2. The Killing of Abel
Play 2, THE KILLING OF ABEL: FOOTNOTES
1 The killing of Abel, the second pageant
2 Lines 55–56: What, now do nothing but shout quickly [to the animals] / Until we have plowed this field
3 Lines 61–62: Come kiss my ass! I do not want to curse, / so you are welcome elsewhere
4 Lines 104–05: First we should take the tenth of what we have, / which is then to be burned for the love of God
5 Lines 186–87: God forbid that you show me gratitude or courtesy
6 You will find out whether you tithed correctly
7 It is imperative that you neither argue nor chide
8 We have a crow to pluck [that is, a dispute to settle]
9 Lines 390–91: I would curse your head, / even if you were my actual father
10 How will you do this (may it be long before you prosper)?
11 Yes, ill-spun weft always comes out foul (see note)
12 Long before you are old enough to wear hose, and [already] you behave thus!
13 Here ends the killing of Abel; Noah follows
Play 2, THE KILLING OF ABEL: EXPLANATORY NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: Chester: The Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. Lumiansky and Mills (1974); CT: The Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson (1987); DSL: Dictionary of the Scots Language; Elliott: The Apocryphal New Testament, ed. Elliott; EP: The Towneley plays, ed. England and Pollard (1897); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (“the Towneley manuscript”); N-Town: The N-Town Plays, ed. Sugano (2007); OED: Oxford English Dictionary; REED: Records of Early English Drama; SC: The Towneley Plays, eds. Stevens and Cawley (1994); s.d.: stage direction; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).
The primary source for the story of Cain and his brother Abel is Genesis 4. The unbiblical and anachronistic presence of the boy, Pikeharness, provides an interesting but problematic connection to the now-incomplete York pageant, into which an episode involving a similar character, the servant Brewbarret, has been interpolated; it is impossible now to know whether, or which, one of these characters was created in conscious imitation of the other, particularly given the absence of two leaves from the York manuscript at this point. The Towneley play’s highly colloquial, often obscene and sometimes obscure language poses difficulties, but has also rendered it one of the most popular in the collection, for students and critics alike. Other issues that have attracted significant critical attention include Cain’s plow-team (see the note to line 25, below) and Cain’s request to be buried in “in Gudeboure at the quarell hede” (line 370), which provides the sole clear reference in any of the Towneley plays to Wakefield as a place. A. C. Cawley included this play in his edition of what he called The Wakefield Pageants in the Towneley Cycle, although only the final stanzas resemble the particular 13-line 'bob and wheel' form identified with the so-called 'Wakefield Master.' Indeed, as Stevens and Cawley point out, the text of this play “contains virtually every form of versification that can be found” in the manuscript as a whole (SC p. 441).
Before 1 Mactacio Abel, secunda pagina. This is only numbered play in the manuscript and, while the text arguably focuses more attention on Cain as a character and on themes such as master-servant relations and tithing, the title directs attention toward the typologically significant death of Abel, which traditionally prefigures that of Christ.
3 Be peasse youre dyn. That is, be quiet.
7 my blak hoill bore. That is, his anus. Cain will repeatedly tell Abel to kiss the Devil’s ass (see lines 65, 268, and 289), as well as his (line 61).
21 Bot let youre lippis cover youre ten. Let your lips cover your teeth (which precludes speech, snarling, and laughter).
25 Io furth, Greynhorne, and war oute, Gryme. “Yo” is an interjection used (especially in conjunction with “forth”) to drive animals forward; see also lines 42 and 57, and 18.1. Cain’s plow-team has been the subject of scholarly debate, but appears to consist of eight possibly imaginary animals. “Down” (line 29) is explicitly a horse (see line 441’s “Don;” “Donnyng” of line 32 is likely the same beast, referred to as a “mare” at line 35), and “Morell” (lines 42 and 57) usually means a dark-colored horse, while “Greynhorne” here and “Whitehorn” at line 42 are, for obvious reasons, more likely oxen. “Stott” (line 41) most often refers to a young ox or steer (see 9.748), but can also mean a horse, or a heifer (as glossed by SC p. 714), while a mare (lines 28, 35) can be a horse of either sex. The last two are “Mall” (line 41) and “Lemyng” (line 42).
26 God gif you ill to tyme. That is, may you fare badly (MED timen (v.)).
39 What, boy, shal I both hold and drife. That is, shall I both hold the plow and drive the team, rather than having you help me, boy?
43 Now will ye not se how thay hy. Cain was having trouble driving his supposed team forward, but the Boy apparently entices them forward with food — hence Cain’s response that their refusal to obey him due to “Want of mete” (line 45). The Boy then claims to have been leaving food behind them, and stones in the hay-racks (lines 46–49).
50–51 That shall bi . . . agane as right. Cain evidently slaps the boy in the face, and the boy strikes back.
55 Wé. This common interjection, indicating surprise, grief, anger, or emphasis, is used especially frequently in this play, often with the force of a rude expletive.
57 Harrer . . . hyte. Both “harrer” and “hyte” (MED harri (interj.) and hait (interj.)) are conventional cries to drive an animal forward, as is “io furth” (see line 25 and note; also see 18.1).
58 let the plogh stand. It is unclear what should happen to the team of animals at this point, if indeed they exist; nor is it clear what becomes of the boy. While Abel greets both Cain “and thi man” (line 60) upon his entrance, the boy does not again speak until after Abel’s death, when Cain calls him (at line 386). However, the plough itself apparently remains in place until near the end of the play (see line 455 and note, below).
62 As welcom standys ther oute. That is, your absence would be more welcome than is your presence — go away!
66–67 Go grese thi shepe . . . the moste lefe. Go grease your sheep’s ass, since that is what is most pleasing to you. These lines, with their innuendo of bestiality, ultimately refer to Genesis 4:4–5, where God is said to prefer Abel’s offering “of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat” (translating the Vulgate’s de primogenitis gregis sui, et de adipibus eorum) to Cain’s offerings.
74–75 Oure fader us bad, our fader us kend / That oure tend shuld be brend. That is, our father Adam taught us that God, our heavenly father, commanded us to burn our tithes. Leviticus 27:30–33, for example specifies that one tenth of all crops and animals belongs to God, while other biblical passages (such as Deuteronomy 12:6) associate tithes with burnt offerings, but these were not actually the same thing.
79 Corne or catall wheder it be. The term catall can refer to any property or chattel, but here refers to livestock — more particularly sheep rather than cattle in the modern, bovine sense. As in Genesis 4:2–4, Cain is a farmer whose tithe is to be made in sheaves of grain, whereas Abel is a shepherd, and traditionally offers up a lamb as his burnt offering, which also associates him with Jesus as the Lamb of God.
90 strokid the hay. That is, where she wiped her ass.
97 What gifys God thee to rose hym so. That is, what does God give you to make you praise him so much?
102 here my hand. Cain is raising his hand in oath, and/or perhaps in a rude gesture. The manuscript here has the plural “hend” (see Textual Note), bracketed as rhyming with line 105 (“brend”), although it should evidently rhyme with lines 106 (“hand”) and 108 (“walkand”); the gesture demands a single hand.
150 Wemay. An exclamation of impatience or surprise, related to “we” (see note to line 55 above); several variations appear in the Towneley plays (but rarely elsewhere), including wemo at line 200 in this play.
184 Ryse, let me now. Abel is apparently kneeling before the burning altar; Cain impatiently demands his turn, although his sacrifice is not yet ready, and his eventual sacrifice will not burn properly (see lines 276–88). Nor is it clear that Cain kneels meekly like his brother: his reference to his use of “thise two shankys” in line 188 suggests that he remains standing to give his “unthankys” (line 189).
224 teynd right of all bedeyn. Abel tells Cain to give a tenth of all he has, rather than just one (“of the warst” as he says in line 226) of the ten sheaves that he has just counted, or deliberately miscounted, given the repetition of numbers in the preceding lines.
227–29 Wé com nar . . . . I wynk. Cain tells Abel to cover his (Cain’s) eyes in order to prevent him from choosing only the worst sheaves of corn, but ultimately opts to close his eyes himself, or pretends to do so; “in the wenyand” (line 228) is a mild curse, the waning moon being considered unlucky.
277 haro. “Harrow” is a common cry of anger or distress in Middle English, a means of sounding an alarm, and “to cry harrow” is to denounce something or someone (see MED harou (interj. & n.)). The interjection is used in several of the Towneley plays as in the York plays.
299–300 hob over the wall . . . so small. Hob is a familiar form of the name Robert (see MED Hobbe (n.)) or Robin, often used to refer to a rustic clown or to a hob-goblin or sprite (specifically Robin Goodfellow, or Puck). The reference to a wall could possibly indicate that God was expected to appear in production above the stage, proper, or that his voice was to be heard from behind or beyond the stage, unseen. This could account for the belittling reference to his “small” voice, although this could also be obvious sarcasm; on the other hand, God is said to speak to Elijah in “a still small voice” according to the King James translation of 1 Kings 19:12 (3 Kings 19:12 in the Vulgate, translated in the Douay-Rheims version as “a whistling of gentle air”).
313 we have a craw to pull. Proverbial. See Whiting C572.
326 cheke bon. Tradition has Cain use the jawbone of a donkey as his murder weapon, as does Sampson in Judges 15:15.
358 dele aboute thee, for I will none. That is, give your curse (malison, line 358) to yourself, since I do not want it.
360–63 Syn I have . . . . fro thi face. Cain’s expression of despair, with its inherent refusal of the possibility of God’s grace and forgiveness, traditionally what keeps him condemned in hell, along with those who committed suicide, when others are set free at the Harrowing (see 22.334–36 and 23.311–24 and notes).
369 Bery me in Gudeboure at the quarell hede. Goody Bower, near the parish church (now cathedral) in Wakefield, was the site of a quarry (as well as of the original Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, founded by Royal Charter in 1591, and built of stone quarried there). For more on Wakefield, see Introduction, pp. 4–8.
395 I did it bot to use my hand. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath similarly justifies her lechery as simple and appropriate use of her God-given anatomy: “In wyfhod I wol use myn instrument / As freely as my Makere hath it sent” (CT III[D] 149–50).
399 bayn. “Bayn” could mean “murderer” (as suggested by the line’s inclusion in the OED and MED alike under bane (n.), sense 1), namely, Cain himself, but here more likely means “bones” or “corpse” (MED bon (n.1), sense 7) — that is, Cain is asking the boy to dispose of Abel’s body.
402 Godys payn. The phrase is richly ambiguous, suggesting both punishment by God (unless the boy stops speaking) and, anachronistically, the pain and suffering of Jesus, as well as the penalty (MED peine (n.), sense 1c) that he paid on behalf of humanity, not to mention God’s bread (MED pain (n.)), the sacramental wafer that, in the Mass, becomes his body.
410–11 What, wilt thou cry my peasse / Thrughout this land. To “cry” here means to make a public proclamation (MED crien (v.), sense 7c, citing these lines), while “my peasse” signifies (royal) protection (see MED pes (n.), sense 6d).
417 Full slape of thrift then shal he be. He will be very slippery of fortune – that is, very fortunate, as glossed by SC (p. 709), but with the implication of cunning deception.
436 This same is he that slo his brother. Here the boy finishes Cain’s sentence all too appropriately, so Cain starts again, several times, but never finishes the sentence himself.
438 ill spon weft ay comes foule out. That is, badly-spun wool will result in poorly woven cloth, or what is flawed from the start will remain flawed. The same proverb is used in the second Shepherds play, at 9.848–49. See Whiting W571.
439 Long or thou get thi hoyse. All children were similarly dressed until around age seven when boys were “breeched”; this “boy” (in the sense of “servant”) is likely much older than that, but is being mocked.
442 com downe in twenty dwill way. The same phrase, an intensive variant of the common phrase “in the devil’s way” (see lines 91 and 453), effectively a synonym for “away” expressing impatience or annoyance, is used both in the Offering of the Magi (10.465) and in the Conspiracy play (17.224). The boy has apparently climbed somewhere out of Cain’s reach.
454 take yond plogh. The plough has evidently remained onstage since before Abel’s entrance (see line 58 and note); the boy is now instructed to take it offstage. Before making his own exit, Cain threatens to hang the boy “apon this plo / With this rope” (lines 463–64) should he trouble him further, swearing anachronistically “By hym that me dere boght” (line 465). In his final separation from Cain, leaving with the plow, the boy is arguably aligned figuratively the medieval tradition of the plowman as good and humble Christian, as exemplified by Langland’s Piers Plowman and Chaucer’s plowman.
Play 2, THE KILLING OF ABEL: TEXTUAL NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: EP: The Towneley Plays, ed. England and Pollard (EETS, 1897); Facs: The Towneley Cycle: A Facsimile of Huntington MS HM 1, ed. Cawley and Stevens; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (base text); SC: The Towneley Plays, ed. Stevens and Cawley (EETS, 1994); s.d.: stage direction; Surtees: The Towneley Mysteries, ed. Raine; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).
Before 1 MS: a later hand has written Glover in the upper corner of the page, next to the title and first speech heading, and yet another hand has added pag, the rest of that word having been trimmed away in binding.
13 dwill. MS: another hand has superscribed e between the d and w.
43 will ye not se. MS: ye is preceded by what appears to be a partial, uncancelled letter such as w or d; t has been superscribed between the o and s.
102 hand. So SC. MS: hend, anticipating the final word of line 104.
116 For bi hym that me dere boght. MS: a red rule under this line has been partially erased.
122 my. MS: beyn has been crossed out before this word.
124 When all mens corn was fayre in feld. So MS. SC inadvertently duplicate line 126 here.
125 a neld. So EP, SC. MS: an eld.
215 will. MS: written in another hand in faded ink in the bottom margin directly below the same word in this line.
225 twelve, fyfteyn, sexteyn. So EP. MS: xij xv xvj.
254 two. So EP. MS: ij.
261 Cain (speech heading). MS: the letter C has been copied three times in the margin by a later hand, in faded ink.
274 Bere thee even and speke bot skill. MS: At the bottom of the page (fol. 5r) following this line, the scribe has written a catchphrase, the beginning of the next line, which is to be found not on the verso of this leaf but on the page following (fol. 6r); a catchphrase is also written on each of the next two pages. Two pages in a row begin with the same words (Bot now syn), which has apparently led to their inadvertent reversal. Overleaf, in the top left-hand corner, the scribe has written, in red (with the beginnings of some words cropped): “Md that this syde of the leyfe shuld folow the other next syde accordyng to the tokyns here maide and then after al stondys in ordre.” The “tokens” referred to are symbols (also in red) placed beside each of the catchphrases, and the letters a and b placed beside the lines themselves at the top of those two successive pages, to help guide the reader.
324 am I to wite. MS: originally I am not to wite, with I and not crossed out (in red over black) and I superscribed after am in the hand of the main scribe.
373–76 Nay Caym it . . . . be punyshid sevenfold. MS: in the right margin opposite these lines, another hand has written “and that shall do thy boddy der” — a line that could conceivably belong below (rhyming with here/fere in lines 384–85) where there is apparent textual corruption, lines 386–87 being unmetrical and unrhymed.
375 sloys thee, yong. So SC, following Genesis 4:15. MS: sloys yong.
424 fawt. So EP, SC. MS: sawt.
453 in the. MS has a t and a partly erased h with a red stroke through it.
After 477 Mactacio. MS: this word is copied in a later hand and partly erased just below the same word in the explicit.