That moderately fancy, and somewhat hard to read typeface in The Second Shepherds' Play title is what we refer to as "black letter," which differs from the more familiar typeface that you find in The Cronicle Historie of Henry the V the The Taming of a Shrew titles on their posters. And, yes, there is a reason for it.
The written word has been around a lot longer than the printed page, and around 1450, when Gutenberg introduced mechanical movable type printing to Europe, the earliest type faces were designed to emulate the letters of written script. We actually do this today all the time, and the number of typefaces (aka fonts) that come with whatever word processor you use: not only will your word processor simulate manuscript letters (think of your signature typefaces), but it will also simulate other forms of type, including the descendant of the type face on the Henry V and A Shrew titles above... Times New Roman.
The roman type face was a later development, and in its earliest applications was used for books printed in Latin (most schooling after the age of 6 would have been in Latin and Greek in early modern London). By the end of the 16th century, you can almost judge a book by it's typeface: books printed in roman typefaces catered to the more educated reader (who would have been accustomed to the typeface from their studies), and books designed for those without a formal education were printed in the blackletter typefaces that were reminiscent of the texts used in the most rudimentary levels of schooling.
|The Wakefield manuscript, opened to the first page of|
The Second Shepherds' Play
The use of a typeface that simulates those found in early modern printshops is one of the ways we set the tone for the type of performances you'll see at Bad Quarto Productions, and so we offer the blackletter font for our Second Shepherds' Play poster this year as a gesture to the manuscript writing that The Second Shepherds' Play survives in.
If you're interested in learning more about these fonts, or using them yourself, they are produced and distributed by Jeff Lee, and they are freely downloadable (and licensed for use) from his website.