Cain and Abel

Aftermath of the Fall

According to the book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. As a consequence of the Fall, humans were punished:

  • they had to leave the beautiful Garden of Eden
  • they had to work to produce food (before, it was abundant in Paradise)
  • they were told that childbirth would be painful.

Cain murders AbelEve gave birth to two sons — Cain and Abel. Both worked at agriculture:

‘Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.' (Genesis 4:2).

Both decide to offer some of their produce as a burnt sacrifice to God, but because ‘sin lieth at the door' of Cain, God does not accept his offering, though he accepts Abel's. In anger, Cain murders Abel.

The curse of murder

Cain's action is the first murder in the Bible, and as a result God exiles Cain from his family, telling him:

Now art thou cursed from the earth … When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee ... a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be.' (Genesis 4:11-12)
  • It is this curse which Claudius is so aware of when he tries, unsuccessfully, to pray in Act III scene iii:
‘O my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't —
A brother's murder.'
  • The ghost of Old Hamlet has already indicated the particularly abhorrent nature of a brother murdering a brother when he first revealed Claudius' guilt to Hamlet in Act I scene v:
‘Murder most foul, as in the best it is,
But this most foul, strange and unnatural ...
Thus was I, by a brother's hand,
Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatch'd.'

For further material see Big ideas: Cain and Abel.

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