The Towneley 'First Shepherds’ Play': Its ‘Grotesque’ Feast Revisited

  • Ernst Gerhardt Laurentian University


With few exceptions, criticism of the Towneley ‘First Shepherds’ Play’ maintains that the food consumed by the shepherds in their feast-scene must have been imaginary and that performed consumption of this imaginary food must have been mimed. This essay counters this view, arguing that the shepherds’ menu includes food commonly served at English medieval Christmas feasts, and that, given the play’s theme, the play itself was likely performed in conjunction with — or even during — the actual Christmas feast. The play offers evidence of performance practices that integrated audience food consumption with the play itself.

Author Biography

Ernst Gerhardt, Laurentian University

Ernst Gerhardt ( is an associate professor in the department of English at Laurentian University. He has published articles in Renaissance Quarterly and Philosophy Today and is currently working on Persons of Interest: Discourses of Economy in Early Modern English Drama, a monograph examining the staging of early modern economic subjectivities.