The Murder of Abel

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Streets and Markets


“The Murder of Abel”

by Kimberly Crabbe

ENGL 3283 X1

Dr. Richard Cunningham

September 17th, 2003

Slide#1 – Introduction

My name is Kimberly Crabbe and this afternoon my presentation will be on Anne Higgins’ essay “Streets and Markets” and the play “The Murder of Abel.” As we are well aware, this play parallels the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Before I begin this presentation however, I will like to throw a question your way as food for thought. Why were Corpus Christi Plays developed?

Slide#2 & 3– Examination of Corpus Christi Plays

Corpus Christi Plays were developed as an influential mechanism which when put to the community, encompassed the defining characteristics of the people represented through the said play. These plays were exhibited before a crowd of people in the city’s streets and markets.

**Play** – the whole cycle

**Pageants** – individual portions in the play (pg 79)
In most instances these plays began with the story of the Creation and ended with the story of the Day of Judgment. The play was divided into episodes and then each episode had its own cast.
In some countries, the different scenes, whenever possible, were distributed in such a way as to bear some relation to the occupation of the people that performed it: i.e., the task of producing Noah’s ark was entrusted to the boat-builders, The actors stood on a stage (“pageant”), moving about on wheels. In the course of the procession, a certain number of stations were appointed, at which the several pageants stopped in passing, and on which the respective scenes were performed.
Just to outline how this actually fell into play, the first group of people at the first station acted say The story of Cain and Abel which in our reading is referred to ‘The Murder of Abel’; then it passed to the place where it stopped for the second time, and repeated the performance; at the same time, the second group of people acted at the first station the story of Noah and the Ark (Noah and his Sons), and afterwards repeated the same at the second station. In the meantime, the first craft had proceeded to the third station, and the third craft began at the first station to act the play of ‘Abraham and Isaac’.
Slide#4 & 5 –Franchise, Freedom & Liberty

Franchise in simplest terms means a particular sector of the community. i.e. the ecclesiastical vs the civic; A freeman was a person who was given such benefits as being someone who practices a trade and then sells the produce of his trade, a person who had obligations and rights in his district, and was subject to certain exemptions. Liberty here is synonymous with a zone or district. Your place of residence determined your liberty.

This outlines how liberties were separated into classes, because not everyman in a liberty was free. As a matter of fact very few men in any liberty were free. There was great disparity between the freeman and the ordinary man of a liberty.
Freedom could be had through inheritance, i.e. as the son of a freeman, by patrimony, by apprenticeship, and by redemption, that is by purchasing it. (pg 80)
The terms Franchise, Freedom and Liberty, all harbor the notion of conflict, because in essence these terms created some misunderstandings within Liberties. Some liberties were treated as superior to others and hence, their agendas were put forward. The issue here related to the control of one individual, namely the King to govern all these different Liberties without offending the other, when there were obviously competing interests involved. In the end, the King in 1275 ‘reconfirmed the ecclesiastical liberties and their rights but failed to “draw lines of demarcation between the competing jurisdictions” (pg 81)
His failure to properly demarcate these competing jurisdictions led to a conflict arising between the religious authority and the houses of their liberties. This was largely because the economic system was more in favour of the religious authorities as opposed to the houses of the Liberties. The system was flawed.

Slide#6 –Beating the Bounds

This was where the boundaries of each liberty were marked to distinguish between the land of other liberties. It was a protection strategy which sort of emitted the “danger signal” to other liberties. If these bounds were crossed during the procession, violent fights would ensue because; this annual ritual was seen as purifying a liberty in an effort to keep demons out.

Slide#7 - The Pavement

The Pavement was the “earliest paved open space in the city” (pg 89) It bore tremendous significance, in that, executions and other activities that attracted a large crowd, were carried out on its premises. This was the seen as the ideal place to perform the last episode of the Judgment. It was seen as the appropriate place to separate the saved from the unsaved and then to give them their appropriate sentencing.

Slide#8 – Cain & Abel

This play ‘The Murder of Abel’ dramatizes the continuous conflict between good and evil. It depicts how filial jealousy leads to the death of a brother. This jealousy is initiated when Abel’s sacrifice is preferred to his brother’s. There is a parallel between this story and the bible story of Cain and Abel and the same theme of jealousy is depicted.

Slide#9 – Key Symbols: The Pavement – the nature of the acts carried on there i.e. executions are similar in nature to the punishment that the unsaved would receive on the Day of Judgment. Merciless acts!
Offerings of tithes – a thanksgiving ritual in honour of the person/being that all things provide.
(Abel) Proper blaze – symbolic of god’s finding of the act of thanksgiving pleasing.
(Cain) Smoldering blaze – symbolic of god’s displeasure in his sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Slide#10 – Synopsis

The basis of this essay was to illustrate the purpose for which plays were written in Medieval times, to showcase how grand of an event this said display was and to show the breakdown of the ceremonies which were used to showcase the plays, namely the processions. The moral of this essay is that conflict is inevitable when preferential treatment becomes an issue.

With respect to the play of “The Murder of Abel,” this play illustrates the impact that preferential treatment can have on individuals not subjected to this treatment. It also shows that one must give to receive and that jealousy is a reflection of one’s own shortcomings. i.e. Cain’s jealousy of his brother did not come about as a result of his brother achieving, but rather because he failed to achieve. His failure to achieve great things was a result of his own selfishness and greed. The Moral of this play then, is that one must first examine themselves before looking at others. The theme of this play is Jealousy.
Slide#11 – Quiz

(1) What do the terms Franchise, Freedom and Liberty represent in a Medieval context?

(2) What was the “Pavement” and what was it first used for?

(3) Why did Cain kill his brother Abel? And what was his punishment for doing so?

(4) Why did Cain’s sacrifice emit a smoldering blaze?


Cox, John D & David Scott Kastan, A New History of Early English Drama.

Columbia University Press, NY Chichester 1997.

Gassner, John, Medieval and Tudor Drama.

Applause Theatre Book Publishers, NY New York 1987.
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