Oversight as Insight: Reading The Second Shepherd's Play

  • Michelle Ann Abate Hollins University


With its Latin title Secunda Pastorum, this Corpus Christi pageant is correctly translated as The Second Shepherds’ Play. Numerous indexes and critical essays, however, contain a bibliographic disjunction: these listings misplace the apostrophe and record the text as The Second Shepherd’s Play. Rather than politely ignoring this common translation error as previous scholarship has done, this essay takes the somewhat unusual stance of embracing it. A close examination of Secunda Pastorum reveals that the second shepherd announces central events and recurring themes within the play. Foretelling such key elements as the stealing of the sheep, the grotesque nature of Mak’s wife, and the comic blending of the pious and the parodic, Gyb’s remarks constitute an important point of entry for understanding the pageant. As the misplaced apostrophe suggests, this common bibliographic mistake or oversight may actually provide a new critical insight.