The York Cycle. The Crucifixion Play ctd.

Jesus addresses God, saying that he succumbs obediently to the torture and death for the salvation of mankind, after which the soldiers proceed on with the crucifixion. Their discussion of the process is matter-of-fact, which emphasizes its gruesome aspect, but it also reminds me that the actors playing the soldiers were artisans for the remaining 364 days of the year – nailmakers in this case. They worked with their hands and they knew the value of good workmanship and the troubles caused by the shoddy one. The soldiers have to cope with it too – the holes for nails were bored in the cross too far, so they solve the problem by stretching Jesus’ body with cords, making him suffer even more, which is of course their aim too. They are meant to be cruel and evil, which is emphasized by them swearing “for Mahound’s [Muhammad’s] blood”. The rationale behind this went like this: Muhammad was a false prophet – Muhammad was a devil – the soldiers are evil people – the evil people are going to swear on the devil. The writer, however, cannot keep this up, making the soldiers swear at some point “for him thee bought”, i.e. in the name of the Saviour. That is an even better anachronism that the one about Muhammad, taking into account that Jesus is right now in the process of saving, so to speak. For one thing, these oaths were a part of medieval language (I mean the latter one, not the one about Muhammad.) They stick out for us, modern readers, because they fell out of use, but medieval people just didn’t notice them or the absurdity of using them in certain contexts,  Just like non-Christians today when they exclaim “Jesus Christ” when they are upset, people in the Middle Ages used to swear by different parts of Jesus’ body or various saints, without really thinking what it meant. (I think I am having a senior moment, because I can’t recall the title of the text, but I remember reading in the NAEL a few months ago about somebody swearing by various saints that she or he is going to do something evil.) And secondly, the purpose of medieval playwrights was not to recreate with the utmost realism the conditions of life in Palestine circa 30 A.D. – it was to present the audience with the version of the Biblical narrative that would speak to them directly, in the language they themselves used.

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