Play 7, Sacrificium Cayme et Abell
Play 7, SACRIFICIUM CAYME ET ABELL: EXPLANATORY NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: AV: Authorized (“King James”) Version; Meditations: Meditations on the Life of Christ, trans. Ragusa and Green; MED: Middle English Dictionary; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; RB: Richard Beadle, ed., York Plays; REED: Records of Early English Drama; YA: Davidson and O’Connor, York Art; York Breviary: Breviarium ad usum insignis ecclesie Eboracensis; York Missal: Missale ad usum insignis ecclesiae Eboracensis.
References to the Ordo paginarum are to REED: York, 1:16–27.
The Glovers, whose trade was in white (tawed) leather products, were joined with the manufacturers of such items in the Ordo paginarum. Their play, based on Genesis 4 and written in an eleven-line stanza unique in the cycle, is unfortunately incomplete in the Register, from which two leaves have been lost. The missing pages included the story of the sacrifices of Abell (a lamb) and Cayme, the latter being unsatisfactory (wheat, in the Towneley play involving the worst sheaves, which create a noxious smoke), God’s reaction to the sacrifices, and Cayme’s murder of Abell, traditionally in English iconography with the jawbone of an ass,1 as in otherwise heavily restored glass at York Minster.2 The two leaves were lost by the time of John Clerke, who added the Brewbarret episode in his distinctive sixteenth-century hand (lines 73–99). For further comment, see RB, p. 76. The biblical account does not give the reasons for the rejection of Cain’s offering, and attempts at historical explanation have not been convincing. In the play prior to the loss of the leaves, the sacrifice of a lamb would have been seen as prefiguring the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus, on the cross. The angel messenger who explains the obligation of tithing — an obligation about which the medieval Church was insistent — and demands the sacrifices is not in Genesis, but a portion of the biblical account forms the basis of a responsory for Septuagesima Sunday in the York Breviary.3
14–15 Nothynge hym thoughte was wroughte in waste . . . to bide. The author of the play was aware of the theological problem of how God, infinitely good, could create something that could be corrupted. As Abelard remarked, “Goodness, it is evident, can produce only what is good” (qtd. Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being, p. 71). There is no satisfactory answer to the problem.
45 wilde waneand. Beadle glosses as “i.e., an evil hour” (RB, p. 530).
45–46 Cayme’s hostile attitude is even more pronounced, if possible, in the Towneley Mactacio Abel. In the visual arts of the period such as the example cited above from the Great East Window of 1405–08 in York Minster or the somewhat earlier Holkam Bible Picture Book, fols. 5–6, Cain has remarkably belligerent facial expressions and body language. The Cursor Mundi implies that he was the son of the devil, apparently the result of Satan’s seduction of Eve (1:69). His antagonism to tithing would have put him at odds with the ecclesiastical courts; the penalty for failing to tithe was intended to be excommunication, but might be a fine (see Ault, “Village Church,” pp. 208–09). See the extended discussion of Cain in medieval British drama in C. Davidson, History, Religion, and Violence, pp. 97–123.
73–99 Oddly, Cayme sends his boy Brewbarret to obtain sheaves “of the best,” and indicates he should have a drink before he goes, prior to the time when the angel appears to demand the whereabouts of Abel, who has already been killed. The angel curses Cayme in God’s stead; in Genesis 4:11 God curses Cain directly. This portion of the interpolation is a not very satisfactory attempt to link up with the text that follows.
89 Quia non sum custos fratris mei. Adapted from Genesis 4:9.
109–17 Inconsistently, Cayme is destined to till the soil though unfruitfully, but also to become a wanderer and an outcast.
119 My synne it passis al mercie. Despair is the deeply held feeling that one is beyond salvation, and indeed Cain is frequently said to be the first permanent resident of hell and a precursor of Judas — a contrast, again, to the despair of Adam, noted above. For a useful discussion of despair leading to damnation, see Snyder, “Left Hand of God.”
130 Who that thee slees. The murderer will be Lamech, who was believed to have been blind and to have done the deed unintentionally through the perfidy of his son. The only English dramatization appears in the Noah play in the N-Town collection, but the scene is depicted in the Holkham Bible Picture Book, fol. 6v; see also Woolf, English Mystery Plays, p. 135, and Reiss, “Story of Lamech and Its Place in Medieval Drama.”
132–33 a token . . . prentyd so in thee. The mark of Cain, which also functions as a sign of his damnation; see Genesis 4:15. In the Cornish Creacion, God makes the “marcke in his forehedd; this worde: Omega” (line 1179 s.d., p. 98).
Play 7, SACRIFICIUM CAYME ET ABELL: TEXTUAL NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: Bevington: David Bevington, ed., Medieval Drama (1975); Köbling: E. Köbling, “Beiträge zur Erklärung und Textkritik der York Plays”; LTS: Lucy Toulmin Smith, ed., The York Plays (1885); RB: Richard Beadle, ed., The York Plays (1972) (incorporating numerous emendations from other sources); RB2: Richard Beadle, “Corrections to The York Plays,” in Gerald Byron Kinneavy, A Concordance to the York Plays (1986), pp. xxxi–xxxii; s.d.: stage direction; Sykes: A. C. Cawley, ed., “The Sykes MS of the York Scriveners’ Play”; Towneley: Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley, eds., The Towneley Plays.
The base text for this edition is London, British Library, MS. Add. 35290, called the “Register” in the York civic records and here identified by the abbreviation Reg. Some variations in lineation from the manuscript are not noted here; see RB and Beadle and Meredith’s The York Play: A Facsimile. In most cases the line numbering in the present text is consistent with RB. Lineation of alliterative verse throughout is based on Reg, with line numbering adjusted accordingly to account for half lines. Scribes are identified as follows: Scribe A; Scribe B: main scribe; JC: John Clerke; LH: later scribal hand (unidentified).
7 Reg: line written at right, in red.
10 Reg: line canceled in red ink, then written again.
13 world. So LTS, RB; Reg: wolrd.
33 ensewe. Reg, as emended by JC; RB: sewe.
34–37 RB observes that these lines, having been omitted, were “added by main scribe at or immediately after rubrication” (p. 75n34–37).
70 Reg: hereafter two missing leaves, followed by lines 71–72 written over erasure by JC, a large cross indicating Brewbarret interpolation to be inserted from next page. A cue also appears: Caret inde; Lo, maister Cayme, what shaves bryng I.
71–99 Reg: interpolation entered by JC. Following Brewbarret interpolation, a cue gives the next line: What hais thowe done, beholde and here.
135 fardir. Corrected in Reg (medial letter r interlined).
Play 7, SACRIFICIUM CAYME ET ABELL: EXPLANATORY NOTE FOOTNOTES
Footnote 1 See Schapiro, “Cain’s Jaw-Bone,” and Guilfoyle, “Staging of the First Murder.”
Footnote 2 French, York Minster: The Great East Window, p. 52.
Footnote 3 York Breviary, 1:235–36. For attention to this and other citations to the York Missal and Breviary, I am grateful to King, York Mystery Cycle.
The Originall Perteynyng to the Craft of Gloveres
Go To Play 8, The Building of Noah’s Ark