The Second Shepherds' Play Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Yorkshire

*Yorkshire. Northern England moors on which shepherds are watching over their flocks by night. In contrast with biblical shepherds, however, these shepherds complain about typical problems of the fifteenth century rural poor. The shepherds are dispossessed tenant farmers who suffer from the bone-chilling Yorkshire winter, from hunger, and from oppressive landowners. They represent the poor, meek, and downtrodden for whom Jesus is a symbol of hope and social justice, even across the centuries.

Mak and Gill’s home

Mak and Gill’s home. Hovel in which Mak and Gill hide the sheep that Mak steals from the shepherds. Gill, pretending she has given birth once again, wraps the sheep in swaddling clothes and lays it in a cradle. The three are a comic if not blasphemous version of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. The setting again connects the contemporary poor to Jesus, the lamb of God, who was born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.

*Bethlehem

*Bethlehem. The play’s final brief scene is set in the stable in Bethlehem in which Jesus was born. Returning to biblical text, this scene shows the shepherds bringing gifts to the Christ Child, thereby merging ancient and contemporary time and clinching the universal relevance of Jesus’ message.

The Second Shepherds' Play Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Carpenter, Nan Cooke. “Music in the Secunda Pastorum.” In Medieval English Drama: Essays Critical and Contextual, edited by Jerome Taylor and Alan H. Nelson. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1972. Asserts that music is an important element in the play’s structure and a means of underscoring thematic statements.

Kinghorn, A. M. Mediaeval Drama. London: Evans Brothers, 1968. Devotes several pages to analysis of the play, noting its humor, freshness, and realism.

Nelson, Alan H. “Some Configurations of Staging in Medieval English Drama.” In Medieval English Drama: Essays Critical and Contextual, edited by Jerome Taylor and Alan H. Nelson. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1972. Examines scholarly understanding of the use of pageant wagons for the staging of mystery plays and discusses the unlikelihood of the plays’ being staged in processions. Includes early illustrations.

Robinson, J. W. Studies in Fifteenth-Century Stagecraft. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1991. One chapter contrasts the work of the Wakefield Master with that of the York realist. Examines The Second Shepherds’ Play in detail, looking at structure, characterization, humor, and number imagery, among other topics.

Ross, Lawrence J. “Symbol and Structure in the Secunda Pastorum.” In Medieval English Drama: Essays Critical and Contextual, edited by Jerome Taylor and Alan H. Nelson. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1972. Argues for a unity that goes beyond the structural parallels of the two parts to examine parallels in their language and the symbolic implications of the shepherds’ gifts.