Close Reading of the Relationship Between Mak and Gill Analysis


The Second Shepherd’s Play gives its readers a view of the shepherds’ life with respect to the nativity scene.  Prior to the event where the shepherds adore the Christ-child, the three characters of the play are caught up in what may be seen as a comical plot.  The three shepherds, Col, Gib and Dave, begin the play as they are described as poor shepherds out in the cold.  The first two start out by describing their plight.  The third, understood to be a servant, is introduced after the first two have met.  When they have all met, Mak, known to them as a thief, enters the scene.  Mak is the antagonist who causes problems to the group.

The point of his appearance is mainly to steal a sheep from the shepherds.  He succeeds by taking advantage of their trust, putting him in a more.  He takes the sheep home and another important character is introduced: the wife of Mak, Gill.  Together, they plot to hide the sheep until the heat dies down.  Upon close reading, the interaction between Mak and his wife presents an interesting characterization for both individual and collective sense.

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Overall Plot Analysis

Before going into Mak and Gill’s relationship as a whole, some story analysis must be first established.  To begin, let’s take the story as a whole.  An interpretation of the text may see the text as something of a comedy.  Meaning, the text presents the human condition in a light and, in this case, satirical manner, while dealing with something serious.  For example, the first part of the play shows the shepherds poking fun at each other:


The devil take your guts for hanging around.

Where did Dave go?


He’s just coming now.

Stand still.




For he comes, say I. (Guthrie 4)

This event was made to startle Dave, the third shepherd.  Despite their current situation suffering in the cold, they manage to amuse themselves with playful acts and language.  Also, taking a look at the plot, we can see more comical events regardless of the seriousness that the scenario presents.  When Mak and his wife hid the sheep, they disguised it as a baby.  Of all the possible ways to hide the sheep, the play made it like a parody of the birth of Christ.  Without going into the possible interpretations of the parody, the image of a sheep disguised as a baby itself is humorous in a way that it not only is realistic in real life but also absurd to even consider.  Yet, this scheme almost fooled the three shepherds if it weren’t for the third shepherd’s interest in the alleged child:


Give me leave him to kiss, and once lift him out.

What devil is this? He has a long snout!


He is marked amiss. Let’s not wait about!


The ill-spun weft always comes foully out.

Aye, so!

He is like to our sheep. (Guthrie 21)

After punishing Mak for the misdeed, Mak is said to simply return to his house.  No other effect on him is described so even the degree of Mak’s crime is downplayed.

Language use

With respect to language, the same interpretation is easily assumed.  The tone is set to a light mood from the conversational language and rhyme.  Even in cases where the setting should be in a serious tone, such as the first scene where the shepherds let out their frustrations and the scene where they find out that they have been tricked, none of the scenes give off the atmosphere of negativity.  Let us take the second shepherd’s rant as an example:

She’s as sharp as a thistle, as rough as a briar,

She is browed like a bristle, with a sour looking cheer;

If she once wets her whistle she can sing full clear Her paternoster.

She is as great as a whale withal,

She has a gallon of gall,

By him that died for us all

I would I had lost her. (Guthrie 4)

The comparisons such as “great as a whale” and “browed like a bristle” describe the wife as unappealing.  Of course, there are other ways of describing an unattractive woman but the comparisons are exaggerated to an extent that the appearance is unrealistic.  If ever the depiction is true to its word, then it would present a worse case as the wife would look extremely absurd.

In Mak’s case, analyzing his use of language show that his lines used for the shepherds differ from the lines he uses for his wife.  Generally, almost all the lines he used to converse with the shepherds are falsehoods.  For example, he shows himself as a humble yet noble man who is stricken with illness and hunger to the shepherds while he tells the wife “I/ am worth my meat/ For in a trick can I get/ More then [sic] they that toil and sweat/ All the long day” (Guthrie 10).  He proudly presents himself as a cunning thief to his wife.  This two-faced nature that the character of Mak shows its readers divides him with his public face and private face which only his wife can see.

Plot in relation to Mak and Gill

Considering all things said, we can now focus on Mak’s relationship with Gill.  Firstly, let us analyze the plot.  When Mak tells his wife about the sheep he had stolen, the wife not only plays along with Mak’s scheme but she is the one who comes up with the plan to hide the sheep from the shepherds:


A good trick have I spied, since you think of none:

Here shall we hide him until they are gone,

In my cradle, to abide. But let me alone,

And I shall lie beside in childbed, and groan. (Guthrie 11)

One thing to note in this scenario is that Gill is able to think like a mother when she herself is not, at least, there are no story lines which make it look like she is.  This makes the reader suspect when it comes to Gill’s capabilities as a character.  Either this tells us that Gill is a smart woman who can think outside the box or there may be more to Gill than what is said in the text.  The second one, naturally, cannot be verified using the text alone.

Language use
Looking at Mak and Gill’s exchange, a hint of sexual politics leaning on Gill’s dominance can be seen even in the first part of the dialogue.  Upon Mak’s arrival, Gill welcomes him rather coldly:


Good wife, open this hatch! See you not what I bring?


I will let you draw the latch. Come in my “sweeting”!


You care not a patch for my long standing.


By your neck you may catch a rope at a hanging. (Guthrie 10)

This lack of affection shown by the housewife continues throughout the play.  However, this does not show outright that she cares not for her husband.  Later on, she addresses Mak with what seems to be the reason for her shrewish nature:

Why, who fetches, and who wakes, who comes and who goes?

Who brews and who bakes? Who mends all your hose?

And then

It’s sad to behold,

How woeful the household

That wants a woman. (Guthrie 14)

There is a possibility that the shrewish nature is caused by Mak himself.  Perhaps Mak does neglect Gill.  The exchange mentioned above does seem to support this theory.  But then, what of the rest of the play?  Does the rest of the play support the possibility that it is Mak’s neglect that made Gill such?

From Mak’s characterization and language, it does seem possible for him to be neglectful.  Aside from the fact that not one word from Mak is related to his relationship to Gill, his cunning nature also makes his capability of care suspect.  Unlike Mak, Gill does not show the tendency to be two-faced.  Despite her shrewish way of speaking, it has to be noted that Gill is consistent with the way she addresses everyone.  When speaking to the shepherds, she maintains the level of irritability regardless of her position as a mastermind trying to hide a sheep from its true owners.  She tells them:


Be off from the bed, let me breathe, if you please!

Each step that you tread from my nose to my knees

Goes through me. (Guthrie 17)

The relationship and the text

The relationship of Mak and his wife functions as a satire of a married couple.  However, it is worth noting that there is a possibility that the function of the relationship is limited to comic relief rather than a contribution to a main theme.  If a deeper meaning is looked for, we may see something that pertains to the union of the marriage.  We can see that Mak and his wife remain loyal to each other regardless of the actions of the other.  If the parody of Christ’s family applies, then Mak and Gill fit as a mirror of Mary and Joseph.  But, as parodies go, Mak and Gill are portrayed in the negative aspect of the union as the cooperation turned from something that is meant to be good into something used for evil.

Works Cited

  1. The Second Shepherd’s Play. Guthrie, Adrian (ed.). 30 May 2010. <>.

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