The choir sings the prologue to the The Play of Daniel (Danielis ludus) which is about to be performed: This play has been invented/created (inventus) by the youth of Beauvais in honor of Christ. A procession of men and boys then leads in King Balthasar while singing the story of Daniel as it will unfold before the audience.
King Balthasar wishes to celebrate a feast, and commands the Satraps to bring his prized vessels. The Satraps carry out their royal errand while praising the power and riches of the Kings of Babylon, Balthasar and his father (Nebuchadnezzar, according to the Old Testament). They remind the court that it was his father who destroyed the Temple of the Jews and brought back the vessels to adorn his own feasts.
As Balthasar imbibes, a mysterious hand appears and inscribes three words on the wall: MANE TEKEL PHARES. Balthasar is seized with fear and commands that his Chaldean astrologers and wise men be brought. These magi arrive and are offered great power if they can interpret the handwriting on the wall, but they cannot solve the mystery. At this moment the Queen appears and advises Balthasar to summon Daniel, one of the Hebrew captives at the court of Babylon. With the words “Vien al Roi!” the Princes summon and bring Daniel to court. Daniel responds, “Poor and exiled, I go to the King with you” [Envois al Roi par vos]. The king promises Daniel immense wealth if he will translate the mysterious words.
Daniel contemplates the message and answers slowly, first saying that he wants no reward for his advice, and then reminding Balthasar that God had caused his father Nebuchadnezzar to eat grass as if he were a beast in the field—a humiliation for originally stealing the vessels from the Temple. Daniel then explains that Balthasar, too, will be punished since he has kept the sacred objects. MANE means his reign will end. TEKEL is the scale upon which Balthasar has been weighed and found wanting. PHARES means his kingdom will be given to another.
Although Balthasar has learned of his doom, he keeps his promise to reward Daniel and cloaks him with royal vestments. He then commands the vessels be removed before harm comes. With cries of “Gaudeamus,” praising Daniel, the Satraps carry off the vessels, and then the Queen leaves. Remaining in court, Balthasar hears the approach of the Persian king Darius with his army. Two soldiers expel Balthasar from his throne and take him off to be killed. Darius is seated on the throne of Babylon.
Daniel in the Lion’s Den
Balthasar’s courtiers pledge fealty to the new king and advise him to summon Daniel. Daniel agrees to give counsel at court. As he is led in, the entire assembly (jumping ahead and out of time in the story) sings a song celebrating the Nativity of Christ and praising Daniel’s wise deeds, including his prophecy of the birth of Christ. (Congaudemus celebremus natalis sollempnia—Let us celebrate the Solemn Feast of the Nativity.)
The Princes become envious and conspire to trick Daniel. They encourage Darius to enact a law whereby any man who worships a god other than Darius himself will be cast into the lion’s den. Hearing this, Daniel returns to his own house, where he worships his own God.
The envious Princes and Satraps remind Darius of his decree, and Darius is forced to send Daniel to the pit. An angel intercedes, causing the ferocious lions not to touch Daniel. Meanwhile, another angel appears to the old prophet, Abacuc, and orders him to provide food for Daniel. Abacuc is reluctant, complaining that he doesn’t know the location of the pit. The angel drags him by the hair. Abacuc then offers a meal to Daniel, who accepts it as a gift from God.
When Darius learns from Daniel that he has been saved by an angel, he orders that Daniel’s enemies be cast into the pit. The envious Princes are stripped of their fine clothing, sing their repentance, and are then devoured.
Darius proclaims that his kingdom shall worship the God of Daniel always. Daniel prophesies the coming of the Holy One. An angel appears announcing the birth of Christ.