Noah's Flood

The Chester Play of 'Noah's Flood' was one of the 'Mystery Plays' referring to God's redemption of mankind in the Old Testament. They were probably written earlier than the 15th century but were rewritten conserving much of their medieval feeling, especially regarding what might be considered Chauceresque humour based on human nature.
'Noah's Flood' was produced for the last time (according to the Norton Anthology of English Literature) in 1575. The guild responsible for the production of the play was 'The Waterleaders and Drawers of Dee'. They carted and sold water, which could also be considered appropriate for this particular theme. The text was last revised in 1974, but for the sake of the poem certain words and a fair amount of the spelling haven't been changed.

The parable of Noah might have an increasing ecological significance regarding life survival and man's destiny. For would it not be reasonable to believe that without being fully aware of it, man's ultimate responsibility is to safeguard and perpetuate life elsewhere in the universe?

As the play of 'Noah's Flood' is rather long, I have only cited about half of it. The passages that were probably the least 'modified' refer to the problem that Noah had in persuading his wife to board the ark. (In my brief, 'irreligious, shanty doggerel', the problem was solved by applying the ungodly law of 'natural selection'). The cited verses that might have been 'modified' in the 16th century, refer to the 'clean' and 'unclean' beasts. This seems to suggest an influence of Jewish law.

Now in the name of God I begin
To make the ship that we shall in
That we may be ready for to swim°                       float
At coming of the flood.
These boards I pin here together
To bear us safe from the weather
That we may row both hither and thither
And safe be from this flood.

Of this tree will I make a mast
Tied with cables that will last,
With a sail-yard° for each blast,                                 spar
And each thing in their kind. 
With topcastle° and bowsprit                                 armed crow's nest 
To sail forth at the next wet°                                   rain
This ship is at an end.

Wife, in this vessel we shall be kept;
My children and thou, I would in ye leapt°      I would like you to jump aboard
Noah's wife-                                      
In faith, Noah, I had as lief thou slept
For all thy frankish fare.
I will not do after thy rede.°          In spite of your 'polite' (French) manner I'm not coming
Good wife, do now as I thee bid.                                                  
Noah's wife-
By Christ, not ere I see more need,
Though thou stand all day and stare.

Lord, that° women been crabbed ay°                    how/always
And none are meek, I dare well say.
That is well seen by me today
In witness of you each one.
Good wife, let be all this bear°                                behaviour
That thou makest in this place here,
For all they ween° that thou art master-               think
And so thou art, by Saint John.

Noah, take thou meinie,°                                         household
And in the ship hie° that ye be;                              hasten
For none so righteous man to me
Is now on earth living.
Of clean beasts with thee thou take
Seven and seven ere then thou slake,°                  (Genesis 7. 2-4)
He and she, make to make,°                                  mate to mate
Belive in that thou bring.°                                      See that you do so quickly

Of beasts unclean two and two
Male and female, but mo;°                                     but no more
Of clean fowls seven also
The he and she together;
Of fowls unclean, twain and no more,
As I of beasts said before,
That shall be saved through my lore,°                 teaching
Against° I send this weather.                                 before

Of meats° that may be eaten,                                 foods
Into the ship look they be gotten,
For that may be no way forgotten.
And do this al bedene.°                                             at once
To sustain man and beasts therein.
Ay till the water cease and bin.°                            stop
This world is filled full of sin,
And that is now well seen.

Seven days been yet coming;°                               are yet to come
You shall have space° them in to bring               time
After that it is my liking
Mankind to annoy.°                                                afflict
Forty days and forty nights
Rain shall fall for their unrights,°                         sins
And that I have made through mights°               through my own power
Now think I to destroy.

Lord, at Your bidding I am bain.°                        ready
Sithen° no other grace will gain°                          since/avail
It will I fulfill fain,°                                                 gladly
For gracious I Thee find.
An hundred winters and twenty,
This ship-making tarried° have I,                       delayed
If through amendment Thy mercy
Would fall to mankind.°                                       should mankind deserve Your mercy

Have done, ye men and women all;
Hie you lest this water fall,
That each beast were in his stall
And into the ship brought.
Of clean beastes seven shall be,
Of unclean two; thus God bade me.
The flood is nigh, you may well see;
Therefore tarry you nought.

Sir, here are lions, leopards in;
Horses, mares oxen, and swine,
Goats, calves, sheep, and kine
Here sitten thou may see
Camels, asses, man may find,
Buck and doe, hart and hind.
All beasts of all manner kind
Here been, as thinketh me.

Take here cattes, dogges too,
Otters and foxes, fulmarts° also;                                polecats
Hares hopping gaily can go
Here a cole° for to eat.                                            cabbage
Noah's wife-
And here are bears, wolves set,
Apes, owls, marmoset,
Weasels, squirrels, and ferret;
Here they eat their meat.°                                       food

Shem's wife-
Here are beasts in this house;
Here cats maken it crouse;°                                   merry
Here a raton, here a mouse
That standen near together.
Ham's wife-
And here are fowles less and more-
Herons, cranes, and bittor,°                                   bittern
Swanes, peacocks- and them before,
Meat for this winter.

Japhet's wife-
Here are cockes, kites, crowes,
Rookes, ravens, many rowes,
Duckes, curlews, whoever knowes,
Each one in this kind.
And here are doves, digges,° drakes;                    ducks
Redshanks running through the lakes;
And each fowl that leden° makes                          song
In this ship man may find.

Wife, come in. Why stands thou there?
Thou art ever froward;° that dare I swear.           bold, difficult
Come, in God's name! Time it were,
For fear lest we drown!
Noah's wife-
Yea sir, set up your sail
And row forth with evil hail;°                                      ill luck
For withouten any fail°                                                doubt
I will not out of this town.

But° I have my gossips° every one,                        unless/friends
One foot further I will not gone.°                            go
They shall not drown, by Saint John,
And° I may save their life.                                         if
They love me full well, by Christ
But thou wilt let them into thy chist,°                      ark
Else row forth, Noah, when thee list°                       you please
And get thee a new wife.

Shem, son, lo thy mother is wrow;°                        angry
By God, such another I do not know,
Father, I shall fetch her in, I trow,°                         trust
Withouten any fail.
Mother, my father after thee send
And bids thee into yonder ship wend.°                    go
Look up and see the wind,
For we been ready to sail.

Noah's wife-
Son, go again to him and say
I will not come therein today
Come in, Wife, in twenty devils way,°                       in the name of
Or else stand there without.°                                   outside
Shall we fetch her in?
Yea, son, in Christ's blessing and mine,
 I would ye hied you betime,°                                  hurry before it's too late
For of this flood I stand in doubt.


The Good Gossips-
The flood comes fleeting in full fast,°                     very fast
On every side that spreadeth full far.
For fear of drowning I am aghast;
Good gossip, let us draw near.

And let us drink ere we depart,
For oftentimes we have done so.
For at one draught thou drink a quart,
And so will I do ere I go.

Noah's wife-
Here's a pottle of Malmsey° good and strong;     two quart measure of sweet wine
It will rejoice both heart and tongue.
Though Noah think us never so long,
Yet we will drink atyte.°                                               at once

Mother, we pray you all together-
For we are here, your own childer°-                      children
Come into the ship for fear of the weather,
For his love that you brought!°                                 for the love of God your redeemer
Noah's wife-
That will I not for all your call
But I have my gossips all.°                                      unless I have all my friends
I° faith, mother, yet thou shall,                             In
Whether thou will or nought.                                       (he drags her aboard)

Welcome, wife, into this boat.
Noah's wife-
(slaps him) Have thou that for thy note!°             trouble
Aha, Mary°, this is hot!                                              by Mary- (an oath)
It is good for to be still.
Ah, children, methinks my boat remeves.°          moves off
Our tarrying here me highly grieves.
Over the land the water spreads;
God do as He will.

Then they sing and Noah shall speak again

Ah, great God that art so good,
That° works not thy will is wood.°                     whoever/crazy
Now all this world is on a flood.
As we see well in sight.
The windows I will shut anon,
And into my chamber I will gone.'
Noah's Flood performed at St. Mary's, Gillingham  (Part 1)   (Part 2)
                Noah's Ark found                            Noah's Ark found contested 

Intro text and image © Mirino (PW). 'Part of Noah's Flood' (last revised by R. M. Lumiansky and David Mills) from the Norton Anthology of English Literature (source) with many thanks.  September, 2010

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