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A Field Guide to The Second Shepherds' Play

Instead of three wise men, the anonymous author of The Second Shepherds' Play gives voice to three humble shepherds in this delightful and often boisterous inversion of the traditional Nativity story.  Set in the English countryside, the play addresses the "real life" gripes of day-to-day medieval existence. Coll, the leader of the group, complains about the inequality between the landowning gentry and the rural workers. Unhappily married Gib groans about his wife, while Daw, the youngest and cleverest of the three, muses on the "wonder" of the coming storm.


As the shepherds settle down for a night on the moors, local thief Mak takes advantage of their exhausted slumber to make off with a prize sheep! With help from his crafty wife Gill, Mak disguises the sheep as their newborn child. When the shepherds wake and find the sheep gone, they immediately pay Mak a visit. The shepherds discover the couple's ruse, and Mak is brought to justice, with a merciful twist. Tired from the dealings with Mak, Coll, Gib, and Daw return to their flock with the recovered sheep. An angel suddenly appears, announcing news of a child born in Bethlehem. The shepherds immediately make their way to the manger, where they joyfully discover Mary and her infant son.  This interweaving of tales does not merely add the secular to the sacred; the story of Mak and Gill and their "lamb" invites comparision with the Nativity story and offers several parallels.




The wonders of this windie winter. London, 1613

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