Cain, a Mystery (1821) by Lord Byron
This is a rather obscure play, and as such I couldn’t find a good blurb, but basically it’s a play in poetry clearly inspired by Paradise Lost, telling a story about Cain and his conversations with Lucifer leading up to the murder of Abel. (“Mystery” is used here in the even-then-antiquated sense of religious mystery, as old inspirational plays would be titled.)
Was it what I expected?
Well, I found it discussed in a fascinating academic history of Satanism — review coming Tuesday — so I had a grounding in what the play was about and where it fit into the Romantic poetry of the time. I expected a play about ideas, rather than action, with some remarkable quotes to chew over, and that’s what it is. (The play is rarely performed, but I don’t think it was really meant for that.)
Did I like it?
Very much. I’m a big fan of Lucifer as a fictional character, and this one is very sharp. He doesn’t have the larger-than-life quality of Milton’s Lucifer, but the same kind of attitude. He sometimes talks in circles, or knows that what he’s saying won’t be understood, but he doesn’t lie. He’s tormented by his own intellect, as is Cain, trying to reconcile what they’re told about god and the world with what they see and experience. Most of the play is Lucifer and Cain discussing divine command theory, and Lucifer is a soul “who dare look the omnipotent tyrant in his everlasting face and tell him that his evil is not good!”
Is it worth reading?
It’s not for everyone. It’s not Satanist in the sense of believing in and worshiping the Christian Satan, it’s part of a Romantic trend of Lucifer as a representative of humanity (about which more Tuesday), but if you’re a practicing Christian I expect you’d be offended, and that’s okay. It’s an interesting little play though, recommended for religion geeks, Milton enthusiasts, and those of us who continue to find Lucifer a relatable character who symbolizes both intellect and rebellion.