The Shepards' Gifts in The Second Shepherds' Play and Bosch's "Adoration of the Magi"


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

Professor Ross's article on symbol and structure in the Secunda Pastorum which appeared in the pages of the Spring 1967 issue of this periodical1 drew careful attention to the gifts which the Shepherds present to the Christ Child at the end of the play-a "bob of cherys," a "byrd," and a "ball"-and particularly stressed that the Wakefield gifts were not selected with an "idealized pastoral symbolism in mind" and that they represented "a break with English dramatic ... tradition" and even with English artistic tradition in that the gifts are not homely and rustic and not visualized in "contemporary realism" (p. 126). Ross's conclusion that "the inspiration for the specific gifts, at once simple and significant, must, it would seem, have come from medieval art" amply supported by his extraordinarily careful study of medieval iconographical traditional presentation of cherry, bird, and ball in association with the Christ figure receives support from an iconographical quarter which by the merest of chances he seems not to have investigated, and which, but for an extraordinary coincidence in the present writer's study, would have continued lying in limbo. Moreover, of all the exempla of the religious art of the period to which Ross has referred not one specifically contained ·a ll three symbols in one coherent unit. As Ross points out, the ball is the symbolic orb of Christ's kingship, the bird the symbol of his divinity, the cherry the symbol of his sacrificial manhood, but these interpretations have had to be arrived at from random exempla in which frequently two of the symbols will be found together, such as the Child with a cherry in his hand, or the birds with cherries in their beaks (See Ross's figure 7), or the Child with an orb in his hand (See figure 1), or the child with both the orb and the bird (see figure 3).

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