Created on: March 12, 2013 Last Updated: March 14, 2013
Easter, and the period leading up to it, is a cornerstone of Christianity. Betrayal, mockery and suffering lead to the joy of resurrection and eternal life. In a short life that was filled with drama, Lent and Easter where the most challenging and dramatic periods in Christ's life. It's hardly surprising that the greatest dramatist of all time - William Shakespeare - found parallels between the Easter story and the suffering of Christ and his own richly drawn characters.
There is no overt celebration of Easter in the plays, but a number of characters equate their suffering with that of Jesus, and there are a number of visual indicators to direct the audience towards the Easter story. These are just some of the references and allusions to Lent and Easter in Shakespeare's plays.
In Act 4, when Richard is summoned to Westminster Hall to abdicate his throne to Bolingbroke, he compares himself to Christ on Good Friday, but states that whereas only Judas betrayed Jesus, he is in worse case, because nobody is true to him.
Did they not sometime cry 'All hail!' to me?
So Judas did to Christ: but he, in twelve,
Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand, none. 94. 1. 160 - 162)
Later in the scene, he adds another layer of allusion, comparing the onlookers to the forced abdication to Pontius Pilate, who refused to have anything to do with Jesus' trial once he realised what was occurring.
Though some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands,
Showing an outward pity; yet you Pilates
Have here deliver'd me to my sour cross,
And water cannot wash away your sin. (4. 1. 229 - 232)
In a parallel of Christ's story, Richard too is mocked and insulted, and finally killed in Pontefract Castle, where he was imprisoned.
3 Henry VI
The most obvious reference to Easter in this play is in the first act, when Queen Margaret is mocking Richard of York, after the Lancastrian victory at St Albans. (1. 4) She has him set on a molehill and crowned with a paper crown, before telling him that his youngest son, Rutland has been killed. The parallels with Golgotha - the hill where Christ was crucified - and the crown of thorns with the crown of paper placed on York's head would not have been lost on Shakespeare's audience.
The theme of resurrection
The Easter story ends with the Resurrection of Christ, giving renewed hope to mankind. While there are no actual resurrections in the plays, there are many instances where those who were thought to be dead are discovered to be alive, making for happy endings and of course, hope for the future.
In the final act of 'The Comedy of Errors,' Egeon and his wife Emilia, along with their twin sons, and their twin servants, are all reunited after being parted for 33 years. Of course, this was Jesus' supposed Earthly life span, so it's difficult to escape the allusions to the Easter story. The final lines of the scene are redolent with hope and joy for the future, after a time of suffering.
In 'Twelfth Night,' Viola and Sebastian are also reunited, after each had thought the other drowned, and there are several other instances where a character thought to be dead is miraculously 'resurrected.' Nothing can possibly be more dramatic than a return from the dead, and Shakespeare exploits the concept of resurrection to its full potential.
Shakespeare used thinly veiled references to Lent and Easter to increase the dramatic effect of his words, with both visual and vocal allusions to the Passion of Christ. Although these meaning of these allusions may sometimes bypass modern audiences, in Shakespeare's time, they would have been recognised as devices for emphasising the suffering of characters, or bringing hope for the future.
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