Shrew Plays before Shakespeare: Noah, Joseph's Trouble about Mary, and The Killing of the Children

Item #
(Some appear in more than one play) Alan T. Gaylord, Dartmouth College, Joe Ricke, Taylor University, Alan Baragona, James Madison University, Jane Chance, Rice University, Tom Farrell, Stetson University, Susan Yager, Iowa State University, Carolyn Coulson-Grigsby, Shenandoah University, Bernard Lewis, Murray State University, Dana-Linn Whiteside, Roanoke College, and Paul Thomas, Brigham Young University
Recorded at
49th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo
Recording Date
May 2014

About This Product

Joe Ricke of Taylor University has become a known actor most years at the Kalamazoo Congress on Medieval Studies, and for 2014, he decided to produce three plays illustrating the sort of stong women characters in some of the cycle or mystery plays as we are to see frequently in Shakespeare's plays later. The term "shrew" should not be taken too negatively here, for one of these women so labeled is the Virgin Mary. Noah's wife, unnamed in the Towneley play as in the Bible, illustrates an almost ungovernable woman who is resisting leaving her good friends, called gossips, behind rather than to be saved in the Ark. In the York Joseph's Trouble about Mary, Joseph is as usual depicted as an elderly man who seems to have been cuckolded before he and Mary are wed. The angel Gabriel has not yet appeared to Joseph, and Mary's assertions of innocence fail to convince him that he should know better about her. She is to bear God's son, for whom Joseph will act as earthly father as well as he can while he lives. The Digby play's version of The Killing of the Children, the massacre of the innocent children under two years of age in Bethlehem and surrounding areas by command of the ranting-voiced King Herod is a topic of great sensitivity as the slaughter of the innocent babies should produce tender feelings in the audience. Part of the comic relief in this version of the play is in the character of Watkin, messenger and factotum for King Herod, who suddenly wants to become a manly knight during this savage mass murder commanded by the King, all to kill just one new baby boy whose parents have already fled to Egypt to save this son of God. Watkyn really wants to be manly and brave, but only if the mothers will allow him to get on with the killing. But these mothers stand up to the knights who murder their babies as we would expect from brave mothers, the so-called shrews who will not let Watkyn and his ilk escape his own humiliation. Even King Herod realizes too late that this act will brand him forever as an unworthy and overweening king, and he dies because of that self-realization in this play.