The Towneley Second Shepherds' Play
(so called because it is the second of two treatments of the Nativity theme in the Towneley manuscript) is one of the most notable plays, but is very coarse.
Suzanne Westfall identifies several characteristics of the 'Second Shepherds' Play' that suggest a Christmas performance by chapel players.
While they note the lack of a stage direction, they refer to one in the 'Second Shepherds' Play' which explicitly directs that this song be sung, reasonably inferring the same for the 'First Shepherds' Play'.
Johnston, 'The Second Shepherds' Play: A Play for the Christmas Season', Medieval English Theatre 37 (2015), 135.
Although there is overwhelming evidence that some parts of the them were performed and were constructed with a rich sense of performance possibilities--as the analysis of the Second Shepherds' Play
here makes clear--performances of these cycles as a whole remain problematic, in spite of the existence of the N-Town banns.
Reminding one of the Wakefield Master's use of Mak and Gill in The Second Shepherds' Play
, this apparently extraneous episode is a mock-Resurrection that leads the audience from the solemnity of Lent to joyous 'Easter laughter'.
In the First Shepherds' Play of the Towneley Cycle, the second Pastor addresses Christ with the words 'Hayll, lytyll tyn mop' (line 673), while in the Second Shepherds' Play the second Pastor virtually echoes these same words: 'Hayll, lytyll tyne mop' (line 1046).
Moreover, several children would have been required for the role in those various mystery plays that were performed as a pageant: for example, in the Towneley cycle, the Infant Christ makes his appearance in the First and Second Shepherds' Plays, the Offering of the Magi, and the Purification of Mary.(2)
(2) Bakhtinian analyses of the parodic carnivalesque in the cycle shepherds plays abound, especially for the Towneley Second Shepherds' Play
. See Rick Bowers, 'Comedy, Carnival and Grace: The Performance of Mak in the Second Shepherds' Play
, English Studies in Canada 28.4 (2002), 583-602; Lee Templeton, 'Cast Them in Canvas: Carnival and the Second Shepherds' Play
', Medieval Perspectives 16 (2001), 151-64; and Warren Edminster, 'Foolish Shepherds and Priestly Folly: Festive Influence in Prima Pastorum', Medieval Perspectives 15 (2000), 57-73.
Here the test case, the Second Shepherds' Play
, is assumed to have been written for an audience of "labourers and shepherds," and is explored, not for the first time, as an example of the "easy mingling of divine and human time" (86-89).
Reading The Second Shepherds' Play as The Second Shepherd's Play shifts the focus of the drama from one of sequence (the second play of the shepherds) to one of possession (belonging to the second shepherd).
In the words of David Lampe, 'The Towneley (Wakefield) The Second Shepherds' Play is clearly the single most popular piece of medieval English drama, appearing in every anthology of English literature that devotes space to the medieval period'.