The Second Shepherd’s Play Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 21-page guide for the short story “The Second Shepherd’s Play” by Wakefield Master includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Charity and Suffering and Salvation.
The Second Shepherd’s Play is a medieval mystery play written by an anonymous author known as the Wakefield Master that centers on a retelling of the Biblical story of the Nativity. The play is written in verse. At the beginning of the play, the 1st shepherd, Col, and the 2nd shepherd, Gib, are guarding their flocks and grumbling about the freezing weather. In his opening speech, Col complains about the fact that as poor shepherds they are forced to work out in the cold for the rich gentry, who overworks them and “rob of their rest” (3). Gib enters without seeing Col and begins to complain about the suffering of married men like himself. He describes “his own better half” as loud, drunk, whale-sized, and “browed like a bristle, with a sour looking cheer” (4).
After overhearing Gib’s rant, Col confronts Gib, and they look around for the 3rd Shepherd, a youth named Dave. Dave enters without seeing the others; he complains about the recent floods and how shepherds are forced to see “fearful sights in the night / while other men sleep” (5). When he sees the other shepherds, he tries to get away without them seeing him. Col, the head shepherd, scolds Dave for his laziness, but Gib tells Col to let the younger shepherd have some food and drink since they have already had their fill. Dave sits down to eat and begins to complain about how their masters overwork and underpay them. Gib tells Dave to stop complaining, and the shepherds decide to start singing to pass the time.
As the shepherds sing, Mak the thief enters. Mak pretends to be a yeoman from a lord carrying an important message and threatens to have the shepherds flogged; the shepherds recognize him, however, and know that he is just trying to trick them, so he can steal from them. Mak appeals to the shepherds to take pity on him and give him some food. When they ask about his wife, he declares that she is a drunkard who eats too much and gives birth to too many children.
The shepherds grow tired and decide to lie down for a nap. They persuade Mak to lie between them. Mak waits until the others are asleep and then steals a sheep from the shepherds’ flock. He goes home and calls out to his wife, Gill. When she sees that he has stolen a sheep, she worries that he “may catch a rope at a hanging” (10). Mak suggests that they slaughter the sheep, so they can eat it right away; however, Gill points out that the shepherds will hear the sheep bleat and realize that it has been stolen if they kill it now. Gill then suggests that they hide the sheep in the baby’s cradle; she will lie in bed moaning and pretend that she has just given birth to another child.
Mak leaves the house to go resume his place between the sleeping shepherds. When the shepherds wake up, they realize Mak is missing. Gib says that he dreamed Mak stole a “fat sheep but made no noise” while they were sleeping (13). They wake up Mak, and he tells them that he has dreamed that his wife has just given birth to a new baby boy. He tells them that he must go home to Gill and shows him his sleeves to prove that he hasn’t stolen anything. The shepherds separate to go check if they are missing any sheep, and Mak leaves to go warn Gill that the shepherds will search their house as soon as they realize a sheep is missing. Gill swaddles the sheep in blankets and places it in the bed beside her.
Back in the fields, Col tells Dave that “a fat wether”…