Queer and working class while reading The Second Shepherds' Play

As a queer, working-class, medievalist, I cannot separate who I am from how I read. Medieval drama invites queer people to read for such moments – it allows us to see our identity in an often-unfamiliar space. It also illustrates the subtleties of class in England in the later Middle Ages in important ways for those of us living in an era of similar or even greater wealth inequality. In particular, The Second Shepherds’ Play elucidates the range of emotions and actions inspired by poverty, and even as it ends with the promise of eternal salvation through Christ, it indeed parodies the nativity, through Mak and Gill, to emphasize the realities of poverty. Intersecting these elements of class, the play, too, stages a cast of queer characters. In this essay, I explore how my identity affects my scholarly practice – that my queerness and my working class background insist that I open texts to the possibilities of real queer and working class presents in texts from the past. I argue that in The Second Shepherds’ Play we see queer, classed bodies struggling in the patriarchal, aristocratic system of feudalism. Furthermore, the solution offered to this problem of earthly suffering, the Christ child, is a queer, democratizing agent, undermining both heteronormativity and feudal power structures. As queer, working-class readers in the present, we must identify our presents in the past of this text while acknowledging its call to re-present its message of hope for queer, working-class persons today.



Work Title Queer and working class while reading The Second Shepherds' Play
Open Access
  1. Jeffery Stoyanoff
  1. queer studies
  2. medieval drama
  3. second shepherds' play
  4. towneley manuscript
  5. class
License In Copyright (Rights Reserved)
Work Type Article
  1. postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies
Publication Date 2020
  1. Middle English literature
  2. queer studies
  3. medieval drama
  1. English
Publisher Identifier (DOI)
  1. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41280-020-00180-x
Geographic Area
  1. North America
Deposited May 13, 2021




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