The Revolution of Cain

Revolution seems to arise from the very first pages of the Bible: long before God created man, Lucifer had already revolted against him. But revolution is not an isolated event, it tends to spread, as spotted by Lord Byron, who, in his dramatic poem Cain: A mystery, depicted a character who questions his fate, even if that leads him to question God Himself.

 

The Byronic Cain isn’t moved by envy, as the biblical one; instead, he rebels against the punishment (work, ignorance and death) that God has imposed on him and his family. This is first shown in his refusal to worship Him (Ac I, scene I):

Adam. But thou, my eldest son, art silent still.

Cain. ‘Tis better I should be so.

Adam. Wherefore so?

Cain. I have nought to ask.

Adam. Nor aught to thank for?

Cain. No.

Adam. Dost thou not live?

Cain. Must I not die?

Eve. Alas ! The fruit of the forbidden tree begins To fall.

Cain realises he is not like his parents and siblings: the one thing that makes him different is conscience, a deep conscience of death and the limits of human life and understanding, which pushes him in quest of knowledge. Such knowledge can only arrive in the shape of Lucifer (a character that resembles Mephistopheles, from Goethe’s Faust).

Cain (Solus). And this is

Life: Toil: and wherefore should I toil? because

My Father could not keep his place in Eden.

What have I done in this? I was unborn,

I sought not to be born: nor love the state

To which that birth has brought me. Why did he

Yield to the serpent and the woman? or

Yielding, why suffer? What was there in this?

The tree was planted, and why not for him?

If not, why place him near it, where it grew

The fairest in the centre? They have but

One answer to all questions, “’twas his will.

And he is good” How know I that? Because

He is all-powerful must all-good, too, follow?

I judge but by the fruits — and they are bitter —

Which I must feed on for a fault not mine.

There is an interesting analysis of this poem in Cataractmoon’s blog. In his own words, “The play centers around the metaphysical dispute between Abel’s incarnationism, God’s rhetoric, Lucifer’s sophism, and Cain’s skepticism. While all characters except Cain remain unified in an epistemology, Cain cracks open each reality, locates their deceptions and failures, and falls into the postmodern trap of deconstruction, where the failure to operate within any given rhetoric results in nihilism, the extreme form of postmodern isolation.“.  We find an example of the sophism in Lucifer’s speech in Act II, scene 1:

Cain: Let me, or happy or unhappy, learn To anticipate my immortality.
Lucifer: Thou didst before I came upon thee.
Cain: How?
Lucifer: By suffering.

In these terms, the revolution of Cain can be viewed as a revolt against the opaque rhetoric of religion, a defiance and an urge to go beyond meaningless words in order to regain the meaningful paradise of life and knowledge.

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