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This article addresses the construction of rural masculine identities through a study of the Towneley manuscript play Mactacio Abel (The Killing of Abel) and the relationships the play stages between human, animal, and land. It argues that the Mactacio Abel places pastoral and arable agricultural labor in competition through the play’s two brothers, and that this competition takes the form of a gendered attack on the masculinity of each. The article begins with Cain’s arable farming and how the character’s antagonistic relationship with the earth hints at his failures as laborer and as a man. It examines Cain’s interactions with Abel and the way the brothers’ different experiences of farming inform their relationships with God, before turning attention to Cain’s vicious attack on his brother’s masculinity and occupation through scatological language and hints that Abel is committing bestiality with his sheep. Finally, the article examines the play’s blurring of distinctions between food and kin, and human and animal meat. Broadening the current critical focus on the intersection of urban drama and identity, this study shows that the Mactacio Abel stresses contemporary anxieties about rural performances of masculinity and labor.


Abel, agriculture, Cain, drama, farming, gender, Mactacio, masculinity, medieval, Towneley