The Miracle of St. Nicholas and the Schoolboys
from Representative Medieval and Tudor Plays translated and edited by Henry W. Wells and Roger S. Loomis
Plays telling saints’ legends were among the earliest Medieval mystery plays. Four St. Nicholas miracle plays were in the 12th century Fleury manuscript and it is believed some go back to the late 11th century. The plays, set to music, were sung in Latin and still had connections to liturgy, though it is unknown just where they were performed.
Led by a noble ambition, here we stand;
We’ve come to study in this foreign land.
But while the sinking sun still gives us light,
We’d better find a lodging for the night.
Apollo’s coursers now approach the brink
Of ocean, and beneath it soon will sink.
To us this country is entirely strange,
And so for lodging we had best arrange.
What have we here? Though fast it’s growing dark,
These lights reveal an aged patriarch.
Let’s ask him and perhaps if we’re polite,
He’ll be our host and take us in tonight.
THE SCHOOLBOYS [together say to the OLD MAN]:
Good host, behold three schoolboys far from home,
In eager quest of knowledge thus we roam.
It’s getting late, and would you be so kind,
Sir, as to take us in, if you don’t mind?
God, who created all men, shelter you.
But as for me, I’ve other things to do.
I don’t see where there’s any profit in it.
You’ve come too at a very awkward minute.
SCHOOLBOYS [to OLD WOMAN]:
Dear lady, though it may be as you say,
That you’ll gain nothing, won’t you let us stay?
Perhaps God will observe the kindness done,
And send you as reward a baby son.
OLD WOMAN [to OLD MAN]:
Dear husband, in the name of charity,
Let us take in these boys, who seem to be
Respectable and studious as any.
We won’t get rich, but we won’t lose a penny.
I’ll take them in, my love, just as you say.
[To the boys] just as a favor, boys, come right this way.
OLD MAN [to WIFE, while SCHOOLBOYS are asleep]:
Look at those purses, how they bulge!
I swear There must be quite a pile of treasure there.
Think, all that money could belong to us!
No one would know, no one would make a fuss.
Long as we’ve lived—too long it seems to me!—
We’ve had to bear the load of poverty.
Now here’s a chance, if we are not too queasy,
To take the rest of life a bit more easy.
Where is your sword? Go, kill them where they lie;
And so from this time on shall you and I
Live like old Croesus. Do the job up right,
And God won’t know what’s happened here tonight.
I am a pilgrim, and the road is hard.
I cannot drag my feet another yard.
Therefore, as you do hope your souls’ salvation,
Grant me I pray a night’s accommodation.
OLD MAN [to WOMAN]:
Now what do you advise, beloved spouse?
Shall I admit the old man to the house?
He looks a most respectable old party;
And so look sharp, and give him welcome hearty.
Come in, come in, good pilgrim, come inside.
For men like you we always can provide.
If there is any nice dish you prefer,
I’ll do my best to get it for you, sir.
NICHOLAS [seating himself at table]:
None of these things before me can I eat.
Only one thing I want, and that’s fresh meat.
I’ll cook you up a steak tender and hot;
It isn’t fresh, sir, but it’s all I’ve got.
That is a lie, old man, come straight from hell.
You have here in this house, I know right well,
Meat that has just been slaughtered. Foul the deed,
And foul the vice that led you to it,—Greed!
OLD MAN and OLD WOMAN [falling on their knees]:
Have mercy on us, mercy, we implore you!
O saint of God, see, we fall down before you.
Our sin is black as Satan’s hide, but still
It can be pardoned wholly if God will.
Bring here the bodies in their sad condition,
And let your hearts be smitten with contrition.
By God’s grace shall these boys arise.
Go, mortify yourselves with tears and sighs.
God, to whom sky and air and sea and land
Are only playthings in Thy powerful hand,
Those who now cry to Thee do Thou forgive,
And grant that these young scholars rise and live.
Te deum laudamus.]
From Representative Medieval and Tudor Plays translated and edited by Henry W. Wells and Roger S. Loomis, New York: Sheed & Ward, Inc., copyright © 1942, Copyright administered by the Continuum International Publishing Group. Used by permission.