Did Shakespeare watch a Passion Play?

A historical book showing a portrait of Shakespeare and scripted text, in reference to Passion Plays.

Shakespeare may not have watched a Passion Play (as we know them now) but he would have been familiar with their forebears, the Mystery Plays. It is these, including parts of the Bible which he referenced in his work.

At one point in Julius Caesar, we find Mark Antony alone with the dead body of Caesar. The speech he gives is full of imagery which derives from similar memorialisation of the passion and death of Christ in medieval iconography, drama and liturgy. He says:

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,

That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!

Thou art the ruins of the noblest man

That ever livèd in the tide of times.

Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!

Over thy wounds now do I prophesy—

Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips

To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue—

A curse shall light upon the limbs of men. (Act 3 Scene 1)

In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth reflects Pontius Pilate washing his hands when she tries to wash the blood off her hands after killing King Duncan. Shakespeare adds a theological dimension to her horror and despair after killing the king. This is exemplified in Macbeth’s realisation that his bloody hands would never be clean again:

What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes.

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red. (Act 2 Scene 2)

Similarly, in Hamlet, Claudius obsesses about his guilt, but where he wades further into evil and damnation, Claudius tries to convince himself to sue for peace with heaven:

What if this cursed hand

Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,

Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens

To wash it white as snow? (Act 3 Scene 3)

In Richard II, the king mistakenly assumes the treachery and betrayal of three of his loyal followers by describing them as three times worse than Judas: ‘Three Judases, each one thrice worse than Judas!’ (Act 3 Scene2). In the same play, Henry Bolingbroke refers to Pilate as he publicly relinquishes responsibility for the executions of his prisoners:

Yet, to wash your blood

From off my hands, here in the view of men

I will unfold some causes of your deaths. (Act 3 Scene 1)

Later in the same play, Pilate’s hand-washing is combined with the imagery of blood-stained hands. This is a pervasive image of guilt and damnation in Shakespeare’s plays. Henry realises that true guilt cannot be washed away so easily, ‘Though some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands… And water cannot wash away your sin’ (Act 4 Scene 1) and vows to ‘make a voyage to the Holy Land/To wash this blood off from my guilty hand’ (Act 5 Scene 6).



  • Naseeb Azeez Shaheen, “Shakespeare and the Geneva Bible: “Hamlet”, I.iii.54″ Studies in Bibliography Vol. 38, (1985), pp. 201–203.
  • Naseeb Azeez Shaheen, Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Newark: University of Delaware Press, (1987) ISBN 978-0-87413-293-9.
  • Naseeb Azeez Shaheen,” Shakespeare’s Knowledge of the Bible – How Acquired” Shakespeare Studies Vol. 20, (1988), p. 201.
  • Naseeb Azeez Shaheen, Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays, Newark: University of Delaware Press, (1999), ISBN 978-0-87413-677-7.


Is fundraising like online dating?

Online dating is trying to find the right match among many differnet people. Fundraising for Passion Plays is similar to online dating in one respect: trying to find the right match for your Play among different trusts and funding charities. Finding this perfect match is the key to raising funds to tell the Easter story!

Once you find trusts and funders who are of a similar mindset and value the things you value, you are well on the way to a perfect match.


How do we find potential funders?

The Charity Commission’s Register of Charities allows you to search for free by using filters to narrow your search. (Remember, Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate registers.)
Funding Central is another register that is free to access.
For a more expensive option, you can try the Directory of Social Change’s Funds Online website which is regularly updated.
Since Passion Plays bring many churches of all denominations together, your diocese can be a good source of information and signposting. For example, see the Diocese of Bristol and their list of funders here.  www.bristol.anglican.org/documents/diocesan-funding-guide/
The Christian Funders’ Forum is also a useful source.


How do we let funders know our project is a good match for them?

Now is the time to do some research and really think about compatibility with the funders you are researching.

You can research their online content, websites, and also Further information will be inread through their annual reports published on the Charity Commissions website (click ‘Documents’ tab). These annual reports will give useful imformation about projects they have previously funded.

A quick phone call can also be helpful in establishing contact and goodwill as you will be able to find out more about them and let them know what you do.

Remember here that one of the key elements is timing! Some funders have a set application process that requires you to apply before a deadline. Other funders have trustees’ meetings at set times during the year and those times are good to work with.

The timing of your project also matters. Some funders like to fund projects in the early stage of development, while others like to give funding when they see other funders have already contributed.

There is a lot to think about with fundraising! But Passion Plays are such unique projects that it can also be an enjoyable process. Many funders like to hear about large community arts events that tell the Easter story in fresh and inspiring ways. Not only do Passion Plays have large outdoor audiences across the UK each Easter, they are also unique spaces of community, skill-sharing, mentoring and investing in the lives of volunteers across all sections of society. They are more than a one-off performance and the impact spreads across the whole community for many months.


Where can I find more help with fundraising?

If you want more help with fundraising, we have plenty more tips and advice on our website here.

We have recorded sessions from previous Passion Trust Conferences including sessions looking at Finance & Fundraising, Administration and Practical Considerations, and Q&A sessions. You can see more information and watch short helpful videos on our website here.

You can also find lots of helpful tips and advice at The Benefact Trust here or click on the image below.

three bullet points with rows of text and images in blue bubbles with white icons for help with fundraising


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