Second Shepherds’ Play

Second Shepherds’ Play
(Towneley Secunda pastorum)
(ca. 1475)
   The Second Shepherds’ Play is the best known and most highly regarded of the popular MYSTERY PLAYS of medieval England. The play is one of several in the TOWNELEY CYCLE (associated with the town of Wakefield in Yorkshire) written by an anonymous artist known as the “Wakefield Master,” whose plays are identifiable by their use of a 13-line stanza rhyming ababababcdddc. The Second Shepherds’ Play, so named because it is the second play in the Towneley Cycle concerning the Nativity, is unusual among mystery plays in the complexity of its comic subplot and its development of character. Particularly notable is the character of the sheepstealing Mak, one of the great comic characters of medieval theater.
   The play opens on the night of Christ’s birth. A shepherd enters and complains about the weather, sounding remarkably like an English shepherd from the Yorkshire moors. He continues to complain about injustices in the social order. He is joined by a second shepherd who also grumbles about the weather and then moans about his relationship with his wife. A third shepherd, an employee of the others, continues the grousing about the weather, but goes on to complain about his relationship with his employers. Ultimately the three shepherds assuage their sorrows by singing a song in three-part harmony—a musical resolution of the earlier discord. Thus the reconciliation of the shepherds to their human relationships at the beginning of the play prefigures the reconciliation of the world to God through the birth of his Son.
   At the close of the song, Mak enters. His reputation as a thief makes the shepherds disinclined to trust him, but when he tells them he is hungry and not welcome at home, the shepherds relent and allow Mak to spend the night with them. Mak waits until the shepherds fall asleep, then rises, steals one of their ewes, and takes it home to his wife, Gill. He returns to the shepherds’ camp before they awake to avoid suspicion.
   In the morning Mak awakes with the shepherds and takes his leave. At that point they notice the missing sheep, and visit Mak’s house to look for the sheep. Gill pretends that she has delivered a child that night, so that she and Mak can disguise the ewe as a child and hide it in a cradle. Having found no sign of their ewe, the shepherds apologize and leave, but they remember the new baby, and decide they should present the child with gifts. When they return and discover the sheep hidden in the cradle, Mak and Gill try to brazen it out, swearing that some elf must have altered the child’s appearance. The shepherds, forgoing any more severe punishment, decide to let Mak off with a simple blanket-tossing, and they leave with their sheep.
   It is doubtless that the shepherd’s acts of basic human charity—their allowing Mak to spend the night with them, their desire to present the baby with gifts, and their forgiveness of Mak for his theft—are what make them worthy recipients of the angelic message. And that message comes immediately after the shepherds finish with Mak. An angel directs them to the Christ child, and when they arrive in Bethlehem, they find the child with Mary in the stable. The first shepherd gives the baby a bob of cherries; the second gives him a small bird to play with; the third offers a ball, saying he hopes the baby will grow up to play tennis. The play ends as the shepherds sing another song. At first glance it seems that the actual story of Christ’s nativity is merely an afterthought appended to the comic “subplot” of Mak and the sheep, which is four times as long. But it is not difficult to see the parallel between the stolen sheep in Mak’s cradle and the Lamb of God in Mary’s manger. Aside from inviting us to compare the fallen world of the first part of the play (a world whose anachronistic shepherds make it very much like the contemporary world of the audience) with the restored world of Christ’s nativity, the shepherds’ charity demonstrates the appropriate frame of mind necessary for human beings to accept God’s grace.
   ■ Gardner, John. The Construction of the Wakefield Cycle. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.
   ■ Meredith, Peter. “The Towneley Cycle,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre, edited by Richard Beadle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, 134–162.
   ■ Stevens, Martin. “Language as Theme in the Wakefield Plays,” Speculum 52 (1977): 100–117.
   ■ Stevens,Martin, and A. C. Cawley, eds. The Towneley Plays. 2 vols. Oxford: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1994.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Игры ⚽ Поможем сделать НИР

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Second Shepherds' Play — Infobox Play name = The Second Shepherds Play (The Wakefield Cycle) writer = The Wakefield Master characters = 3 shepherds Mak Mak s wife Angel Mary Christ child setting = Bethlehem, 1st c. AD date of premiere = Unknown (possibly c. 1500) country …   Wikipedia

  • Morality play — For the book by Barry Unsworth, see Morality Play (novel). A cover of a sixteenth century doodle Plays, Mundas et Infans The morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment. In their own time, these plays were known… …   Wikipedia

  • Mystery play — Mystery plays and miracle plays (which are two different things) are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying… …   Wikipedia

  • Midas (play) — Title page of Midas. Midas is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy written by John Lyly. It is arguably the most overtly and extensively allegorical of Lyly s allegorical plays. Contents …   Wikipedia

  • Wakefield Mystery Plays — The Wakefield or Towneley Mystery Plays are a series of thirty two mystery plays based on the Bible most likely performed around Corpus Christi day in (again, most likely) the town of Wakefield, England during the late Middle Ages until 1576. It… …   Wikipedia

  • English literature — Introduction       the body of written works produced in the English language by inhabitants of the British Isles (including Ireland) from the 7th century to the present day. The major literatures written in English outside the British Isles are… …   Universalium

  • Towneley Cycle — (Wakefield Cycle)    One of four surviving manuscripts containing collections of MYSTERY PLAYS short plays or “pageants” relating the salvation history of humankind from the Creation of the world through Doomsday is the late 15th century… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • Poculi Ludique Societas — PLS, or Poculi Ludique Societas, the Medieval Renaissance Players of Toronto, sponsors productions of early plays, from the beginnings of medieval drama (see mystery plays) to as late as the middle of the seventeenth century. The group had its… …   Wikipedia

  • mystery plays —    The most widespread and popular form of drama in medieval Europe was the mystery play, which retold a story from the biblical narrative.While extremely popular in France and in Germany, these plays were most widespread in England, where they… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • History of theatre — Performer playing Sugriva in the Koodiyattam form o …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”