The Second Shepherds' Play and Early Drama Studies (workshop)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2007 workshop organized by Greg Walker (University of Leicester) and Kathleen Lynch (Folger Institute). Session Moderators included Sarah Beckwith (Duke University), Sarah Carpenter (University of Edinburgh), Theresa Coletti (University of Maryland), Janette Dillon (University of Nottingham), Alexandra Johnston (REED, University of Toronto), John McGavin (University of Southampton), and Claire Sponsler (University of Iowa).

With its brilliantly profane inversion of the nativity story, the “Wakefield Master’s” Second Shepherds’ Play articulates a deeply typological world view while also juxtaposing the sublime and the carnivalesque in ways often associated with the dramaturgy of the later Shakespeare and his contemporaries. While the Second Shepherds’ Play is one of the most widely read of medieval dramas, this one-day workshop asked what can be achieved with a modern production. Participants viewed the Folger Consort’s holiday production The Second Shepherds' Play: A Medieval Mystery for the Yuletide Season, and invited speakers served as catalysts to discussion the following day, when performers joined scholars to consider such topics as: the conventions of contemporary production and what they reveal about the evidentiary base of past practices and the desirability, or indeed possibility, of authenticity in production; the cross-fertilizations across the secular/religious divide that this play may illustrate; and the new directions in early drama studies that these discussions might articulate. Some fruitful questions for discussion include: What kind of drama is the Second Shepherds’ Play? What does it suggest about the nature of medieval religious drama, including its role in medieval society, its relationship to other spectacles, pageants, and civic ceremonies, and their various uses of social space? What has been the influence of early drama studies’ critical turn toward the body and to issues of performativity? What difference does it make if early drama is the domain of theatre studies or medieval literature, social history or even anthropology? What continuities and parallels exist from early to early-modern drama? Applicants described the ways their current research engages these issues and prepares them to participate actively throughout the sessions. The workshop accommodated up to three dozen participants.