(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On the night of Christ’s birth, a cold and lonely shepherd stands in the countryside near Bethlehem watching his flocks and bemoaning his lot in life. He is joined by another shepherd, who adds his lamentations to those of the first and points out that his lot is worse because he is married. The second shepherd complains that his wife, a fat, shrewish person, was once a sweet and charming girl, but that marriage changed her.

While they grumble, a third shepherd joins them. His chief complaint is the weather, for he thinks that never, since Noah’s flood, was the season so bad. To ease their unhappy lot, the three begin to sing a song. After they sing, Mak comes into the field to join them. Mak is not very welcome, for he has a reputation as a thief, and the shepherds are somewhat fearful that he will steal something from them. Mak begs them to let him stay and tells a sad story of being hungry and unwelcome at home, even though he works hard to give his wife what she wants. The three shepherds give in and bid him lie down and spend the night with them.

After the three shepherds fall asleep, Mak arises and prepares to steal a sheep, first casting a spell over the shepherds to keep them from awakening. He goes to the fold, selects a fat ewe, and makes off with it to his house. Not daring to kill the sheep, lest the noise make the theft known, Mak and his wife Gill decide to hide the sheep in the cradle if anyone comes. In the meantime, Mak goes back to finish out his night’s sleep with the shepherds and cover up his crime.

The next morning, Mak awakens with the shepherds, makes them note that he is taking nothing with him, and starts off toward his home. Not long after he reaches home, the...

(The entire section is 709 words.)