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Play 7, Sacrificium Cayme et Abell


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).


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).


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




























ANGELUS   That Lord of lyffe lele aylastand,
Whos myght unmesured is to meyne,
He shoppe the sonne, bothe see and sande,
And wroughte this worlde with worde, I wene.
His aungell cleere, as cristall clene,
Here unto you thus am I sente
This tide.
Abell and Cayme, yei both bydeyne,
To me enteerly takis entent;
To meve my message have I ment,
If that ye bide.

Allemyghty God of myghtes moste,
When he had wrought this world so wide
Nothynge hym thoughte was wroughte in waste
But in his blissyng boune to bide.
Neyne Ordurs for to telle, that tyde,
Of aungeles bryght he bad ther be.
For pride
And sone the tente part it was tried
And wente awaye, as was worthye;
They heild to helle alle that meyne,
Therin to bide.

Thanne made he manne to his liknes
That place of price for to restore,
And sithen he kyd him such kyndnes,
Somwhat wille he wirke therfore.
The tente to tyne he askis, no more,
Of alle the goodes he haves you sent,
Full trew.
To offyr loke that ye be yore,
And to my tale yhe take entent,
For ilke a lede that liffe has lente,
So shalle you ensewe.

ABELL   Gramercy, God of thy goodnes,
That me on molde has marked thi man.
I worshippe thee with worthynes,
With alle the comforte that I can.
Me for to were fro warkes wanne
For to fulfille thy comaundement,
The teynd
Of alle the gode sen I beganne
Thow shalle it have, sen thou it sent.
Come, brothir Cayme, I wolde we wente
With hert ful hende.

CAYM   We, whythir now in wilde waneand?
Trowes thou I thynke to trusse of towne?
Goo, jape thee, robard jangillande;
Me liste noght nowe to rouk nor rowne.

ABELL   A, dere brothir, late us be bowne
Goddis biddyng blithe to fulfille,
I tell thee.

CAYME   Ya, daunce in the devil way, dresse thee downe,
For I wille wyrke even as I will.
What mystris thee, in gode or ille,
Of me to melle thee?

ABELL   To melle of thee myldely I may;
Bot, goode brothir, go we in haste,
Gyffe God oure teynde dulye this day;
He byddis us thus, be nought abassed.

CAYME   Ya, devell methynketh that werke were waste,
That he us gaffe geffe hym agayne
To se.
Nowe fekyll frenshippe for to fraste
Methynkith ther is in hym sarteyne.
If he be moste in myghte and mayne,
What nede has he?

ABELL   He has non nede unto thi goode,
But it wille please hym principall
If thou, myldly in mayne and moode,
Grouche noght geve hym tente parte of all.
. . .
[ANGELUS]   It shall be done evyn as ye bydd,
And that anone.

BREWBARRET   Lo, maister Cayme, what shaves bryng I,
Evyn of the best for to bere seyd,
And to the feylde I wyll me hye
To fetch you moo, if ye have neyd.

CAYME   Cume up, sir knave, the devyll thee speyd,
Ye will not come but ye be prayd.

BREWBARRET   O, maister Caym, I have broken my to!

CAYME   Come up, syr, for by my thryft,
Ye shall drynke or ye goo.

ANGELUS   Thowe cursyd Came, where is Abell?
Where hais thowe done thy broder dere?

CAYME   What askes thowe me that taill to tell,
For yit his keper was I never?

ANGELUS   God hais sent thee his curse downe,
Fro hevyn to hell, maladictio dei.

CAYME   Take that thyself, evyn on thy crowne,
Quia non sum custos fratris mei,
To tyne.

ANGELUS   God hais sent thee his malyson,
And inwardly I geve thee myne.

CAYME   The same curse light on thy crowne,
And right so myght it worth and be
For he that sent that gretyng downe,
The devyll myght speyd both hym and thee.
Fowll myght thowe fall.
Here is a cankerd company;
Therefore Goddes curse light on you all.

ANGELUS   What hast thou done? Beholde and heere:
The voice of his bloode cryeth vengeaunce
Fro erthe to heven, with voice entere,
This tyde.
That God is greved with thy grevaunce
Take hede, I schalle telle thee tydandis,
Therfore abide.

Thou shall be curssed uppon the grounde.
God has geffyn thee his malisonne.
Yff thou wolde tyll the erthe so rounde
No frute to thee ther shalle be founde.
Of wikkidnesse sen thou arte sonne,
Thou shalle be waferyng here and there
This day.
In bittir bale nowe art thou boune,
Outcastyn shal thou be for care.
No man shal rewe of thy misfare
For this affraie.

CAYME   Allas, for syte, so may I saye,
My synne it passis al mercie,
For askid thee, Lord, I ne maye;
To have it am I nought worthy.
Fro thee shalle I be hidde in hye,
Thou castis me, Lorde, oute of my kyth
In lande.
Both here and there outecaste am I,
For ilke a man that metis me with,
They wille slee me, be fenne or ferth,
With dynte of hande.

ANGELUS   Nay, Cayme, nought soo, have thou no drede.
Who that thee slees shalle ponnysshed be
Sevene sithis for doyng of that dede.
Forthy a token shal thou see:
It shalle be prentyd so in thee
That ilke a man shalle thee knowe full wele.

CAYM   Thanne wolle I fardir flee
For shame.
Sethen I am sette thus out of seill,
That curse that I have for to feill,
I giffe you the same.
truly everlasting
shaped (created)

[At] this time; (t-note)
fully pay attention
move (set forth); (t-note)

Nothing; superfluous; (see note)
was bound to abide
Orders; time

soon; tenth; tested
(i.e., as they deserved)
fell; company

extended to him

tenth to lose (give up)

pay attention
every man


defend; evil works

tenth part (tithe)
goods since


insane waning [of moon] (i.e., an inauspicious time); (see note)
Think; leave town; (see note)
jangling felon
I’d prefer; talk [privately]; mumble


(i.e., out of my way)

Why do you need
To meddle with me yourself

Give; tithe

gave give

fickle; test

with determination

of your goods

(i.e., willingly)

[pages missing, see textual note]

sheaves; (see note)




God’s curse [on you]

Because I am not my brother’s keeper; (see note)
To trouble you




[At] this time


till (plow); (see note)



feel sorry for

(see note)
ask [it] of you


every man
kill; swamp or frith (forest)
a blow

punished; (see note)
Seven times; deed
(see note)
imprinted so on

further; (t-note)

Since; prosperity

Go To Play 8, The Building of Noah’s Ark