Clarify the farcical elements of The Second Shepherds' Play and how they relate to the more serious nature of the play.

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kjtracy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Second Shepherds' Play" is known for its slapstick humor and serious depiction of the nativity. One example of the farcical elements in the play is when the shepherds make several unsuccessful attempts to locate the Christ child, only to discover a sheep in his cradle. These humorous elements actually comprise more of the play than its serious nature, but they serve the purpose of providing contrast. With this contrast, "The Second Shepherd's Play" uses the familiar literary technique of getting the reader to let his or her guard down with humor so the play can deliver a brief yet strong message that seems all the more important in comparison.

Alternating moments of brevity and seriousness is a common literary device that is used to great effect in this play. The medieval setting gives this play a naturally somber air that is then undercut by the regular use of slapstick humor. Even the characters continue this theme. The second shepherd's wife is used as a humorous character and a social commentary on the way that marriage changes people. The three shepherds themselves engage in silly behavior, such as singing while they travel. Mak, the sheep thief, is another strong example of farcical humor in the play as he tricks the shepherds into feeling sorry for him only to steal one of their sheep while they are sleeping.

The farcical elements in "The Second Shepherds' Play" serve the purpose of highlighting its serious message, which is the nativity story itself. By using humor to lead up to the central story, the writer increases reader engagement and sets the stage for contrast.