunt for he pleyide to homely with him. And right as that lord thanne in dede seith to his servaunt, “Pley not with me but pley with thy pere,” so whanne we takun in pley and in bourde the miraclis of God, he, fro us takinge his grace, seith more ernestfully to us than the forseid lord, “Pley not with me but pley with thy pere.” Therfore, siche miraclis pleyinge reversith Crist. Firste in taking to pley that that he toke into most ernest. The secound in taking to miraclis of oure fleyss, of oure lustis, and of oure five wittis that that God tooc to the bringing in of his bitter deth and to teching of penaunse doinge, and to fleyinge of feding of oure wittis and to mortifying of hem.
And therfore it is that seintis myche noten that of Cristis lawghing we reden never in holy writt, but of his myche penaunse, teris, and scheding of blod, doying us to witen therby that alle oure doing heere shulde ben in penaunce, in disciplining of oure fleyssh, and in penaunce of adversite. And therfore alle the werkis that we don that ben out of alle thes thre utturly reversen Cristis werkis. And therfore seith Seint Poul that “Yif yee been out of discipline, of the whiche alle gode men ben maad perceneris,2 thanne avoutreris yee ben and not sones of God.”3 And sith miraclis pleynge reversen penaunce doying as they in greet liking ben don and to grete liking ben cast biforn, there as penaunce is in gret mourning of hert and to greet mourning is ordeinyd biforne. It also reversith dissipline, for in verry discipline the verry vois of oure maister Crist is herd as a scoler herith the vois of his maister, and the yerd4 of God in the hond of Crist is seyn, in the whiche sight alle oure othere thre wittis for drede tremblyn and quaken as a childe tremblith seing the yerde of his maister. And the thridde in verry dissipline is verry turning awey and forgeting of alle tho thingis that Crist hatith and turnyde himsilf awey heere as a childe undir dissipline of his maister turnith him awey fro alle thingis that his maister hath forbedun him and forgetith hem for the greet minde that he hath to doun his maistris wille. And for thes thre writith Seint Petur, seyinge, “Be yee mekid5 undur the mighty hond of God that he henhaunce6 you in the time of visiting, all youre bisinesse throwinge in him.”7 That is, “be yee mekid,” that is, to Crist, heringe his voice by verry obeschaunce to his hestis; and “undur the mighty hond of God,” seeing evere more his yird to chastisen us in his hond yif we waxen wantown or idil, bethenking us, seith Seint Petre, that “hidous and ferful it is to fallen into the hondis of God on live.”8 For right as most joye it is to steyen up into the hond of the mercy of God, so it is most hidous and ferful to fallen into the hondis of the wrathe of God.
Therfore, mekely drede we him heere evere more seing and thenkinge his yerde overe oure hevyd, and thanne he shal enhauncyn us elliswhere in time of his graceous visiting.9 So that alle oure bisinesse we throwyn in him, that is, that alle othere erthely werkis we don not but to don his gostly werkis more frely and spedely and more plesauntly to him tristing, that to him is cure over us, that is, yif we don to him that that is in oure power, he schal mervelousely don to us that that is in his power bothe in dylivering us fro alle perilis and in giving us graciously al that us nedith or willen axen of him. And sithen no man may serven two lordis togydere, as seith Crist in his gospel,10 no man may heren at onys efectuely the voice of oure maister Crist and of his owne lustis. And sithen miraclis pleyinge is of the lustis of the fleyssh and mirthe of the body, no man may efectuely heeren hem and the voice of Crist at onys, as the voice of Crist and the voice of the fleysh ben of two contrarious lordis. And so miraclis pleying reversith discipline, for as seith Seint Poul, “Eche forsothe discipline in the time that is now is not a joye but a mourninge.”11 Also, sithen it makith to se veine sightis of degyse,12 aray of men and wymmen by yvil continaunse, either stiring othere to leccherie and debatis as aftir most bodily mirthe comen moste debatis, as siche mirthe more undisposith a man to paciencie and ablith to glotonye and to othere vicis, wherfore it suffrith not a man to beholden enterly the yerde of God over his heved, but makith to thenken on alle siche thingis that Crist by the dedis of his passion badde us to forgeten. Wherfore, siche miraclis pleyinge, bothe in penaunce doying in verry discipline and in pacience, reversyn Cristis hestis and his dedis. Also, siche miraclis pleying is scorning of God, for right as ernestful leving13 of that that God biddith is dispising of God, as dide Pharao,14 so bourdfully taking Goddis biddingis or wordis or werkis is scorning of him, as diden the Jewis that bobbiden15 Crist, thanne, sithen thes miraclis pleyeris taken in bourde the ernestful werkis of God, no doute that ne they scornen God as diden the Jewis that bobbiden Crist, for they lowen16 at his passioun as these lowyn and japen of the miraclis of God. Therfore, as they scorneden Crist, so theese scorne God. And right as Pharao, wrooth17 to do that that God bad him, dispiside God, so these miraclis pleyeris and maintenours, leevinge plesingly to do that God biddith hem, scornen God. He forsothe had beden us alle to halowyn his name, giving drede and reverence in alle minde of his werkis withoute ony pleying or japinge as al holinesse is in ful ernest. Men, thanne, pleyinge the name of Goddis miraclis as plesingly, they leeve to do that God biddith hem so they scornen his name and so scornyn him. [1.] But here agenus they seyen that they pleyen these miraclis in the worschip of God and so diden not thes Jewis that bobbiden Crist. [2.] Also, ofte sithis by siche miraclis pleyinge ben men commited to gode livinge, as men and wymmen seing in miraclis pleyinge that the devul by ther aray, by the whiche they moven eche on other to leccherie and to pride, makith hem his servauntis to bringen hemsilf and many othere to helle, and to han fer more vilenye herafter by ther proude aray heere than they han worschipe heere, and seeinge ferthermore that al this worldly being heere is but vanite for a while, as is miraclis pleying, wherthoru they leeven ther pride and taken to hem afterward the meke conversacion of Crist and of hise seintis. And so miraclis pleying turneth men to the bileve and not pervertith. [3.]
Also, ofte sithis by siche miraclis pleyinge men and wymmen, seinge the passioun of Crist and of his seintis, ben movyd to compassion and devocion, wepinge bitere teris, thanne they ben not scorninge of God but worschiping. [4.] Also prophitable to men and to the worschipe of God it is to fulfillun and sechen alle the menes by the whiche men mowen leeve sinne and drawen hem to vertues and, sithen as ther ben men that only by ernestful doinge wilen be convertid to God, so ther been othere men that wilen not be convertid to God but by gamen and pley. And now on dayes men ben not convertid by the ernestful doing of God ne of men, thanne now it is time and skilful to assayen to convertyn the puple by pley and gamen as by miraclis pleyinge and other maner mirthes. [5.] Also, summe recreacion men moten han, and bettere it is (or lesse yvele) that they han theire recreacion by pleyinge of miraclis than by pleyinge of other japis. [6.] Also, sithen it is leveful to han the miraclis of God peintid, why is not as wel leveful to han the miraclis of God pleyed, sithen men mowen bettere reden the wille of God and his mervelous werkis in the pleyinge of hem than in the peintinge? And betere they ben holden in mennes minde and oftere rehersid by the pleyinge of hem than by the peintinge, for this is a deed bok, the tother a quick. [1.] To the first reson we answeryn, seying that siche miraclis pleyinge is not to the worschipe of God, for they ben don more to ben seen of the worlde and to plesyn to the world thanne to ben seen of God or to plesyn to him, as Crist never ensaumplide18 hem but onely hethene men that everemore dishonouren God, seyinge that to the worschipe of God, that is to the most veleinye of him. Therfore, as the wickidnesse of the misbileve of hethene men lyith to themsilf whanne they seyn that the worshiping of theire maumetrie is to the worschipe of God, so mennus lecherye now on dayes to han ther owne lustus lieth to hemself whanne they seyn that suche miracles pleying is to the worschip of God.
For Crist seith that folc of avoutrie sechen siche singnys as a lecchour sechith signes of verrey love but no dedis of verrey love. So sithen thise miraclis pleyinge ben onely singnis, love withoute dedis, they ben not onely contrarious to the worschipe of God – that is, bothe in signe and in dede – but also they ben ginnys of the devvel to cacchen men to byleve of Anticrist, as wordis of love withoute verrey dede ben ginnys of the lecchour to cacchen felawchipe to fulfillinge of his leccherie. Bothe for these miraclis pleyinge been verrey leesing as they ben signis withoute dede and for they been verrey idilnesse as they taken the miraclis of God in idil after theire owne lust. And certis idilnesse and leesing been the most ginnys of the dyvul to drawen men to the byleve of Anticrist. And therfore to pristis it is uttirly forbedyn not onely to been miracle pleyere, but also to heren or to seen miraclis pleyinge lest he that shulde been the ginne of God to cacchen men and to holden men in the bileve of Crist, they ben maad agenward by ypocrisie, the gin of the devel to cacchen men to the bileve of Anticrist. Therfore, right as a man sweringe in idil by the names of God and seyinge that in that he worschipith God and dispisith the devil, verrily lyinge doth the reverse; so miraclis pleyers, as they ben doers of idilnesse, seyinge that they don it to the worschip of God, verreyly liyn. For, as seith the gospel, “Not he that seith ‘Lord, Lord’ schal come to blisse of hevene, but he that doth the wille of the fadir of hevene schal come to his kindam.”19 So myche more not he that pleyith the wille of God worschipith him, but onely he that doith his wille in deede worschpith him. Right, therfore, as men by feinyd tokenes bygilen and in dede dispisen ther neighboris, so by siche feinyd miraclis men bygilen hemsilf and dispisen God, as the tormentours that bobbiden Crist. [2.] And, as anentis20 the secound reson, we seyen that right as a vertuous deede is othere while occasioun of yvel, as was the passioun of Crist to the Jewis, but not occasioun given but taken of hem, so yvele dedis ben occasioun of gode dedis othere while, as was the sinne of Adam occasioun of the coming of Crist, but not occasion given of the sinne but occasion takun of the grete mercy of God. The same wise miraclis pleyinge, albeit that it be sinne, is othere while occasion of converting of men, but as it is sinne it is fer more occasion of perverting of men, not onely of oon singuler persone but of al an hool comynte,21 as it makith al a puple to ben ocupied in vein agenus this heeste of the Psauter book that seith to alle men and namely to pristis that eche day reden it in ther servise: “Turne awey min eyen that they se not vanitees,” and efte, “Lord, thou hatidest alle waitinge22 vanitees.”23 How thanne may a prist pleyn in entirlodies or give himsilf to the sight of hem sithen it is forbeden him so expresse by the forseide heste of God, namely sithen he cursith eche day in his service alle tho that bowen awey fro the hestis of God.
But, alas, more harme is, pristis now on dayes most shrewyn hemsilf and al day as a jay that al day crieth, “Watte shrewe!” shrewinge24 himsilf. Therfore, miraclis pleyinge, sithen it is agenus the heest of God that biddith that thou shalt not take Goddis name in idil, it is agenus oure bileve and so it may not given occacioun of turninge men to the bileve but of perverting. And therfore many men wenen that ther is no helle of everelastinge peine, but that God doth but thretith us not to do it in dede as ben pleyinge of miraclis in signe and not in dede. Therfore, siche miraclis pleying not onely pervertith oure bileve but oure verry hope in God, by the whiche seintis hopiden that that the more they absteneden hem fro siche pleyes, the more mede they shulden have of God, and therfore the holy Sara, the doughter of Raguel, hopinge heie mede of God, seith, “Lord, thou woost that nevere I coveytide man, and clene I have kept my soule fro all lustis, nevere with pleyeris I mingid me mysilfe persin,” and by this trwe confessioun to God, as she hopide, so sche hadde hir preyeris herd and grete mede of God.25 And sithen a yonge womman of the Olde Testament, for keping of hir bodily vertue of chastite and for to worthily take the sacrament of matrimonye whanne hir time shulde come, abstenyde hir fro al maner idil pleying and fro al cumpany of idil pleyeris, myche more a prist of the Newe Testament, that is passid the time of childehod and that not onely shulde kepe chastite but alle othere vertues, ne onely ministren the sacrament of matrimonye but alle othere sacramentis and namely sithen him owith to ministre to alle the puple the precious body of Crist, awghte to abstene him fro al idil pleying bothe of miraclis and ellis. For certis, sithen the quen of Saba, as seith Crist in the gospel, schal dampne the Jewis that wolden not reseive the wisdom of Crist,26 myche more this holy womman Sara at the day of dom schal dampnen the pristis of the Newe Testament that givis heem to pleyes, reversen hir holy maners aprovyd by God and al holiy chirche; therfore sore aughten pristis to be aschamyd that reversen this gode holy womman and the precious body of Crist that they treytyn in ther hondis, the whiche body never gaf him to pley but to all siche thing as is most contrarious to pley, as is penaunce and suffring of persecution.
And so thes miraclis pleyinge not onely reversith feith and hope but verry charite by the whiche a man shulde weilen for his owne sinne and for his neieburs, and namely pristis, for it withdrawith not onely oon persone but alle the puple fro dedis of charite and of penaunce into dedis of lustis and likingis, and of feding of houre27 wittis. So thanne thes men that seyen, “Pley we a pley of Anticrist and of the Day of Dome that sum man may be convertid therby,” fallen into the herisie of hem that, reversing the aposteyl, seiden, “Do we yvel thingis, that ther comyn gode thingis,” of whom, as seith the aposteyl, “dampning is rightwise.”28 [3.] By this we answeren to the thridde resoun, seying that siche miraclis pleyinge giveth noo occasioun of werrey wepinge and medeful, but the weping that fallith to men and wymmen by the sighte of siche miraclis pleyinge, as they ben not principaly for theire oune sinnes ne of theire gode feith withinneforthe, but more of theire sight withouteforth, is not alowable byfore God but more reprowable. For sithen Crist himsilf reprovyde the wymmen that wepten upon him in his passioun, myche more they ben reprovable that wepen for the pley of Cristis passioun, leevinge to wepen for the sinnes of hemsilf and of theire children, as Crist bad the wymmen that wepten on him.29 [4.] And by this we answeren to the furthe resoun, seyinge that no man may be convertid to God but onely by the ernestful doyinge of God and by noon vein pleying, for that that the word of God worchith not ne his sacramentis, how shulde pleyinge worchen that is of no vertue but ful of defaute? Therfore, right as the weping that men wepen ofte in siche pley comunely is fals wittnessenge that they lovyn more the liking of theire body and of properite of the world than likinge in God and prosperite of vertu in the soule, and therfore, having more compassion of peine than of sinne, they falsly wepyn for lakkinge of bodily prosperite more than for lakking of gostly, as don dampnyd men in helle. Right so, ofte sithis the convertinge that men semen to ben convertid by siche pleyinge is but feinyd holinesse, worse than is othere sinne biforehande. For yif he were werrily convertid, he shulde haten to seen alle siche vanite, as biddith the hestis of God, albeit that of siche pley he take occasion by the grace of God to fle sinne and to folowe vertu.
And yif men seyn heere that yif this pleyinge of miraclis were sinne, why wile God converten men by the occasion of siche pleyinge, heereto we seyen that God doith so for to comenden his mersy to us that we thenken enterly hou good God is to us, that whil we ben thenkinge agenus him, doinge idilnesse and withseyinge him, he thenkith upon us good, and sendinge us his grace to fleen alle siche vanite. And for ther shulde no thinge be more swete to us than siche maner mercy of God, the Psauter book clepith that mercy “blessinge of swetnesse” where he seith, “Thou cam bifore him in blessinges of swetnesse” – the whiche swetnesse, albeit that it be likinge to the spirit, it is while we ben here ful travelous30 to the body whan it is verry as the flesche and the spirit ben contrarious;31 therfore, this swetnesse in God wil not been verely had while a man is ocuped in seinge of pleyis. Therfore, the pristis that seyn32 hemsilf holy and bysien hem aboute siche pleyis ben verry ypocritis and lieris. [5.] And herby we answeren to the fifte resoun, seyinge that verry recreacion is leeveful, ocupyinge in lasse werkis to more ardently worschen grettere werkis. And therfore siche miraclis pleyinge ne the sighte of hem is no verrey recreasion but fals and worldly, as provyn the dedis of the fautours33 of siche pleyis that yit nevere tastiden verely swetnesse in God, traveilinge so myche therinne that their body wolde not sofisen to beren siche a traveile of the spirite, but as man goith fro vertue into vertue, so they gon fro lust into lust that they more stedefastly dwellen in hem. And therfore as this feinyd recreacioun of pleyinge of miraclis is fals equite, so it is double shrewidnesse, worse than though they pleyiden pure vaniteis. For now the puple giveth credence to many mengid leesingis for othere mengid trewthis and maken wenen to been gode that is ful yvel, and so ofte sithis lasse yvele it were to pleyin rebaudye than to pleyin siche miriclis. And yif men axen what recreacion men shulden have on the haliday after theire holy contemplacion in the chirche, we seyen to hem two thingis – oon, that yif he hadde verily ocupiede him in contemplacion byforn, neither he wolde aske that question ne han wille to se vanite; another we seyn that his recreacioun shulde ben in the werkis of mercy to his neiebore and in diliting him in alle good comunicacion with his neibore, as biforn he dilitid him in God, and in alle othere nedeful werkis that reson and kinde axen. [6.]
And to the laste reson we seyn that peinture, yif it be verry withoute menging of lesingis and not to curious,34 to myche fedinge mennis wittis, and not occasion of maumetrie to the puple, they ben but as nakyd lettris to a clerk to riden35 the treuthe. But so ben not miraclis pleyinge that ben made more to deliten men bodily than to ben bokis to lewid men.36 And therfore, yif they ben quike bookis, they ben quike bookis to shrewidenesse more than to godenesse. Gode men therfore, seinge ther time to schort to ocupien hem in gode ernest werkis and seinge the day of ther rekeninge neighen faste and unknowing whan they schal go hennys, fleen alle siche idilnessis, hyinge37 that they weren with her spouse Crist in the blisse of hevene.