The Shepherds' Play

In 1975 Ted Winter and I got together and edited parts of three medieval English plays together into one play. Then I came home and wrote and arranged some music for the play, and Ted proceeded to do a translation into modern English.

The resulting play was presented by members of Bethany United Methodist Church in Albemarle, where I was pastor, and the church's choir sang the music. Performances were on December 18 and 21, 1975.

I did a silk-screen design for the cover, a little bigger than pictured here.

Ted wrote a very helpful commentary for the program, as given below.

Medieval Cycle Drama and the Shepherds' Play

During the Middle Ages one of the best means the church had for teaching a largely illiterate population about the Bible and its meaning was to perform plays representing biblical stories. In England short plays portraying such events as the creation, Noah's flood, the Nativity, Christ's Trial and Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Last Judgment were combined in long series or "cycles" that told the whole history of God's relations with mankind. These cycles, which took an entire day to perform, were acted outdoors before the whole community once a year, usually on Pentecost or the feast of Corpus Christi a few days later. Written by the clergy, the plays were performed by lay people, often with certain religiously oriented trade guilds responsible for the production of individual plays.

The plays about the annunciation of Christ's birth to the shepherds have always been favorites. The reason for this is probably that the plays depict, in a comical way, real medieval shepherds who have a full range of typical human problems with which any audience can identify. Far from being improper or irreverent in a "religious" play, these comical episodes are designed to show the kind of real world the Christ child was born to redeem. They also hint indirectly at the kind of Savior he would be -- the Good Shepherd who can heal his sheep, the friend of the hard-pressed, the one who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty, the one who puts down the mighty and exalts those of low degree, and most important, the one who brings peace in the midst of the strife of the world.

Our play contains selected scenes from three different medieval plays about the shepherds, including the famous "Second Shepherds' Play" from the Wakefield cycle.

--Theodore G. Winter

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