Did Shakespeare watch a Passion Play? Part 2

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As you know from the previous blog, Shakespeare would have seen the Mystery Plays in Coventry when they were performed during Whitsuntide or Midsummer feast days and before they were suppressed sometime between 1576 and 1579. But did Shakespeare actually watch a Passion Play?

Not as such, but he was certainly familiar with the stories and characters that were part of the great play cycle. Of course, this included the story of Easter from the Bible.

His own plays contain a number of allusions to the Mystery plays, especially his reference to Herod in Hamlet, Judas in Richard II and Pontius Pilate in Macbeth.

Another scene from the Mystery plays which Shakespeare remembered as he was writing Macbeth and Richard II was the story of Easter where Pontius Pilate washes his hands of the responsibility of giving Jesus a fair trial.

Pilate is swayed from his intentions of letting him go by a mob who call for his death. He literally washes his hands to symbolise his innocence of Christ’s death and Lady Macbeth often refers to water which will wash her guilt away and eventually is seen trying to wash her hands as she sleepwalks and betrays her guilty conscience.


Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?—Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.


Do you mark that?


The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?—
What, will these hands ne’er be clean?—No more o’
that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with
this starting.


Go to, go to; you have known what you should not.


She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of
that: heaven knows what she has known.


Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!

(Act 5 Scene 1)