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Act 5,
Scene 1
Lines 67-75

An explanation of the allusion to Cain in Act 5, Scene 1 of myShakespeare’s Hamlet.

First Gravedigger   

      But age with his stealing steps 
      Has caught me in his clutch,
      And has shipped me into the land,
      As if I had never been such.
[He throws up a skull.]


That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. 
How the knave jowls it to th' ground, as if it were Cain's
jawbone that did the first murder! It might be the pate of
a politician, which this ass now o'er-offices, one that
would circumvent God, might it not?

According to the biblical story, Cain killed his brother Abel with the jawbone of an ass. Hamlet imagines Cain’s skull being thrown, or jowled (jowl also means jawbone) to the ground by the gravedigger who Hamlet refers to as an “ass.” Hamlet then jokes that Cain might be considered the first politician because, when God asked where his brother was, he avoided giving a straight answer – he “circumvented God.”

(Cain Killing Abel, Gaetano Gandolfi, c. 1620)