Article Title

Musical Structure in the Second Shepherds' Play


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Each of the five shepherds' plays in the four major Corpus Christi cycles1 offers us its own distinctive elaboration on the biblical version of the Nativity. The shepherds in at least three of the cycles (York, Chester, and Towneley) are clearly, at the simplest level, English "hyrdes" who fill out the narrative framework provided by the second chapter of Luke with a variety of amusing antics and sometimes raucous behavior. Despite differences in plot and character, all five of these plays share in one particularly curious divergence from the biblical narrative. As they do in Luke, the shepherds in each pageant listen intently when the Herald Angel appears, singing Gloria in excelsis Deo. But after the angel gives them the good news of Christ's birth and vanishes, a lively and entirely unbiblical discussion about the nature of this divine music follows, during which the shepherds argue good-naturedly with each other about who can most accurately imitate the angel's song.2

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