In the N-Town play The Betrayal, Christ, in accordance with the account offered by the gospels, enters the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. However, when Christ pleads to be spared, an angel appears with a chalice and a host. N-Town is the only one of the four surviving cycle plays in Middle English to make this scene explicitly Eucharistic. As such it mirrors the previous scene of the Last Supper; however, in this case, the chalice and wafer seem separated from his agency. Instead of Christ saying, ‘This chalice is my blood’, an angel states, ‘This chalice is your blood’. In its depiction of the Eucharist, N-Town both places it within the narrative context while then abstracting the image so that the audience would be reminded of how they still might encounter Christ within the context of the Mass.
In John Bale’s The Temptation of Our Lord, angels minister to a hungry Christ following the completion of his fast. According to a stage direction, Christ accepts and eats the food that angels offer him ‘to confort [his] weake body / After [his] great fast and notable vyctorye’ (359-60). Bale’s play foregrounds Christ’s ‘feble, faynt, and werye, / Weake…[and] hungrye’ body, figuring bodily weakness and hunger as signs of Christ’s human nature, and the angels’ food eases his physical rather than his spiritual distress. By emphasizing Christ’s nutritional relief, Bale counters Eucharistic overtones conventionally associated with ‘angels’ food’ or ‘angels’ bread’ as deployed, for example, in the Digby Mary Magdalene, which stages an analogous episode where Christ orders angels to relieve a fasting Mary with the ‘gostly fode’ of the Eucharist.
Generally scholarly research holds the opinion that the passion play as it originates from the Middle Ages as a theatrical performance came to an end with the Reformation (1517-1648) on the European continent. This observation, however, needs some refinement as far as the passion plays are concerned which are comprised in the so-called Alemannic group which originate from the Southern part of present day Germany and the German speaking part of present day Switzerland. These passion plays are not only characterized by a common linguistic feature but likewise by their participation in the discourses stirred up by the Reformation. The Catholic Donauesching Passion Play (c. 1480) for example, introduces the notion of plurality of beliefs, as well as the Catholic Lucerne Easter Play (1545-1616) which appropriates certain Protestant positions, and last but not least the genuinely Protestant Zurich Passion Play (1545) conveys religious positions in the Zwinglian tradition. This contribution elaborates on the way the genre of the passion play communicates these challenges.