The Second Shepherd’s Play Study Guide from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

The Second Shepherd’s Play

The Second Shepherd’s Play Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Anonymous's The Second Shepherd’s Play. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Anonymous

Known to modern literary scholars as the Wakefield Master, the anonymous author of The Second Shepherd’s Play was likely a cleric who lived in or around Wakefield in York. The Wakefield Master was active during the last quarter of the fifteenth century and likely worked on several other Wakefield plays. He is known for his skillful combination of lighthearted farce with solemn religious content, making his mystery plays entertaining, relatable, and impactful.
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Historical Context of The Second Shepherd’s Play

The Second Shepherd’s Play reveals the tumultuous social, political, and economic climate of late-fifteenth-century England. Deeply impoverished laypeople—just like Coll, Gyb, and Daw in the play—were oppressed by wealthy landowners, being forced to work long hours for very little pay. In addition, the staging of The Second Shepherd’s Play is also an indication of Medieval England’s social and political fabric. Like all mystery plays, The Second Shepherd’s Play was put on by a local guild, a sort of medieval trade union that also had political and religious objectives and was comprised of middle-class skilled workers. Guilds were a product of the increasing power and prosperity of cities.

Other Books Related to The Second Shepherd’s Play

The Second Shepherd’s Play is meant to follow The First Shepherd’s Play in the mystery cycle, a play also attributed to the Wakefield Master. The Second Shepherd’s Play is also similar in tone and content to the morality play, Everyman, which was also composed during the late fifteenth century. Like The Second Shepherd’s Play, Everyman is marked by Christian themes and events, as well as a similar brand of slapstick humor, but Everyman differs in its treatment of characters as allegorical representations of good and evil.
Key Facts about The Second Shepherd’s Play
  • Full Title: The Second Shepherd’s Play
  • When Written: Around 1475 – 1500
  • Where Written: Wakefield
  • When Published: Around 1475 – 1500
  • Literary Period: Medieval
  • Genre: Mystery play
  • Setting: Medieval England and Bethlehem
  • Climax: When the shepherds discover the stolen sheep in the comic plot and see Christ in the religious plot
  • Antagonist: Mak and Gill

Extra Credit for The Second Shepherd’s Play

Famously Funny Many scholars consider Mak to be one of the most humorous character in Medieval literature, second only to Chaucer’s characters.

Where is it Now? The Second Shepherd’s Play exists within the Towneley Manuscript, currently stored at the Huntington Library of California in Pasadena.