In The Second Shepherd's Play, what is the nature of Coll's complaints in his opening monologue?

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Coll, the Primum Pastorum (First Shepherd), begins the play with essentially a poor everyman's litany of complaints about nature and society.

Coll describes himself as "ill happyd" (poorly clothed) and "lappyd in sorror" (wrapped up in sorrow), in part because he's out in the "stormes and tempest" and has no chance of getting warm or rest.  But he saves his harshest complaints for his status in society and his treatment by those in higher classes.

He complains of being nearly homeless because of the poor ground on which he lives, which barely provides a living, and, more important, he is hamstrung by taxes and beaten down by the gentry.  Clearly, we are meant to understand that his situation is not of his own making but is the consequence of his place in this society.

Continuing his catalog of grievances, Coll points out that those in higher positions even oppress his farming to the point at which he has no chance of a good life.  The wealthy, he says, "hold thay us hunder" (hold us under), and they cause us such grief that we have no chance to succeed.

In lines 28 to 35, Coll even comments on those who better themselves and become, in turn, a new source of oppression: if a man obtains some decent position in a rich person's employ ("gett a paint slefe or a broche"), a person in Coll's station can't even take any action against such a person because the rich person will defend the actions of a servant in his employment.

In the end, according to Coll, it does him good "to talk in maner of mone" (to talk about his problems) to his sheep, presumably to get his problems out of his system.

Coll's problems, of course, help to establish the contrast between how life is at the beginning of the play and what Coll's view of life will be at the end of the play after Christ's birth, an ending of which the audience is fully aware.


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