How do Biblical and non-Biblical elements coexist and either support or undermine one another in The Second Shepherds' play?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most highly acclaimed of the medieval mystery plays, The Good Shepherd (Secundum Pastorum) written by the Wakefield Master takes tremendous liberties with the traditional story of Christmas, infusing much of the play with parody and buffoonery. Three shepherds, instead of seeing the star in the sky as they attend their sheep, complain of the weather, their vocations--"We are so lamed, Overtaxed and shamed"--and burdens, such as children. And, so, despite the levity of the setting of Christmas, the drama is more comedic than moral. Indeed, the scene in which Mak has stolen the lamb and his wife Gill tells him to hand it to her and she will swaddle it and hold it as though it were a baby is a comical situation that undermines the Biblical one as they plan to dupe the other shepherds. 

Gill : I accord me there till. I shall swaddle him right in my cradle. Were it a greater trick, yet could I play ill. I will lie down straight. Come cover me.

When the shepherds turn back after first being fooled and reenter Mak's house in order to search it, they pull back the blanket and notice the "baby's" strange nose.

Gill: Ah, my middle! I pray to God so mild,
       If ever I you beguiled
       May I eat the child
       That lies in this cradle  [parody of Holy Communion]

Mak: Any Lord might him have,
        This child, for his son  [the stolen sheep is symbolic of the Christ child]

In the last scene the Nativity is transformed into its solemn, religious conclusion. It is only this last scene which deals directly with the birth of Jesus; the other six involve the antics and intrigues of the shepherds in a rather joyous parody of the birth of Jesus and the giving of gifts that, nevertheless, contain religious symbolism in their comical situations.

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