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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 
Hath caught me in his clutch,
And hath 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 legend, Cain killed his brother Abel with the jawbone of an ass. Here, in mock revenge, Cain’s skull is being jowled (thrown) by an ass (the gravedigger). Shakespeare makes a pun with “jowl’, which also means jawbone. He’s also saying that Cain could be considered the first politician, so when God asked him where his brother was, he avoided giving a direct answer, he “circumvented” God.

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