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Voicing Identity, Community, and Diversity in The Second Shepherds' Play: Polyphony as Dramatic Experience in the Medieval World and Our Own.

The Middle English text known as The Second Shepherds' Play has become famous for its interweaving of biblical narrative with a comic plot and commentary on social conditions in late-medieval England. (1) Often described as a gem of medieval theater, The Second Shepherds' Play has become one of the most studied of surviving medieval dramatic texts, and it has drawn the attention of translators, adaptors, and even a few professional theater companies. (2) Many scholars have noted the importance of song in the play: as Richard Rastall shows, The Second Shepherds' Play includes more calls for song performance than any of the other medieval English plays depicting the "Annunciation to the Shepherds." (3) Yet this aspect poses a significant challenge for both scholars and productions of the play in that the songs themselves do not appear in the only surviving copy of the text, found in the Towneley Manuscript (San Marino, Huntington Library MS HM 1, fols. 38r-46v)--a midsixteenth-century copy of plays that probably date from a century earlier. (4) Very few scholars have discussed which songs the play's medieval performers might have sung or how the specific song performances in this play might reflect its themes, while productions have addressed the play's calls for song in different ways. (5) In my view, there is more work to be done, bringing together the contributions of musicologists, literary scholars, and performers alike, to enhance our understanding of the role of song in The Second Shepherds ' Play. In this essay, I seek to explore both what the polyphonic song in the opening section of the play suggests about the role of vocal performance in the play as a whole and what surviving medieval English songs can help us learn about experience of the play in the Middle Ages--and potentially in our own time as well. The songs called for by this play offer an important opportunity to examine the different kinds of performance enacted within the play, which together suggest a thematic inquiry into the cultural functions of performance in relationship to marginalized voices. Focusing on the ways in which characters perform and discuss songs in this play helps us understand the play as both social and aesthetic performance, for medieval as well as modern audiences, for the play presents negotiations of identity, diversity, and community in song, as well as in spoken words and even in the bleats of a sheep.

While it might seem possible to forget the importance of singing by characters while we are reading The Second Shepherds' Play, the dramatic text does not become fully significant until experienced as a visual and audible performance, so understanding the play's use of song is an essential step in this process. The prominence of song in the play has several dimensions. The play calls explicitly for five performances of songs:

1. The three shepherds sing together to cheer themselves up (lines 265-73)

2. Mak sings a lullaby to hide the bleats of the stolen sheep (lines 637-44 and 686-87)

3. The angel sings before telling the shepherds about the birth of Christ (before line 920)

4. The shepherds repeat the angel's song (lines 952-58)

5. The shepherds sing a song to proclaim the news about the birth of Christ (lines 1087-88)

An additional song performance may occur right after Mak's first speech: when Shepherd 1 (Coll) first hears Mak, the shepherd asks, "Who is that pypys so poore?" ("Who is it who pipes so poorly?") (line 283), which could refer to playing a pipe, singing, or speaking. (6) Scholars remain divided over how to interpret this line: for example, Nan Cooke Carpenter argues that Mak sings off-key at this point, and Martin Stevens reads the line as part of the play's association of Mak with poor singing, while Garrett Epp reads the line as a reference to speaking with a shrill or weak voice. (7) Since the play text does not contain a stage direction or a more explicit reference to Mak singing or playing a pipe here, the play leaves the issue open; yet the appearance of a potential reference to singing so soon after the shepherds have sung their first song suggests that the play continues to highlight the sound of the characters' voices and to link voice to song, at least metaphorically if not literally.

The angel's Latin song is central to the play, as it is based on part of the account of Christ's birth in the Vulgate Bible. In the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14, an angel appears to shepherds who are guarding their flock that night and tells them how to find the savior born in Bethlehem, and then more angels also appear, offering words of praise to God and words of peace to human beings:
(8) Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes et custodientes
vigilias noctis supra gregem suum. (9) Et ecce: angelus Domini stetit
iuxta illos, et claritas Dei circumfulsit illos, et timuerunt timore

(10) Et dixit illis angelus, "Nolite timere, ecce enim: evangelizo
vobis gaudium magnum quod erit omni populo, " quia natus est vobis
hodie salvator, qui est Christus Dominus, in civitate David. (12) Et
hoc vobis signum: invenietis infantem pannis involutum et positum in
praesepio." (13) Et subito facta est cum angelo multitudo militiae
caelestis, laudantium Deum et dicentium, (14) "Gloria in altissimis
Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis."

(8) And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping
the night watches over their flock. (9) And behold: an angel of the
Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them,
and they feared with a great fear.

(10) And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold: I bring you
good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people, (11) for
this day is born to you a saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city
of David. (12) And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the
infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger." (13) And
suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army,
praising God and saying, (14) "Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth peace to men of good will." (8)

Although the Vulgate Bible does not specify that the angels sing, the words of the angelic army became the basis for sung expressions of praise in Christian worship at Christmas, most often in the form "Gloria in excelsis," rather than "Gloria in altissimis." (9) The liturgical wording is what The Second Shepherds' Play uses to describe the song the angel sings upon entering the action: a Latin stage direction in the manuscript states, "Angelus cantat 'gloria in excelsis,' postea dicat" ("The angel sings 'Gloria in excelsis,' then says") (before line 920). The rest of the angels' words in the Vulgate and the liturgy ("et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis") do not appear in the play manuscript, however, and no musical notation appears, yet the liturgical link gives an important clue about the type of performance this song involves, as we will see.

When characters in the play refer to the other songs, no verbal text or musical notation for the songs appears in the manuscript, which is similar to the treatment of songs called for in the other plays in the Towneley Manuscript. (10) This may be because the Towneley Manuscript was not meant to be a performance script. As Peter Happe has argued, the elaborately decorated initials and rubrication in this manuscript suggest that it may be a formal collection made for reading, and Theresa Coletti and Gail McMurray Gibson have proposed that it may have been made as a gift to celebrate a marriage in the Roman Catholic Towneley family in 1556. (11) Richard Rastall argues that songs that were known to actors were not likely to be included in manuscript copies of plays. (12) Nevertheless, for reasons I will outline, I would like to suggest that the author of The Second Shepherds' Play left the choice of the other song texts up to the people involved in productions. Different productions may have used different songs, depending on the skills of the actors or the preferences of the person overseeing the production; but it may be that choosing the songs is linked to the themes of the play. Though only part of one song text and none of the notation appear in the surviving manuscript copy of the play, I hope to show that the songs are so integral to this play's characterization and themes that we should consider both what songs medieval actors might have used and how songs are an important component of the play's performance for our own time as well. The characters' descriptions of the songs in the play give us important clues about the types of songs to be performed, and surviving medieval English manuscripts give us more examples of the kinds of songs medieval performers might have used than modern readers might realize. Expressing one's voice within a community--whether small or large--and listening to the voices of others may be part of the performative function of the play in the medieval world, as well as in our own, and this gives new productions of the play the potential for significance that goes beyond the kind of "academic" or "festive" stagings of medieval plays that Claire Sponsler has described as "nostalgic recuperation kept separate from contamination of modern life." (13)

The references to technical aspects of singing and musical form made by the characters suggest that the poet who composed The Second Shepherds' Play--often called the "Wakefield Master," though association of the Towneley Manuscript plays with the town of Wakefield has now been challenged--had training in late medieval music theory and practice: as Regula Evitt explains, "The Wakefield Master's use of musical terminology in both of his shepherds' plays implies his familiarity not only with the new sense of rhythm of the ars nova but with the treatises on musica speculativa and musica practica as well." (14) Advanced training in vocal performance became part of the practical needs for clergy and choir boys in English churches in the later medieval period, from parish churches to cathedrals, as liturgical music became more complex; but study of musical rhythm and forms of polyphony, as well as theory, also became part of higher education in England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with treatises circulating in Latin and in English. (15) The ability to perform polyphonic music seems to have become a mark of education and skill desirable for clerical appointments, civic administration, and membership in gentry and noble households during this period: in the mid-fifteenth century, the legal scholar John Fortescue describes students at the Inns of Court learning how to sing different kinds of "harmonics" as part of their education in English law. (16) As a result, although many scholars conclude that the author of The Second Shepherds' Play--and perhaps the actors who performed the play--had professional training in music, we should not assume that this indicates membership in the clergy. (17)

As a literature scholar, I believe that these technical discussions are important both for what they tell us about the songs to be performed and for the pattern of self-consciousness about performance (musical and otherwise) that the play constructs. When the three shepherds agree to sing a song to cheer themselves up after they have met up for the night watch over their sheep, they do not discuss the name or content of the song they will sing, but they do discuss how they will sing it. The First Shepherd (Coll) says he wants to sing the "tenory" or tenor voice, the Second Shepherd (Gib) chooses to sing the "tryble" or treble voice, and the Third Shepherd (Daw) agrees to sing the "meyne" or middle voice:
Shepherd 1:  Thyse nyghtys ar long,
             Yit I wold or we yode
             Oone gaf us a song.
Shepherd 2:  So I thoght, as I stode,
             To myrth us emong.
Shepherd 3:  I grauntt.
Shepherd 1:  Lett me syng the tenory.
Shepherd 2:  And I the tryble so hye.
Shepherd 3:  Then the meyne fallys to me.
             Lett se how ye chauntt.

                           (Lines 264-73)

(Shepherd 1:  These nights are long,
             Yet I would like, before we go,
             If someone gave us a song.
Shepherd 2:  That's what I thought, as I stood,
             To cheer us up.
Shepherd 3:  I agree.
Shepherd 1:  Let me sing the tenor part.
Shepherd 2:  And I the treble part so high.
Shepherd 3:  Then the mean falls to me.
             Let's see how you sing!)

The play therefore clearly indicates that the shepherds choose to sing in three-voice polyphony. This is an important detail in several respects. Though shepherds in other medieval English Nativity plays also sing and may use polyphony, The Second Shepherds' Play is the only text to present their singing as explicitly polyphonic, weaving the shepherds' discussion of each role in their performance of the song into the poetry of the play.

Some musicologists have found suggestions of polyphony in the Towneley First Shepherds' Play, by the same poet who authored The Second Shepherds' Play. Nan Cooke Carpenter has proposed that the First Shepherd's line "Syng we in syght" (line 724) at the end of that play indicates that the shepherds in that play sing a polyphonic song there, as well as earlier in the play when the Third Shepherd comments that he cannot sing like the angel "Bot I have help" (line 611), and Ross Duffin argues that the shepherds in The First Shepherds' Play therefore also likely sing a polyphonic song as part of their drinking game in the opening section; but Richard Rastall argues against any clear evidence for polyphonic songs in this play. (18) The now-lost manuscript of the Coventry Shearmen and Taylors' Pageant had a section at the end of the play with a three-part setting to the song that a stage direction names as the one the shepherds sing on their way to see the Christ child in Bethlehem; but the play text itself offers neither verbal text nor notation for this song, only a reference by one shepherd at line 262 to singing in Christ's presence. (19) Rastall notes that there is some inconsistency between the content of the song and the lines the shepherds speak: since the song attributed to the shepherds presents the voice of a single person describing the actions and words of a scene involving the angel's announcement of the birth of Christ to three shepherds, this polyphonic song may be a later addition to the play. (20) Rastall also finds no clear evidence of polyphonic singing originally in the York, N-Town, or Chester shepherds' plays. (21)

The explicit depiction of the shepherds' polyphonic singing in The Second Shepherds' Play seems to go beyond a general association of "good" characters with "good" singing that several scholars have proposed. (22) The words the shepherds use to describe their voices in performing the song are the correct technical terms for this period, and we will see that the shepherds show knowledge of even more technical terms about music later in the play. (23) Having shepherds use technical terms for musical performance might be a humorous touch; but medieval audiences might have seen and heard these shepherds in contexts not obvious to modern audiences. Shepherds were very often associated with performing music in the medieval visual arts, not just in illustrations in Psalters and Books of Hours, but also in stained glass windows, wood carvings, wall paintings, and sculptures visible to a wider audience: most often, the shepherds play different kinds of pipes, including bagpipes, though sometimes the shepherds play harps and sing. (24) In addition, the Bible depicts King David as a shepherd who played the harp and composed songs of sorrow as well as praise of God, so depicting shepherds as able musicians who expressed themselves in song had a strong tradition in medieval England. The Macclesfield Psalter, a fourteenth-century English manuscript, makes the connection between the shepherds who receive the angel's announcement of Christ's birth and King David's composition of songs by using an illustration of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (with a shepherd playing the bagpipes) in the historiated initial that opens Psalm 97, which begins "Cantate Domino canticum novum" ("Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle"). (25) Characterizing the shepherds in this play as singers capable of performing a polyphonic song well may also not have seemed unusual or unexpected to a medieval audience, because polyphonic singing seems to have been a popular tradition in northern England, the area reflected in the dialect of the Towneley plays, in the medieval period: the twelfth-century scholar Gerald of Wales wrote in a Latin treatise that singing in parts was a popular custom in northern England and Wales, so polyphonic singing was probably still a popular custom at the time when The Second Shepherds' Play was first composed and performed. (26)

Based on the terms the shepherds use to describe their roles in this first song, most musicologists have suggested that the shepherds' first song uses "English discant" style, a type of polyphony that had a long-standing popular tradition, as well as use in Latin liturgical lyric. Nan Cooke Carpenter argues that
the rustic singers are more accustomed to hearing and performing music
in the discant style (chiefly syllabic, chordal, nota contra notam), a
style for which the British, with their strong penchant for sonority,
had a particular fondness from early times. Originally related to usus
rather than to ars, to folk-practices rather than to more complex
artistic practices, English discant was a type of improvisation at
sight in parallel sixth chords upon a given tenor [melody].... It is
this type of three-part music, with its given tenor and parallel
counter-melodies (improvised at sight) in the treble and mean, which
the shepherds sing just before the entrance of Mak.... (27)

While "at sight" refers to singing from a written text of the tenor melody, the popular version of this polyphony would be less likely to include written texts. Jo Anna Dutka agrees that the shepherds here sing "improvised, probably syllabic discant." (28) For her part, Regula Evitt argues that the shepherds most likely refer to a version of English discant called "faburden," in which the primary melody would be in the mean voice, with the tenor and treble voices improvising below and above the mean. (29) Nevertheless, Richard Rastall considers the faburden form of improvised polyphony more likely for "trained singers" and argues that "a technique using strictly parallel intervals is more likely" for the shepherds' songs. (30) Clearly, the relationship between folk traditions and written records of music in medieval England continues to be explored; but the investigations of musicologists have made significant contributions to our understanding of what types of songs medieval plays might have used and the importance of music as an integral element of medieval dramatic texts: as JoAnna Dutka argues, the songs "are relevant to the themes, actions and characters presented." (31)

Many medieval English songs survive in manuscripts from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, some with monophonic notation and some with polyphonic notation, and a few of them might be considered appropriate for the song that the shepherds sing at this point. Martial Rose's suggestion that the shepherds could sing "As I rode out," the three-voice song that appears in the manuscript of the Coventry shepherds' play, seems not to fit the context here, since that song describes the angel's appearance to the shepherds, which occurs much later in The Second Shepherds' Play. (32) Since the shepherds in this play later seem to be able to repeat at least parts of the angel's Latin song (lines 952-54), it might be possible for their song to include both Latin and English. In Staging Salvation, for example, Vincent Corrigan suggests using an adaptation of "The Agincourt Carol," a song in Latin and English that celebrates the victory of the English forces over the French at Agincourt in 1415. (33) This song survives in two manuscripts, probably from the first half and middle of the fifteenth century: the manuscripts show the song to have a refrain in Latin, notated first in two voices and later in three voices, and English verses notated for two voices. (34) The song's polyphony therefore differs somewhat from the description the three shepherds give of each singing a different voice; but the song's focus on celebrating the achievements of the king and other members of the knightly class seems a significant shift away from the shepherds' earlier expressions of their concerns, especially the negative depiction of the "gentlery men" ("men of the gentry") (line 26) by the First Shepherd, Coll. Other songs might therefore be more appropriate to the play's context. Recently, Ross Duffin has suggested that the shepherds might here sing "something like the drinking song Tappster Drynker" a song in three voices that appears in the later of the fifteenth-century manuscripts containing "The Agincourt Carol." (35) The subject of this song better fits the conversation of the shepherds in the Towneley First Shepherds' Play than the topics discussed by the shepherds in The Second Shepherds' Play; but the content of the piece could represent a distraction from the laments of the shepherds in this play. Nevertheless, the relationship of the three voices in this song is considerably more complex than the parallel syllabic style suggested for the shepherds by earlier scholars. Given the scholarship that suggests a strong tradition of improvised part-singing for northern England, we can look at medieval English songs for which only monophonic notation survives, but whose form and content fit the play context well. "Mirie it is" ["Merry it is"] offers an example of a Middle English lyric that I believe could serve very well as the shepherds' first song.
[M]irie it is while sumer ilast
pi[??] fugheles song.
Oc nu neche[??] pindes blast
and p[e][??]er strong.
Ei, ei, pat psis nicht [is] long,
and ich pi[??] pel michel wrong
soregh and murne and [fast].

(Merry it is while summer lasts
with birds' song.
But now draws near winter's blast
and weather strong.
Alas, alas, how this night is long,
And I, with very great wrong,
Sorrow and mourn and fast.) (36)

This song's words and musical notation appear on a leaf bound into a Latin psalter made in England around 1200, and scholars have dated the song to the first half of the thirteenth century. (37) "Mirie it is" laments the approach of winter's harsh weather and deprivations in terms that parallel the opening speeches of the shepherds. For example, the first shepherd, Coll, opens the play with these words:
Lord, what these weders ar cold,
And I am yll happyd.

My fyngers ar chappyd.
It is not as I wold,
For I am al lappyd
In sorow.
In stormes and tempest,
Now in the eest now in the west,
Wo is hym has never rest
Mydday nor morow.

                    (Lines 1-13)

(Lord, how cold this weather is,
And I am badly protected by my clothes.

My fingers are chapped.
It is not as I would have it,
For I am all wrapped
In sorrow.
In storms and tempest,
Now in the east, now in the west,
Sorrowful is the one who never has rest
Midday nor morning.)

Though some scholars read the song's imagery as allegorical and penitential, others find the song a poignant representation of winter hardships, especially for those who worked outdoors in medieval England, and an example of the medieval lyric tradition of comparing human inner states with natural conditions, but with a suggestion of suffering because of external injustice in the concluding lines that could serve as social commentary. (38)

Though "Mirie it is" offers parallels with the laments of the shepherds, if we focus on the song's verbal text alone, it might seem unlikely to offer the cheer that Shepherd 2 (Gib) indicates is the reason for singing: "To myrth us emong" ["To cheer us up"] (line 268). It is the singing of the song, the performing of the music, that brings the shepherds the amusement or consolation that they seek. (39) In "Mirie it is," singing the song becomes a way of aligning the human voice with a mirth associated with summer (the "fugheles song" of line 2), despite the sorrows of winter. Nevertheless, the play shows the shepherds moving directly from agreeing to sing a song to deciding to sing the song in three voice parts, so the play suggests that the pleasure or consolation that the shepherds seek from their song is bound up in performing polyphonically. In this regard, "Mirie it is" can also work well: though the musical notation for "Mirie it is" in the manuscript gives the melody for one voice, the song could be given polyphonic form by adding voices through the kinds of discant found as both folk and learned traditions in medieval England and echoed by the polyphony used for the song by performers today. (40)

The significance of the play's use of three-voiced polyphony at this point has received some critical comment. Regula Meyer Evitt, who argues that the play as a whole reflects several kinds of polyphonic form, sees the shepherds moving from a spoken form of repetition with variation in their three opening speeches that is similar to medieval canonic composition to an explicit form of polyphony in their three-voiced song, all of which she interprets as having Trinitarian symbolism and contributing to the play's use of a Christian tripartite reading of history. (41) In his discussion of The Second Shepherds' Play, Peter Meredith argues that the three-part song the shepherds sing shows that they are able to resolve their differences with each other and with those by whom they feel wronged by singing together:
As the complaint [of each shepherd] is enacted, so is the resolution,
in the singing of the three-part song. The naming of the
 parts--"tenory," "tryble" and "meyne"--is not mere verbal gusto on the
 part of the Wakefield Master, but a deliberate indication that the
 song is in three parts and that they harmonise. The less obvious
 similarity in the Shepherds' opening, then, is one of movement in the
 case of each shepherd from discontent with one's state and with one's
 fellow human beings to content and harmony. (42)

Such a focus on the song's creation of contentment and harmony seems to downplay the continued disagreements and laments among the three shepherds, as well as the conflicts with other characters, after this song. Even more importantly, this discussion seems to understate the role of diversity--of difference among voices--that is essential to the concept of polyphony and, I believe, to the play as a whole.

A song like "Mirie it is" at this point in the play helps the audience understand how the shepherds' polyphonic performance could present what they share in common, while still highlighting their individual voices. When Coll first speaks, he complains of the cold and the lack of clothing to protect his body, as we saw; but he goes on to blame his harsh life on the wealthy landowners and their representatives, who have forced farmers to let their fields lie fallow and tend the landowners' sheep instead. The ambiguous identity of the farmers-turned-shepherds is witnessed by the Towneley Manuscript's use of "shephardes" at the beginning of this passage, where editors have decided that the rhyme scheme suggests the author of the play used "husbandys":
Bot we sely husbandys
That walkys on the moore,
In fayth we ar nerehandys
Outt of the doore.
No wonder as it standys
If we be poore,
For the tylthe of oure landys
Lyys falow as the floore
As ye ken.
We ar so hamyd,
Fortaxed and ramyd,
We ar mayde hand-tamyd
With thyse gentlery men.
Thus thay refe us oure rest,
Oure lady theym wary.
These men that ar lord-fest
Thay cause the ploghe tary,
That men say is for the best;
We fynde it contrary.
Thus ar husbandys opprest
In ponte to myscary
On lyfe.
Thus hold thay us hunder;
Thus thay bryng us in blonder.
It were greatte wonder
And ever shuld we thryfe.

                 (lines 14-39)

(But we simple farmers
Who walk on the moor,
In faith, we are almost
Pushed out the door [of our homes].
No wonder, as things stand,
If we are poor!
For the tilling of our lands
Lies fallow as the floor,
As you know!
We are so hemmed-in,
Over-taxed and beaten down,
We are made hand-tamed
By these men of the gentry.
Thus they deprive us of our rest.
Our Lady curse them!
These men who are bound to lords
They cause the plow to wait.
That men say is for the best;
We And it the contrary!
Thus are farmers oppressed
To the point of failure
In life.
Thus they hold us under;
Thus they bring us into blunder.
It would be a great wonder
If we were to thrive!)

In Coil's view, the land-owning lords and their liegemen treat farmers as if they were domesticated animals. As Andrew Galloway and other scholars explain, Coil's speech introduces the play's concerns about the role of land owners in transforming both the economy and forms of community in rural parts of England during the fifteenth century: increasingly, land owners could generate more profit through raising sheep for wool than raising crops and so appropriated arable land from tenant farmers to be used for pasture, putting some farmers to work as shepherds at low wages and putting others out of work entirely. (43)

In the first speech by the second shepherd, Gib, he also complains about how difficult it is to work outside in the cold weather, when the strong winds make his eyes water and the snow and sleet make his shoes freeze to his feet (lines 83-91). Nevertheless, Gib argues that married men suffer more than others:
We sely wedmen
Dre mekyll wo.
We have sorow then and then;
It fallys oft so.
Sely Copyle oure hen
Both to and fro
She kakyls,
Bot begyn she to crok,
To groyne or to clok,
Wo is hym is oure cok,
For he is in the shakyls.
These men that ar wed
Have not all thare wyll;
When they ar full hard sted
Thay sygh full styll.
God wayte thay ar led
Full hard and full yll;
In bower nor in bed
Thay say noght thertyll
This tyde.
My parte have I fun;
I know my lesson.
Wo is hym that is bun
For he must abyde.
             (lines 94-117)

(We simple married men
Suffer much woe.
We have sorrow then and then again;
It often happens so.
Silly Copple, our hen,
Both to and fro
She cackles.
But if she begins to croak,
To groan or to cluck,
Woe it is for our cock,
For he is in shackles!
These men who are married
Do not have their own free will.
When they are assailed very hard
They sigh quietly.
God knows, they are led
Very hard and very badly;
In cottage nor in bed
They say nothing in response
At the time.
My part have I found;
I know my lesson.
Woe to the one who is bound
For he must remain.)

Gib sees women as oppressing men, and he wishes he had been warned as a young man about the "evils" of marriage, so that he could have retained his freedom.

When the play presents the first words of the third shepherd, Daw, he also complains about the stormy weather getting worse; but he goes on to argue that men who work for other shepherds, as he does, suffer more than the other shepherds do.
Sich servandys as I
That swettys and swynkys
Etys oure brede full dry,
And that me forthynkys.
We ar oft weytt and wery
When master men wynkys,
Yit commys full lately
Both dyners and drynkys;
Bot nately
Both oure dame and oure syre,
When we have ryn in the myre,
Thay can nyp at oure hyre
And pay us full lately.
              (lines 222-234)

(Such servants as I
Who sweat and labor
Eat our bread completely dry,
And that displeases me.
We are often wet and weary
When masters sleep,
Yet both dinners and drinks
Come very slowly;
But quickly
Both our mistress and our master,
When we have run [the sheep] into the mire,
They can deduct from our pay
And pay us very tardily.)

He then threatens to work only as well as he is fed (lines 235-47). Daw's comments offer yet another perspective on forms of suffering in this community, not just in the face of the harshness of nature, but under power relationships that do not fall neatly into categories of class or gender.

Despite the differences in their views, the shepherds find a way to work together, and the men express this in the song they sing at this point. When Coll says he would like to hear "oone" ("someone") sing a song (line 266), Gib agrees that this would cheer them up, and Daw concurs; but they choose to sing a song in three-voice polyphony, rather than have only one of them sing or sing together in unison. If the play's focus were on unity that ends individual differences, having the shepherds sing in unison would make for clear symbolism; but the play instead calls for three-voice polyphony. Polyphony requires diversity, as well as community. Performing polyphony requires that performers listen to each other, as well as playing or singing their own parts. As Evitt has indicated, the musical knowledge that the author of The Second Shepherds' Play demonstrates suggests he understood many different genres of song and different ways in which polyphony could be created. This could be by several voices singing the same melody and words in a canon, by building parallel melodies out of different notes sung with the same words, or by constructing motets, which could involve different notes and different words for each voice, oftentimes in different languages or discordant combinations of sound that encourage the audience to contemplate each voice in relationship to the others. Modern considerations of this play will therefore benefit from thinking more deeply about the different uses of song and voice in this play and listening more carefully to their performance. Surviving songs from medieval England offer us evidence for what performances of the remaining songs in this play might have sounded like. In addition, the later discussions of singing in this play suggest that medieval audiences may have heard kinds of polyphony in the play that might not be obvious to modern audiences.

The second song called for explicitly in the play is the lullaby that Mak sings when he and his wife Gill try to hide the sheep Mak has stolen from the shepherds. After Gill has swaddled the sheep and lain it in her cradle, she tells Mak to sing a lullaby as soon as he hears the shepherds approach their cottage, and she will lie in bed and groan and cry out as if she were in pain after a difficult birth.
Harken ay when thay call;
Thay will com onone.
Com and make redy all
And syng by thyn oone;
Syng "lullay" thou shall
For I must grone
And cry outt by the wall
On Mary and John
For sore.
Syng "lullay" on fast
When thou heris at the last....
                 (lines 634-44)

(Listen carefully for when they call;
They will come soon!
Come and get everything ready,
And sing by yourself:
You shall sing "lullaby,"
For I must groan
And cry out by the wall
To Mary and John
Because of pain.
Sing "lullaby" then fast
When at last you hear them....)

Mak and Gill will apparently both need to use their voices in order to conceal the bleats of the sheep when the shepherds come to the cottage, though they will not sing the lullaby together. Earlier in the play, Gill explains that she will use her voice alone to conceal the sheep's bleats by simulating the cries of a woman in labor after Mak brings the sheep home during the night and then rejoins the shepherds before they awaken:
Here shall we hym hyde
To thay be gone,
In my credyll abyde;
Lett me alone
And I shall lyg besyde
In chylbed and grone.
       (lines 480-485)

(Here we shall hide him
Until they are gone.
In my cradle stay;
Leave me alone
And I shall lie beside
In childbed and groan.)

Gill's earlier vocal performance thus foreshadows the more elaborate performance that she and Mak stage together later in the play.

Scholars have offered little analysis of Mak's lullaby, except to argue that it must be performed badly because of the comments the shepherds make about the singing not sounding very good when they arrive at Mak's house:
Shepherd 3   Will ye here how thay hak?
             Oure syre lyst croyne.
Shepherd 1   Hard I never none crak
             So clere out of toyne.
                         (lines 686-89)

(Shepherd 3  Will you hear how they warble?
             Our sire likes to croon!
Shepherd 1   I never heard anyone break notes
             So clearly out of tune!)

Most commentary has presented Mak's bad singing as the play's method of distancing him from spirituality: for example, Peter Happe describes Mak's bad singing of the lullaby as "indicative of his fallen nature," and Richard Rastall argues in reference to Mak, "The general principle that music is characteristic of God's servants has a corollary: an unmusical man is a servant of the Devil." (44) Mak's poor singing may be a pattern: as we noted earlier, Coll (Shepherd 1) asks, "Who is that pypys so poore?" ("Who is it who pipes so poorly?") (line 283) when he first hears Mak on the moor, so Mak may have sung badly there as well. Whether Mak sings badly in both points in the play or only here, and whether or not we read bad singing as evidence of bad character, what Mak sings should be as important to our understanding of the play as how he sings it.

We should therefore examine what the play reveals about Mak's character and concerns through his words and actions, as well as what the other characters say about him, in searching for examples of songs that could serve as Mak's lullaby. Though Mak is a trickster character based on folk traditions, the play offers details that situate him in the social tensions of late medieval England related to the wool economy. (45) The shepherds know of Mak's reputation as a thief and worry about their personal belongings, as well as the sheep they tend: Gib tells Mak directly, "thou has an yll noys / Of stelyng of shepe" ("you have a bad reputation / For stealing sheep") (lines 324-25). Stealing sheep was a capital crime, and Mak's wife herself refers to the penalty of hanging for stealing sheep when he arrives at their home with the stolen wether: "By the nakyd nek / Art thou lyke for to hyng. /... / It were a fowll blott / To be hanged for the case" ("By your naked neck / You are likely to hang. /... / It would be a terrible shame / To be hanged for the incident") (lines 445-55). The play suggests a potential for parallel jeopardy that the shepherds might face when they use the same terms that Gill uses for Mak ("fowll blott" in line 650) to describe their situation. The play thus presents Mak as a major threat to the shepherds, as they will also face serious penalties for loss of a sheep, even if they have not stolen it themselves. It is no wonder that the shepherds search so diligently when they discover their loss and react so angrily when they find the sheep at Mak's cottage.

At the same time, the play provides motivation for Mak's theft, complicating the assessment of Mak's actions by characters within the play, as well perhaps by the audience. What Mak says in his opening soliloquy is that he is confused about God's plan for him and feels treated unfairly; he wishes he were in heaven, because in that place there are no weeping children:
Thi will, Lorde, of me tharnys.
I am all uneven;
That moves oft my harnes.
Now wold God I were in heven,
For ther wepe no barnes
So stille.
                 (lines 277-82)

(Your will, Lord, is unclear about me.
I am treated completely unfairly:
That often disturbs my brains.
Now, I wish to God I were in heaven,
For there no children weep
So continually.)

Mak's later comments to the shepherds suggest that the children he refers to here may be his own, who weep because they do not have enough to eat: he complains that his wife has produced so many children that he would have trouble feeding them, even if he were much more prosperous.
And ilk yere that commys to man
She bryngys furth a lakan,
And som yeres two.
Bot were I now more gracyus
And rychere be far,
I were eten outt of howse
And of harbar.
                (lines 349-355)

(And each year that comes to man
She brings forth a baby,
And some years two!
If I were now more fortunate
And richer by far,
I would be eaten out of house
And home.)

Mak later comments to the shepherds, "Wo is hym has many barnes / And therto lytyll brede" ("Woe to the one who has many children / And little bread for them") (lines 567-68). In addition, Mak describes his own hunger to the shepherds in lines 337-38, which gives him a link to Daw, who complains about getting only a little food for his work. When Mak arrives home with the stolen sheep, his comments to his wife suggest that hunger is his rationale for stealing the sheep:
I wold he were flayn;
I lyst well ete.
This twelmothe was I not so fayn
Of oone shepe mete.
                  (lines 465-68)

(I wish he were skinned;
I would very much like to eat!
These last twelve months have I not been so eager
For any sheep meat!)

While Mak is a thief and he describes himself as someone who lives by his wits rather than steady work (lines 448-51), the play presents his family's lack of food as a fact that the shepherds verify when they search his home, looking for their sheep. Daw reports,
I can fynde no flesh
Hard nor nesh,
Salt nor fresh,
Bot two tome platers.
       (lines 786-89)

(I can find no meat
Hard or soft,
Salted or fresh,
Only two empty plates.)

Since Mak has no animals of his own (lines 790-92) and has never been hired as a shepherd (line 415), the poverty of Mak's family and the life of crime to which he has turned fit the situation of the most extremely displaced farmers who live on the margins of the community.

Mak's comments and the play's depiction of his family's poverty suggest that the lullaby that he sings as part of the ruse to hide the stolen sheep might reflect these same concerns. While seventeen medieval English songs recorded in medieval manuscripts present themselves as lullabies, most of them are dialogues between the Virgin Mary and the Christ child about his future suffering; but there is one anonymous Middle English song from the early fourteenth century in which an anonymous adult speaker lulls a weeping child, but describes to the child the sufferings of human beings throughout their lives: "Lollai, lollai, litil child, whi wepistou so sore?" ("Lullay, lullay, little child, why do you weep so hard?") appears in an anthology called the Kildare Manuscript (London, British Library MS Harley 913), which has been dated to ca. 1330. (46)
Lollai, l[ollai], litil child, whi wepistou so sore?
Nedis mostou wepe, hit was i[??]arkid he [??]ore
Euer to lib in sorow and sich, and mourne euer[more],
As pin eldren did er pis, whil hi aliues w[o]re.
   Lollai, [lollai], litil child, child, lolai, lullow,
   Into vncup world icommen so ertow.

Bestis and bos foules, be fisses in pe flode,
And euch schef aliues imakid of bone and blode,
Whan hi commip to pe world, hi dop hamsilf sum gode,
Al bot pe wrech brol bat is of Adamis blode.
   Lollai, l[ollai], litil child, to kar ertou bemette,
   bou nost no[??]t pis worldis wild bifor pe is isette.

Child, if betidith pat pou ssalt priue and pe,
pench pou wer ifostred vp pi moder kne,
Euer hab mund in pi hert of pos binges pre:
Whan pou commist, wha[t] pou art, and what ssal com of pe.
   Lollai, l[ollai], litil child, child, lollai, lollai,
   Wib sorow pou com into pis world, wip sorow ssalt wend awai.

Ne tristou to pis world, hit is pi ful vo.
pe rich he makip pouer, pe pore rich also;
Hit turnep wo to wel and ek wel to wo.
Ne trist no man to pis world, whil hit turnip so.
   Lollai, lollai, litil child, pi fote is in pe whele;
   pou nost whoder turne, to wo oper wele.

Child, pou ert a pilgrim in wikidnis ibor[n],
pou wandrest in pis fals world, pou lok be bifor[n]!
Dep ssal com wip a blast vte of a wel dim hor[n],
Adamis kin dun to cast, himsilf hab ido befor[n].
   Lollai, l[ollai], litil child, so wo pe wor[p] Adam
   In pe lond of paradis, bro[??] wikidnes of Satan.

Child, pou nert a pilgrim, bot an vncupe g[e]st,
pi dawes bep itold, pi iurneis bep i[ke]st;
Whoder pou salt wend, norp oper est,
Dep pe sal betide, wip bitter bale in brest.
   Lollai, l[ollai], litil child, pis wo Adam pe wro[??]t,
   Whan he of pe appil ete and Eue hit him betacht. (47)

(Lullay, lullay, little child, why do you weep so hard?
You must weep: it was prepared for you long ago
Ever to live in sorrow and sigh, and mourn forevermore,
As your elders did before this, while they were alive.
   Lullay, lullay, little child, child, lullay, lullow,
   Into an unknowable world you have come.

The beasts and birds, the fish in the sea,
And each living creature made of bone and blood,
When they come into the world, they do themselves some good,
All but the wretched child that is of Adam's blood.
   Lullay, lullay, little child, to grief you are destined.
   You do not know the wildness of the world that before you is set.

Child, if it happens that you should grow and thrive,
Remember how you were raised upon your mother's knee,
Ever have consideration in your heart of these three things:
Whence you came, what you are, and what will become of you.
   Lullay, lullay, little child, child, lullay, lullay.
   With sorrow you came into this world, with sorrow you will go away.

Do not trust in this world, it is fully your foe.
The rich it makes poor, the poor rich also.
It turns grief to happiness and happiness to grief.
Let no man trust in this world while it turns so.
   Lullay, lullay, little child, your foot is on the wheel;
   You don't know whether it turns to grief or happiness.

Child, you are a pilgrim born in wickedness.
You wander in this false world. Look at what is before you!
Death will come with a blast out of a very gloomy horn,
Adam's kin to cast down, as he himself has done before.
   Lullay, lullay, little child, this woe Adam wove for you
   In the land of paradise, through the wickedness of Satan.

Child, you are not a pilgrim, but a foreign guest.
Your days are numbered, your journeys are foretold.
Wherever you will go, north or east,
Death will happen to you, with bitter pain in breast.
   Lullay, lullay, little child, this woe Adam made for you,
   When he ate of the apple, and Eve gave it to him.)

Though religious teaching begins to play a larger role as the lyric continues, the opening stanza may reflect oral traditions that imply an interweaving of a child's innocent weeping with an adult's sung lament. This lullaby's depiction of life as shared sorrow and suffering among children and adults offers an interesting parallel with Mak's opening lament, as well as his later comments. If Mak does sing after his first speech, the song could voice his sorrow in a quieter context, compared to his later singing of the lullaby.

"Lollai, lollai, litel child" is the earliest lullaby in English to survive, and it appears to combine oral lullaby traditions with the discourse of religious poetry and prose texts that survive from this period: Theodore Silverstein describes it as a "homiletic piece on transiency and man's intransigence, made moving by incorporation in a secular lullaby," while Kathleen Palti argues that the poem "reveals the ways in which literary and musical culture, Latin and vernacular texts, and the scholarly and popular overlap in medieval lyrics." (48) Though the Kildare Manuscript was made in Ireland, the language of the poem and its close relationship with lullabies about the Christ child found in fifteenth-century English manuscripts suggest that similar lullabies were in use in northern England during the time The Second Shepherds' Play was composed. (49) Indeed, the sixteenth-century manuscript of the Coventry Shearmen and Taylors' Pageant, which combines the annunciation of Christ's birth to the shepherds and the massacre of children in Bethlehem, included the words and notation in three voices for a similar song by the Bethlehem mothers, now known as "The Coventry Lullaby." (50) Unfortunately, the unique manuscript copy of "Lollai, lollai, litel child" does not have musical notation; but borrowing a melody from another lyric (or contrafacture) was a common practice during the medieval period, so modern productions could adapt a surviving medieval melody from a lyric with similar structure, such as those described by Kathleen Palti. (51)

Although Mak may not sing the lullaby well, it may sound worse because of the other sounds that accompany him, for Gill uses her voice at the same time in order to help hide the sheep's bleats. When the shepherds arrive at Mak's cottage, Daw refers to what they hear as more than one singer: "Will ye here how thay hak?" ("Will you hear how they warble?") (line 686, emphasis added). The shepherds clearly hear the voices in the house as a duet, so the shepherds not only sing in polyphony, they hear in polyphony as well. Gill describes her role as groaning and crying out to the Virgin Mary and St. John, as if to ask anachronistically for help from these Christian saints during postpartum pain; but the shepherds hear her voice as part of a duet with Mak's voice, even if the sounds are "out of toyne" ("out of tune") (line 689). (52) By describing her role as groaning and crying out to Mary and John because of childbirth pain, however, Gyll associates her "song" with the Middle English laments about Mary and John at the foot of the cross when Christ was crucified. Many of these devotional poems take the form of songs, such as those with refrains like "M and A and R and I / syngyn I wil a newe song" ("M and A and R and I / I will sing a new song"), and some survive in manuscript copies that include notation. (53) While Gill's "song" might seem to modern audiences to conflict with the lullaby that Mak sings, medieval audiences might hear these voices as the form of polyphony found in the motet, in which voices sing different melodies and words in counterpoint. (54) Medieval English Christians were familiar with the tradition in poetry, music, and the visual arts of presenting images of the nativity of Christ or of Mary holding the Christ child in parallel with images of Mary lamenting at the foot of the Cross with St. John. (55) The "duet" that the shepherds hear could serve as another example of the way that the play as a whole interweaves contrasting elements that create patterns of imagery in a new texture. Heard in this way, the polyphony of Mak and Gill would help prepare the medieval audience for the ironic relationship of the swaddled sheep that Mak and Gill hope to slaughter and the play's later presentation of the Christ child lying in the manger, who will become the sacrificial lamb of the New Covenant.

Mak and Gill's duet plays another important role in the text, for it represents another example of polyphony that parallels the first song of the shepherds. Just as the shepherds' song highlights their ability to perform together, despite different views on what causes their suffering, the duet of Mak and Gill shows them able to work together, despite their earlier laments about suffering because of the failings of the other. Mak first complains to the shepherds about Gill's laziness, drinking, ugliness, and fertility, and claims to be eager to offer the Mass penny for her funeral Mass (lines 341-64). Since these comments sound very similar to Gib's complaints about his wife in his opening speech (144-56), the play suggests that these are views men commonly hold of women. Perhaps Mak offers them to the shepherds because he believes the other men will be sympathetic and less suspicious of him. Mak's picture of Gill is countered, however, when he asks her to open the door of their cottage and the audience hears her lament about having to stop her spinning, which seems to be their only legitimate means of income:
I am sett for to spyn.
I hope not I myght
Ryse a penny to wyn.
I shrew them on hight;
So farys
A huswyff that has bene
To be rasyd thus betwene.
Here may no note be sene
For sich small charys.
          (lines 430-438)

(I am ready to spin!
I don't expect I might
Stand up to earn a penny.
I curse them out loud!
So fares
A housewife who has lived,
To be thus continuously interrupted.
Here may no profit be seen
Because of such small tasks.)

Though not depicted as a song, the comments she voices here provide a counterpoint to the earlier negative comments about women voiced by the men. Even though Gill's role would have been played by a man in medieval productions, her lament reminds the audience of the ways in which women's work is important to a home, though perhaps not appreciated by some men. As Lisa Kiser argues,
Scholars and critics have been too willing to believe Mak's accusations
concerning Gyll's work habits. Women's work has perennially been
undervalued, of course, but in Gyll's case the undervaluation seems
egregiously wrong: if Mak isn't lying in his earlier description of
their household..., she apparently has a houseful of children to care
for and at least one cottage industry under her direction (spinning)
that contributes to the household economy. (56)

The play continues to give voice to different perspectives on gender roles when Mak returns home the following morning. He again describes Gill as lazy; but she makes an even more eloquent defense about women's work supporting the household.
Why, who wanders, who wakys?
Who commys, who gose?
Who brewys, who bakys?
What makys me thus hose?
And than
It is rewthe to beholde,
Now in hote, now in colde,
Full wofull is the householde
That wantys a woman.
              (lines 599-607)

(Why, who walks, who wakes?
Who comes, who goes?
Who brews, who bakes?
What makes me so hoarse?
And then
It is a pity to behold,
Now in heat, now in cold,
Full sorrowful is the household
That lacks a woman.)

In addition, her "authorship" of the play-within-the-play contributes to the defense of her family, given that Mak has already stolen the sheep; and she plays her part to the hilt when the shepherds come to the house. Since Gill's role would have been played by a man in the medieval productions, this character's additional statements about a wife's different forms of labor literally require a man to give some recognition to women's value to the community, even if played for comic effect. The play does seem to show more selfconsciousness about gender roles as performance, for, when Mak then sings his lullaby, the play portrays him as singing a type of song often cast in a woman's voice, which presents an interesting gender role-reversal that is the mirror image of Gill's portrayal by a male actor. As Peter Happe argues, "The ambivalence of gender roles in this play is remarkable." (57)

The "song" Mak and Gill perform together gives voice to a partnership that demonstrates how men and women can work together, despite their differences. In this case, their project is illegal and it ultimately fails, despite their hilarious improvisation when the shepherds discover their sheep in Gill's cradle. There is another function, however, served by the song that Mak and Gill perform in the play. Mak and Gill sing in order to try to hide the bleats of the sheep, and the shepherds believe that what they hear is a duet; but, for the external audience, Mak and Gill actually perform a trio with the sheep's voice, which puts it in parallel with the earlier three-voiced song of the shepherds. The play indeed here gives the sheep a voice, and it is Gill who seems most attuned to it. Though the Towneley manuscript does not include stage directions that refer to a sheep, the lines spoken by the human characters make clear that a representation of a sheep takes part in the action and sounds of the play. First, Mak describes how he captures the sheep and carries it away from the flock on the moor while he is carrying out the action; but he does not mention its voice (lines 415-25). When he presents the sheep to Gill at their cottage, she points out the need to hide the sheep's bleats: "Com thay or he be slayn / And here the shepe blete" ("If they come before he is killed /And hear the sheep bleat") (lines 469-70), Mak's theft will be revealed. The next morning, Gill again refers to the sheep's bleats when she describes the more elaborate plan to hide the sheep with swaddling and singing when the shepherds come to search for it, and the sheep's continued bleats after Mak has stopped singing require additional cries from Gill and explanations from Mak, so that the shepherds will not discover the sheep. When the shepherds discover their loss, we learn that the animal is not a lamb, but a fat wether (line 651). While we do not know how medieval productions portrayed the sheep, the play gives the sheep a performing role that has an effect on the action of the play, so we should not ignore its voice. Though Mak and Gill attempt to hide the sheep's voice, the human voices do not silence the sheep's, which keeps Gill crying out during the conversation with the shepherds. The polyphonic performance of Mak, Gill, and the sheep seems to echo the ambivalence about differences between human beings and animals that the play presents in the animal imagery used to describe the human characters. This is most extreme in the "casting" of the sheep as Mak and Gill's baby in the play-within-the-play; but portrayal of the sheep in such a way as to complicate its relationship to human beings, such as using a hand puppet or an actor only partly in a sheep costume, would fit with the irony in the play's ambivalence. (58) While the audience's knowledge of the baby's true identity creates great comic effect, as well as parody of the later nativity scene, the sheep's role also participates in the play's exploration of the complex relationship of sheep and human beings in medieval England. Like the play's depiction of Gill spinning thread from wool when she first appears, the polyphonic performance of Mak, Gill, and the sheep recognizes differences between individual voices, while still suggesting the need to understand their relationships in community.

The third song in the play comes after the shepherds agree not to kill Mak for his crime, since they have their sheep back, but to toss him in a canvas. As many scholars have argued, this is an act of mercy that makes them worthy of receiving the first news of the newborn Messiah: they are the people of good will to whom the angel announces God's peace. At the same time, their decision may also reflect their lack of trust in justice from those in power, if the shepherds were to kill Mak. The characters in this play view those who control the land and their representatives as people who destroy community by claiming a false identity that distances them from others. In his opening speech, Coll complains about the false authority of people who wear visual signs of identity, such as heraldic livery, in order to claim power over members of the rural community (lines 40-52). For his part, Mak associates social rank with vocal performance: when he first meets the shepherds on the moor, Mak tries to disguise himself by speaking in a southern dialect and claiming to be a servant of the king:
What? Ich be a yoman,
I tell you, of the kyng,
The self and the same,
Sond from a greatt lordyng
And sich.
Fy on you! Goyth hence.
Out of my presence;
I must have reverence.
Why, who be ich?
            (lines 291-99)

(What? I am a yeoman,
I tell you, of the king,
The self and the same,
The messenger from a great lord
And the like.
Fie on you! Go hence!
Out of my presence!
I must have reverence.
Why, who am I?)

In addition to imitating the supercilious manner of speaking associated with the nobility and their servants, Mak threatens to report the shepherds for their behavior (lines 396-409). The shepherds see through this pretense, however, and tell Mak, "Take outt that sothren tothe" ("Take out that southern tooth") (line 311), so Mak changes tactics: he returns to their shared northern dialect and employs a voice of community with the shepherds by complaining about his hunger and his wife. In this way, the play demonstrates how people might sometimes adopt "other" voices to hide their true identities and set themselves apart from others, but might also choose voices in order to help them negotiate community. By highlighting the role of voice in performances of many kinds, the play calls attention to itself as a performance in which all of the actors perform "other" voices. Perhaps by performing other voices in a common project, theater helps to shape people's perspectives on others in their wider community, and perhaps the polyphonic songs in this play help illustrate the idea that engaging with other voices can still mean respecting individual identity.

Building community between earthly and heavenly beings by trying out new voices begins with the third song of the play, the angel's performance of "Gloria in excelsis Deo" ("Glory to God in the highest"), with the presumed completion: "et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" ("and on earth peace to people of good will"). Because of its role in Christian worship, the passage attributed to the angels in the Gospel of Luke took many sung forms by the fifteenth century, including more than one in Christmas liturgies. (59) Since the Latin stage direction in the play refers to only one angel singing, the song here would be monophonic in form. The play offers additional information about the song, however, in the reaction of the shepherds, who offer technical commentary on the ornate style of the angel's singing:
Shepherd 2:  Say, what was his song?
             Hard ye not how he crakyd it,
             Thre brefes to a long?
Shepherd 3:  Yee, mary, he hakt it;
             Was no crochett wrong,
             Nor nothyng that lakt it.
                           (lines 946-951)

(Shepherd 2:  Say, what was his song?
              Did you not hear how he divided it,
              Three shorts to a long note?
Shepherd 3:   Yes, Mary, he broke it into short notes;
              No very short note was wrong,
              Nor did it lack anything.)

The shepherds here use the correct medieval terms to describe the song's rhythm and short-duration notes: as Richard Rastall explains, "Thre brefes to a long" describes the background meter and "crochett" refers to a note of very short duration measured as a division of longer notes (the division here described as "crakyd" and "hakt"), so that the angel's song was "florid and impressive" with "very fast notes." (60) Monophonic forms of the "Gloria in excelsis Deo" chant that were as ornate as the play suggests must have been known or improvised by medieval English actors; but surviving English settings of the "Gloria" from the fifteenth-century tend to be for the Mass and suggest a move towards polyphony for "et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis": examples include the versions of the "Gloria" in the early fifteenth-century Old Hall Manuscript (London, British Library MS Additional 57950) that begin with a monophonic setting for "Gloria in excelsis Deo" and then move into polyphony. (61) If the angel in this play only sings "Gloria in excelsis Deo" (as the Latin direction suggests), then the angel's song might be similar to settings for these words in the Old Hall Manuscript or the setting that survives in the 1607 manuscript of the Chester shepherds' play, though Rastall argues that this is probably the opening of a polyphonic setting; but Ross Duffin has recently suggested that the angel's song in The Second Shepherds' Play may have been similar to the opening of the "Gloria" in a mid-fifteenth-century manuscript in the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Records (MS 57553). (62)

While the shepherds describe the angel's voice as "qwant" ("marvelous") (line 933), their discussion of the artistry in the angel's singing inspires them to sing the same Latin song. First, Coll claims he can repeat the angel's song, and Gib challenges him to do so, with a hint of sarcasm:
Shepherd 1:  For to syng us emong
             Right as he knakt it
             I can.
Shepherd 2:  Let se how ye croyne;
             Can ye bark at the mone?
Shepherd 3:  Hold youre tonges, have done.
             Shepherd 1: Hark after than.
                            (lines 952-58)

(Shepherd 1:  To sing among ourselves,
             Just as he trilled it,
             I can.
Shepherd 2:  Let us see how you croon!
             Can you bark at the moon?
Shepherd 3:  Hold your tongues! Come to an end!
Shepherd 1:  Listen carefully.)

Though Daw seems to call for silence here, he probably refers to both men ending their speaking, rather than the singing, since he uses the plural "tonges" (line 957). Coil's next line indicates that he does begin to sing, and Daw's later reference to "oure sang" (line 964) suggests that he joins Coll in singing. Nan Cooke Carpenter argues that Coil's comment in line 958 is "the cue for another song" that the shepherds sing on their way to Bethlehem, rather than a reprise of the angel's song; yet Coil's claim to be able to sing the angel's song "Right as he knakt it" (line 953) indicates a clear intent. (63) In an explanatory note for line 958, Garrett Epp argues that Coll here suggests he will sing the tenor line and the other shepherds will add treble and mean voices, so that the shepherds sing in three-voiced polyphony here as they did earlier in the play, with the song ending before the next spoken line. While the play does not offer the explicit references to the shepherds singing polyphony here that we saw earlier, the play does suggest that at least two of the shepherds have success in repeating the angel's song. Unlike some Middle English plays, The Second Shepherds' Play does not depict the shepherds failing to understand the angel's Latin words or being unable to repeat the angel's melody. (64) When Gib tries to persuade Coll and Daw to hurry to Bethlehem (lines 959-62), he does not say that they have failed to sing properly, but that they should follow the angel's instructions to seek the Christ child in Bethlehem. In his response, Daw describes the song as a joyful one that they share now as a precursor to the everlasting joy they hope to receive in heaven, where (as Mak explained earlier) there is no weeping:
Of myrth is oure sang.
Ever lastyng glad
To mede may we fang
Withoutt noyse.
       (lines 964-67).

(Of joy is our song.
Everlasting gladness
As reward may we receive
Without lamentation.)

Though Coll then agrees to seek the child they were told about (lines 968-71), he and Daw must keep singing, because Gib tells them to stop their noise in line 973 ("Let be youre dyn"),

The shepherds in The Second Shepherds' Play do not literally sing with the angel, yet the shepherds do seem able to sing like the angel. The repetition of the angel's song by at least two of the shepherds may have been heard by the medieval audience as human echo of a heavenly voice, a human performance of a heavenly song, in an attempt to express community with heaven. After all, the angel told them, "God is made youre freynd" ("God has been made your friend") (line 926). Though the shepherds probably do not sing a polyphonic version of the angel's song, the play suggests that all three of the shepherds do construct a form of polyphony in their response to the angel's song. After Gib asks for silence from the other shepherds, he offers a spoken elaboration of the message the angel delivered after his song: Gib uses English as well as Latin to remind the other shepherds of the prophecies about the Messiah by Isaiah and King David (lines 972-84). The shepherds thus might be heard by the medieval audience to offer a polyphonic performance of the angel's song that elaborates on the angel's themes and demonstrates in another way a sense of community with heaven. It is a kind of polyphony that is found in medieval motets, which often take a monophonic chant and layer on different melodies and words, sometimes in different languages or different genres of lyric, to create a rich interweave of voices and variations on a theme.

The play's final song is the one that ends the play as a whole. After the shepherds have presented gifts to the Christ child in Bethlehem, Mary instructs the shepherds to remember and tell about what they have witnessed (1074-75). In the final spoken lines of the play, Daw states that the shepherds are now bound to sing about the Christ child: "To syng ar we bun; / Let take on loft" ('To sing are we bound. / Let it be heard on high!") (lines 1087-88). The play offers no further information about what kind of song the shepherds sing here. As one might expect, English manuscripts from the fifteenth century show that there were many Christmas songs that medieval performers might have used here: these include polyphonic and monophonic songs, in English as well as Latin, some in the form of the medieval carol, which has a refrain. While Richard Rastall has suggested that the final song by the shepherds would be a monophonic or polyphonic song in English, Ross Duffin has suggested that the shepherds might have used a song like the three-voice Latin lyric "Lauda salvatorum," which appears in an English manuscript from about 1440, and Martial Rose suggests "Now Make We Merthe" ("Now Let Us Make Merry"), a polyphonic song in Middle English from the early fifteenth century. (65) The play's depiction of the shepherds as singers who like performing polyphony suggests that they might well sing a polyphonic song again at the close of the play, and perhaps their song would reflect earlier parts of the play in several ways.

A song that would work especially well is "Nowel syng we, bobe al and som," a medieval Christmas carol that survives with polyphonic notation in an English manuscript from the second quarter of the fifteenth century. (66)
Refrain: Nowel syng we, bobe al and som, Now rex pacificus ys ycome.

1. Exortum est in love and lysse.
Now Chryst hys grace he gan vs gysse,
And wyth hys body vs bou[??]t to blysse,
Bobe alle and sum.

2. De fructu ventris of Mary bry[??]t,
Bothe God an man in here aly[??]t,
Owte of dysese he dyde vs dy[??]t,
Bothe alle and summe.

3. Puer natus to vs was sent,
To blysse vs bou[??]t, fro bale vs blent,
And ellys to wo we hadde ywent
Bothe alle and summe.

4. Lux fulgebit wyth loue and ly[??]t,
In Mary mylde hys pynon py[??]t,
In here toke kynde wyth manly my[??]t,
Bothe alle and summe.

5. Gloria tibi ay and blysse,
God vnto his grace he vs wysse,
The rent of heuen pat we not mysse,
Bothe alle and summe.

(Refrain: "Nowell" sing we, both one and all, Now that the peace-maker
king has come.

1. He is sent forth in love and peace.
Now to us Christ has begun to ordain his grace
And with his body has redeemed us for bliss,
Both one and all.

2. From the fruit of the womb of Mary bright,
One who is both God and man in her did alight.
Out of disease he did us remove,
Both one and all.

3. The boy who is born to us was sent,
To joy us redeemed, from death us consealed,
Or else to sorrow we would have gone,
Both one and all.

4. The Light will shine with love and brightness.
In Mary mild his pennon he set.
In her, he took human nature with manly might,
[For] both one and all.

5. Glory be to you forever and joy!
May God bring us unto his grace,
So that the reward of heaven we may not lose,
Both one and all.

"Nowel syng we" is inclusive in terms of its verbal discourses and structure. While the manuscript copy of the song presents the notation in two voices, both Susan Hellauer and Ross Duffin have proposed three-voice settings, based on English discant traditions. (67) The song reflects the angel's statement that the birth of the Messiah brings friendship, and yet the song embodies several kinds of difference in its musical and verbal texts. The carol's use of polyphony in both stanzas and refrain highlights diversity of voices, as well as communal effort. The verbal text of the refrain, which links the joining of different singers ("al and som") to the arrival of a king who makes peace (rex pacificus), becomes the framework for the rest of the song. This carol's use of English and Latin echoes the words of the angel to the shepherds and the shepherds' response. In addition, the integration of Latin and English suggests a potential community of voices reflecting different social roles and aesthetic traditions: the Latin phrases in the carol come from the liturgies for Christmas Day, yet the carol weaves them into a non-liturgical form. (68) Finally, if a production wanted to invite the audience to join their voices to the song, a refrain would make that possible.

Like the shepherds' first song, this carol makes audible the possibility of building relationships among different voices. Whatever song the medieval actors used in a particular performance, the final song becomes the play's conclusion, and the earlier parts of the play suggest that this song could reflect the shepherds' ability to sing and listen polyphonically. A unison song at the end of the play is certainly possible, but that performance would make a different point. A polyphonic song as the play's conclusion highlights the social as well as aesthetic value of polyphonic performance, even if the voices seem discordant at times, as a way to negotiate relationships among people while celebrating and giving value to differences among individuals. In other words, the many kinds of polyphony heard in the play negotiate between the community and diversity of "al and som."

If we listen to The Second Shepherds' Play closely, we can hear how the play as a whole uses a poetics of polyphony that makes community among individuals audible, while also giving voice to individual difference. By showing the shepherds performing a polyphonic song in the opening section, the play sets up a pattern that echoes in later parts of the work and highlights polyphony as a model of social as well as aesthetic performance. The shepherds' performance of different musical roles has parallels with the performances of different identities and roles in several parts of the play, and the play configures characters into different "communities" of individuals--human, animal, and spirit--at different points. By showing characters who engage with voices that present "otherness" of different kinds, The Second Shepherds' Play does not suggest that differences are "resolved"; but the play brings them into dialogue. (69) Medieval forms of musical polyphony use contrast, counterpoint, and dissonance in their musical and verbal texts, as well as consonance, in order to explore relationships. Perhaps by not including the songs in the play text, the medieval author created an additional layer of polyphony, one that requires the reader, director, or actors who perform the play to voice their own song choices and enter into a polyphonic relationship with the medieval author's voice--which productions of the play can still do today, whether we use medieval songs or later ones we believe contribute to the exploration of diversity and community the play itself requires. Singing is an essential part of The Second Shepherds' Play, even more than in other medieval English plays, in which song "cannot be regarded... as subsidiary to the other elements making up the plays, the physical means whereby the plays are presented to an audience, but as integral to the total dramatic statement." (70) By voicing different forms of polyphony, The Second Shepherds' Play offers a metaphor for the work that theater performs.


(1.) This essay expands on papers given at the meetings of the Medieval Academy of America and New Chaucer Society in 2016, as well as the symposium on The Second Shepherds' Play at Colgate University in December 2017. My thanks to the colleagues whose responses to drafts have helped me clarify the presentation of my argument, especially Lynn Staley, Theresa Coletti, Katherine McGerr, Andrew Galloway, Thomas Hahn, and Susan Cerasano. I also want to thank Katherine McGerr, her music director Hannah Shaffer, and the Syracuse music theater program students for working with my suggestions for the songs in their 2017 production.

(2.) The Second Shepherds' Play (sometimes called the Secunda Pastorum) is "[a]lmost certainly the most anthologised of all medieval English dramatic pieces," as Peter Meredith argues in "The Towneley cycle," in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre, ed. Richard Beadle (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 134. Modernized versions of the play include Ford Ainsworth's The Sheep Thief (Schulenburg, TX: I. E. Carter Publications, 1979) and the operetta The Shepherds' Christmas, with music by William Russo and libretto by Jon Swan, which had productions in Chicago in 1979 and New York in 1988 (New York: Southern Music Publishing, 1991). Examples of professional productions include two each by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Folger Consort: see the discussion by Katherine McGerr in this volume (XX-XX).

(3.) Richard Rastall, The Heaven Singing: Music in Early English Religious Drama I (Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1996), 348. Additional discussions of the songs in this play include Nan Cooke Carpenter, "Music in the Secunda Pastorum," Speculum 26, no. 4 (1951): 696-700; John Stevens, "Music in Mediaeval Drama," Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 84 (1957-58): 90 and 92; JoAnna Dutka, "Music and the English Mystery Plays," Comparative Drama 7, no. 2 (1973): 135-49; Regula Meyer Evitt, "Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play," Comparative Drama 22, no. 4 (1988-89): 304-22; Peter Meredith, "The Towneley cycle," 155-56; and Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 356-58, and Minstrels Playing: Music in Early English Religious Drama II (Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2001), 175-76.

(4.) For detailed information about the Towneley Manuscript and its presentation of The Second Shepherds' Play, see Peter Happe, The Towneley Cycle: Unity and Diversity (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007), 1-21; The Towneley Plays, eds. Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley, Early English Text Society, Supplementary Series, vol. 13 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); The Towneley Plays, ed. Garrett P. J. Epp, TEAMS Middle English Texts Series (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2018); and The Towneley Cycle: A Facsimile of Huntington MS HM 1, with an introduction by A. C. Cawley and Martin Stevens, Medieval Drama Facsimiles, vol. 2 (Leeds: University of Leeds, 1976). Citations of The Second Shepherds' Play and The First Shepherds' Play in this essay will come from the Epp edition with my modern English translations. Recent evaluations of the dating of the plays have stressed the range of time over which the collection developed: Peter Happe depicts the plays as having been written and revised at different times, possibly beginning as early as 1420-40, but continuing into the sixteenth century, with the plays attributed to the author of The Second Shepherds' Play dating from the mid-fifteenth century (The Towneley Cycle, 16-17 and 73). Epp argues that "most of the plays were likely written much earlier" than the surviving manuscript {The Towneley Plays, 1).

(5.) Martial Rose makes brief suggestion of some medieval songs to go with his modern translation of the plays in the Towneley Manuscript in The Wakefield Mystery Plays (London: Evans Brothers, 1961), 46-47. Ross W. Duffin has very recently suggested specific fifteenth-century songs for use in The Second Shepherds' Play, without discussing how they relate to the themes of the play: see Some Other Note: The Lost Songs of English Renaissance Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 7-13. The Folger productions featured more performances of music than called for in the text: according to Gina M. DiSalvo's review of the 2016 production, the performance included twenty-three pieces of medieval and early modern instrumental music and song, nine of which were sung by members of the cast and others performed by the Folger Consort (Theatre Journal 69, no. 4 [2017]: 574). In the modernized script for the play included in Staging Salvation: Six Medieval Plays in Modern English, Lister M. Matheson et al., Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 443 (Tempe, AZ; Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2014), 86-90, Vincent Corrigan suggests adaptations of five songs for inclusion in the play, somewhat coordinated with the manuscript text and only one of which has a medieval source. Ford Ainsworth's modernized version of the play inserts his own verbal text for three songs, but leaves the musical settings up to the director or stipulates post-medieval tunes (The Sheep Thief, 10, 20-21, and 22-23); Ainsworth also adds a musician to the speaking cast and to accompany songs and dances (e.g., 3 and 5). The Shepherds' Christmas, a 1980 operetta based on the play with music by William Russo and libretto by Jon Swan (New York: Southern Music Publishing, 1991), transforms the text entirely into modern English lyric.

(6.) See Middle English Dictionary, eds. Hans Kurath et al, 15 vols. (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 1952-2001), under the verb pipen, which lists this line as an example for definition (c): "of a mouse, frog, or bird: to utter a shrill, piping sound; peep, cheep, also, contemptuously or ironically: speak in a piping voice, squeak"; but the primary meaning given is "to play on a pipe."

(7.) Carpenter, "Music in the Secunda Pastorum," 697; Stevens, "Language as Theme in the Wakefield Plays," Speculum 52, no. 1 (1977), 115; and Epp, The Towneley Plays, note to line 283.

(8.) Latin text and English translation quoted from The Vulgate Bible, Volume VI: The New Testament Douay-Rheims Translation, ed. Angela M. Kinney, introduction by Edgar Swift, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 21 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 302-3.

(9.) See, for example, Clifford Davidson, The Iconography of Heaven, Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph Series, vol. 21 (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1994), 167. Richard Rastall (The Heaven Singing, 256-58) also notes that the shepherd nativity plays follow the liturgy for the angelic song, rather than the Vulgate.

(10.) Rastell, Minstrels Playing, 137-78; Happe, The Towneley Cycle, 72, 120-26.

(11.) Happe, The Towneley Cycle, 11; and Theresa Coletti and Gail McMurray Gibson, "The Tudor Origins of Medieval Drama," in A Companion to Tudor Literature, ed. Kent Cartwright (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 237-39.

(12.) Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 59.

(13.) Claire Sponsler, "Producing the Past: Modern Performances of Medieval Drama," The Theater Annual: A Journal of Performance Studies 48 (1995): 69.

(14.) Regula Meyer Evitt, "Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play," 307.

(15.) See Carpenter, "Music in the Secunda Pastorum," 696 and 700, notes 5 and 7; Evitt, "Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play," 306-7.

(16.) Evitt, "Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play," 317; and Tim Shaw, "Music," in Gentry Culture in Late-Medieval England, eds. Raluca Radulescu and Alison Truelove (Manchester, UK: University of Manchester Press, 2006), 151-66. Fortescue writes, "Ibi cantare ipsi addiscunt, similiter et se exercent in omni genere armonie" ("There they learn to sing, and to exercise themselves in every kind of harmonics") (De laudibus legum Anglie, ed. S. B. Chrimes, Cambridge Studies in English Legal History [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1942], 118-19). For a reading of the Wakefield Master's association with legal satire, see Happe, The Towneley Cycle, 188-90.

(17.) Depictions of the Wakefield Master as a cleric or member of the clergy include Carpenter, "Music in the Secunda Pastorum," 696; Jean N. Goodrich, "'So I Thought as I Stood, To Mirth Us Among': The Function of Laughter in The Second Shepherds' Play," in Laughter in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: Epistemology of a Fundamental Human Behavior, its Meaning, and Consequences, ed. Albrecht Classen (Berlin: Walther de Gruyter, 2010), 533; and James Keller, "Wakefield Master," in Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature, eds. Laura C. Lambdin and Robert T. Lambdin (New York: Routledge, 2000), 503. Evitt describes the author as a "clerk" ("Musical Structure," 317). Rastall proposes that the songs sung by the angel and shepherds in this play would have required trained singers (The Heaven Singing, 43 and 356), with the angel's part using "a really competent church singer" (Minstrels Playing, 176); and Duffin agrees that the ability to sing three-voice polyphony "reinforces the use of trained musicians as actors" (Some Other Note, 5).

(18.) Carpenter, "Music in the Secunda Pastorum," 699; Duffin, Some Other Note, 4-7; Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 355-56.

(19.) The stage direction after line 263 indicates that the shepherds sing the lyric that appears in the appendix at that point, while the stage direction after line 312 merely states that the shepherds sing again: see The Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, eds. Pamela M. King and Clifford Davidson, Medieval Institute Publications (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 2000), 91-92.

(20.) Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 66-69 and 358-60.

(21.) Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 362-63. Rastall proposes (152-59) that the line of notation for the first part of the angel's "Gloria" in the Chester shepherds' play manuscript may have been part of a pre-existent polyphonic setting, but performed by one singer with instrumental performances for the other lines, since the Chester play refers only to one angel singing. JoAnna Dutka indicates that polyphonic versions of a "Trolly loly" song (linked to the shepherds by a marginal note in several manuscripts of the Chester shepherds' play) survive from the sixteenth century (Music in the English Mystery Plays, Early Drama, Art, and Music Reference Series 2 [Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1980], 79); but Rastall argues that the Chester shepherds engage in unison singing (The Heaven Singing, 363).

(22.) See, for example, Carpenter, "Music in the Secunda Pastorum," 697; Dutka, "Music and the English Mystery Plays," 139-40; and Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 193-97.

(23.) See Kurath et al, eds., Middle English Dictionary, under tenori (n.) and tenour (n.), definition 3a; treble (n.), definition (b); and mene (n. 3), definition (6).

(24.) Examples from medieval England include the fourteenth-century stained glass roundel now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (, the mid-fifteenth-century stained glass panel at the Church of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich (, the wood carving from c. 1430 at Exeter Cathedral (, and the thirteenth-century wall painting in St. Clement's Church, Ashampstead, Berkshire ( See also V. A. Kolve, The Play Called Corpus Christi (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), 171; and Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 349-50.

(25.) Latin text and English translation quoted from The Vulgate Bible, Volume III: The Poetical Books Douay-Rheims Translation, ed. Edgar Swift, with Angela M. Kinney, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 8 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 412-13. This image in the Macclesfield Psalter (Cambridge, UK, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 1-2005) occurs on fol. 139v (

(26.) Shai Burstyn discusses the debate among musicologists about how to interpret Gerald's Latin account of these popular traditions of singing in parts, and she concludes that his descriptions depict polyphony in two voices, three voices, and multivoiced canon and accord with evidence from musical records beginning in the thirteenth century: see "Gerald of Wales and the Sumer Canon," The Journal of Musicology 2, no. 2 (1983):135-50. The stained glass image at the church of St. Peter Mancroft in Norwich shows three shepherds playing different kinds of wind instruments together during their visit to the Christ child, which suggests the potential for polyphonic performance: see Nicholas S. Lander, "Recorder Home Page" (

(27.) Carpenter, "Music in the Secunda Pastorum," 698.

(28.) Dutka, "Music and the English Mystery Plays," 143. Dutka repeats this argument in Music in the English Mystery Plays, 80.

(29.) Evitt, "Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play," 316.

(30.) Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 356. He also describes the shepherds' song here as "a form of strict organum, with all three voices singing the tune at intervals of a fifth and a fourth above the bass-line" {Minstrels Singing, 175).

(31.) Dutka, "Music and the English Mystery Plays," 145.

(32.) The Wakefield Mystery Plays, 46.

(33.) See Lister Matheson et al., Staging Salvation, 86-87.

(34.) See Anne Curry, ed., The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2000), 283-84.

(35.) Duffin, Some Other Note, 10. The song appears in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden B. 26, fol. 32v, and Duffin gives modern notation (6).

(36.) Middle English text here transcribed from Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson G.22, fol. lv, with my translation. See also R. T. Davies, Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 51. For a facsimile and transcription of this lyric with notation, see John Stainer et al., Early Bodleian Music: Sacred and Secular Songs, Together with Other MS. Compositions in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Ranging from about A. D. 1185 to about A. D. 1505, 2 vols. (London, 1901; repr. Farnborough, UK: Gregg, 1967), vol. 1, pl. 3. Unfortunately, the leaf on which the song appears is not in good condition, so several letters need to be proposed by modern transcribers. A recent image of the leaf appears on the "Digital Bodleian" website ( +0,t+,rsrs+0,rsps+10,fa+,so+ox%3Asort%5Easc,scids+,pid+62e901el-5abd-4186-a668-24ca6fbd71be,vi+05e05bf2-118b-4a09-805a-f3d139e5fcd0).

(37.) Margaret Laing describes the song's words as having characteristics of the Northeast Midlands dialect of Middle English and cites dating by other scholars as ca. 1225 and 1230-40: see Catalogue of Sources for a Linguistic Atlas of Early Medieval English (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1993), 140.

(38.) For example, in Old English and Middle English Poetry (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1977), 101, Derek Pearsall describes the lyric as secular, and Gillian Rudd argues that "the poem itself keeps us within this world" and suggests "great external injustice" that one might read as "social comment": see Greenery: Ecocritical Readings of Late Medieval English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 35-36. Nevertheless, Thomas G. Duncan reads the song as penitential in "Two Middle English Penitential Lyrics: Sound and Scansion," in Late-Medieval Religious Texts and Their Transmission: Essays in Honour of A.I. Doyle, ed. A. J. Minnis (Wood-bridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 1994), 55-65.

(39.) According to the Middle English Dictionary, eds. Hans Kurath et al., the verb mirthen was used both transitively to mean "console," "amuse," or "entertain" (including reflexively) and intransitively to mean "rejoice" or "be glad," so Gib's line might also translate as "To rejoice among ourselves."

(40.) Examples of polyphonic recordings of this song include Dufay Collective, Miri it is: Songs and Instrumental Music from Medieval England (Chandos, 1995); Oxford Girls Choir, A Garden of Music: A Rich Collection of Music from the Medieval World (The Gift of Music, 2005); and Revels, Seasons for Singing: A Celebration of Country Life (Revels, 1995). Published arrangements of the song for three voices include Jerome Epstein, "Miri It Is" (with modern English text by Susan Cooper) (Boston, MA: Thorpe Music Publishing Company, 2000).

(41.) "Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play," 310-18.

(42.) Meredith, "The Towneley cycle," 155. Meredith continues to argue that the purpose of the description of the shepherds' song is "to draw attention to the abstract idea of harmony" (156).

(43.) Galloway's essay appears on pages XX-XX in this volume. See also Lisa Kiser, " 'Mak's Heirs': Sheep and Humans in the Pastoral Ecology of the Towneley First and Second Shepherds' Plays," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 108, no. 3 (2009): 336-59; and Robert S. Sturges, The Circulation of Power in Medieval Biblical Drama: Theaters of Authority (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 81-96.

(44.) Peter Happe, The Towneley Cycle, 126; and Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 202. These views echo, among others, Martin Stevens, "Language as Theme in the Wakefield Plays," 115.

(45.) On the folk origins of Mak's character, see Happe, The Towneley Cycle, 176. On the relationship of the play's depiction of Mak to social tensions in fifteenthcentury England, see the essay by Andrew Galloway, XX-XX; Kiser, "Mak's Heirs," 346; and Sturges, The Circulation of Power in Medieval Biblical Drama, 89 and 93.

(46.) Thorlac Turville-Petre, ed., Poems from BL MS Harley 913: 'The Kildare Manuscript' (Early English Text Society Original Series, vol. 345) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), xxi and 56-58.

(47.) Middle English text taken from Turville-Petre, ed., Poems from BL MS Harley 913: 'The Kildare Manuscript,' 57-58, with my translation.

(48.) Theodore Silverstein, English Lyrics Before 1500 (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1971), 54-55; and Kathleen Palti, "Singing Women: Lullabies and Carols in Medieval England," The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 110, no. 3 (2011): 361. Vincent Gillespie describes the lyric as offering a "chilling prognosis" on life, while R. T. Davies labels the lyric "An adult lullaby" because its perspective on a life of suffering would be too difficult for a child to understand: see Gillespie, "Moral and Penitential Lyrics," in A Companion to the Middle English Lyric, ed. Thomas G. Duncan (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2005), 72; and Davies, Middle English Lyrics, 106-7.

(49.) Turville-Petre, ed., Poems from BL MS Harley 913: 'The Kildare Manuscript,' 56, as well as Rosemary Woolf, The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 154-56, and Kathleen Palti, "Singing Women: Lullabies and Carols in Medieval England," 360-67.

(50.) See The Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, Pamela M. King and Clifford Davidson, eds., Appendix III.

(51.) "Singing Women: Lullabies and Carols in Medieval England," 374-82. On medieval use of contrafacture, see Daniel E. O'Sullivan, "Contrafacture," in Handbook of Medieval Studies: Terms--Methods--Trends, Vol. 1, ed. Albrecht Classen (Berlin: Walther de Gruyter, 2010), 1478-81. On this lyric's metrical form and relationship with other medieval lyrics, see Cynthia Rogers, "Singing from the Book: An Analysis of the Middle English and Latin Lullaby Lyrics in Harley 913" (Master's Thesis, University of Oklahoma, 2008). The lyric has been set to music by Katharine Blake and recorded under the title "Adult Lullaby" on Mediaeval Baebes, Salva Nos (Virgin Records, 1997).

(52.) Gill's description of her role in the scene argues against the recent suggestion by Ross Duffin that Mak and Gill could here sing the two-voiced "Lullay, lullow" refrain for "I saw a swete semly sight," a lullaby about the Virgin Mary and Christ child in a fifteenth-century manuscript, London, British Library MS Additional 5666 (Some Other Note, 11). Richard Rastall argues, "the Third Shepherd cannot tell the difference between Mak's singing and Gyll's groaning--or so he pretends--and assumes that they are both singing" (The Heaven Singing, 357).

(53.) Middle English Crucifixion laments that survive with musical notation include "Jesu Cristes Milde Moder" and "Stond wel, Moder, under rode" (Middle English Marian Lyrics, ed. Karen Saupe, Middle English Text Series [Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997], nos. 32 and 33); for laments with refrains, see nos. 37 and 45.

(54.) While Regula Meyer Evitt argues for consideration of the play's overall interweaving of secular and sacred in terms of the motet ("Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play," 308-9) and Peter Meredith views the play as similar to the visual tradition of the diptych ("The Towneley cycle," 155), neither discusses the relationship of the voices of Mak and Gill in these terms.

(55.) The Middle English lullabies that depict Mary singing to the Christ child depict the suffering that Christ will undergo in the Crucifixion; but the ones that survive with polyphonic settings do not use different words for each voice. See Kathleen Palti, "Singing Women: Lullabies and Carols in Medieval England," 360-67.

(56.) Kiser, "Mak's Heirs," 346.

(57.) The Towneley Plays, 144.

(58.) See Lisa Riser's discussion of the play's "erasure" of the human/animal boundary in "Mak's Heirs," 353. See also Katherine McGerr's discussion of her production's approach to the role of the sheep in her essay in this volume, XX-XX.

(59.) Richard Rastall argues that the "Gloria in excelsis Deo" sung in the play was probably based on the responsory chant used in the Christmas Matins liturgy, rather than the form used in the Christmas Mass (The Heaven Singing, 152 and 258).

(60.) The Heaven Singing, 39-41. Rastall joins many scholars in suggesting that the angel's role may therefore have required a singer with more advanced musical training than the other actors in the play (Minstrels Playing, 176).

(61.) The Old Hall Manuscript, eds. Andrew Hughes and Margaret Bent, 3 vols. (Corpus mensurabilis musicae 46) (Middleton, WI: American Institute of Musicology, 1969-85). Martial Rose suggests using a "Gloria" by Dunstable from this manuscript, without additional comment (The Wakefield Mystery Plays, 46-47).

(62.) Rastall, The Heaven Singing, 152-54; Duffin, Some Other Note, 3-4. Both authors include modern settings in their discussions.

(63.) "Music in the English Mystery Plays," in Music in English Renaissance Drama, ed. John H. Long (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1968), 18.

(64.) As Rastall indicates (The Heaven Singing, 347-48), the shepherds in the N-Town and Chester plays struggle to understand and repeat the angel's Latin song, while the shepherds in the Coventry play do not attempt to repeat the Latin "Gloria."

(65.) Rastall, Minstrels Playing, 176; Duffin, Some Other Note, 12-13; and Rose, The Wakefield Mystery Plays, 46-47. John Stevens considered "Lauda Salvatorum," which appears in London, British Library MS Egerton 3307, fol. 79r, to be incomplete: see Medieval Carols, Musica Britannica, vol. 4 (London: Stainer & Bell, 1952).

(66.) This transcribes the Middle English text from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Arch. Selden B.26, fol. 7r, with my translation. See the digital facsimile of the manuscript on the "Early Manuscripts at Oxford University" website ( Transcription of the medieval notation appears in John Stainer et alia, Early Bodleian Music, 2.104-5. Edited text and modern notation appear in The New Oxford Book of Carols, ed. Hugh Keyte, Andrew Parrott, and Clifford Bartlett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 98-99.

(67.) Susan Hellauer proposes a three-voice setting for the refrain and a two-voice setting for the verses (Nyack, NY: Chant Village, 2008), while Ross Duffin provides a three-voice setting for the refrain and verses, which he suggests for the shepherds in the Towneley First Shepherds' Play (Some Other Note, 7-8). Performances of this carol appear on many modern recordings, including Anonymous 4, The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols, and Ballads for Christmas (Harmonia Mundi, 2010); Blue Heron, Christmas in Medieval England (Blue Heron, 2015); and the Tallis Scholars, Christmas with the Tallis Scholars (Gimell, 2003).

(68.) See The New Oxford Book of Carols, eds. Hugh Keyte, Andrew Parrott, and Clifford Bartlett, 98.

(69.) Other scholars have discussed forms of resistance or dialogism in the play without reference to the songs or polyphony, including Sturges, The Circulation of Power in Medieval Biblical Drama, 3 and 81; and Rick Bowers, Radical Comedy in Early Modern England: Contexts, Cultures, Performances (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 18.

(70.) JoAnna Dutka, "Music and the English Mystery Plays," 145.


Manuscript Sources

Cambridge (UK), Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 1-2005

Hertford, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Records, MS 57553

London, British Library, MS Additional 5666

London, British Library, MS Additional 57950

London, British Library, MS Egerton 3307

London, British Library, MS Harley 913

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Arch. Selden B.26

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson G.22

San Marino, Huntington Library, MS HM 1

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Author:McGerr, Rosemarie
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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