The Marriage of Self and Structure

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The three shepherds of the Wakefield “First Shepherds Play” are common men with common troubles.They are equals—like the small town and urban people we’re studying and who would have watched such plays—and that meant that their relative worth to each other shifted only gradually, but perhaps constantly. By contrast, the clear worthiness of Christ was simple for them, although they could see his surpassing quality in two ways, according to two schedules of honor, the worldly and the eternal. As they enter the stable and behold Him, the First Shepherd exclaims: “Hayll, King I thee call! Hayll, most of myght! Hayll, the worthyst of all. Hayll, duke! Hayll, knyght! Of greatt and small Thou art lorde by right…”l He speaks in the language of high class and power, of feudal rights, familiar things, precisely the things that shepherds did not have, but felt the butt end of. The Second Shepherd follows, however, with the great Christian irony: that Christ is but a baby and a humble one at that: “Hayll, little tyn’ mop, rewarder of mede! Hail, bot oone drop of grace at my nede; Hayll, lytytll mylk sop! Hayll, david sede! Of oure crede thou art crop; hayll, in god hede.”2 Odd as this might be to the canons of power, it is undoubtedly so, and known by all. How challenging a master view this is for social life however. These shepherds must assess the child’s status and that means their own relative status. They are given a great advantage: the angels have already explained the situation, but furthermore, Christ is outside their normal domain, from another social circle entirely. From either the spiritual or political perspective He is worthiest and of another kind. Here is class difference of the first magnitude.


Comparative Worshipfulness Royal Court Relative Worth Arbitration Case Medieval Town 
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© David Gary Shaw 2005

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