The Byron Journal

The Struggle with Language in Byron's Cain

The Byron Journal (2010), 38, (2), 125–134.

Abstract

Cain: A Mystery is often relegated to the lower division of Byron's poetry. Many critics focus on the supposedly flawed quality of Cain's poetry, seeing the play as lacking Byron's 'conversational facility'. Focusing on the relationship between Cain's style and its content, this essay shows that the play's Cain, as the original poet, must speak in 'stumbling stanzas' as he struggles heroically with language. By foregrounding Cain's struggle to connect word and event, Byron raises the status of language from vehicle to subject. Cain's theme is the discovery of the meaning of the word, and the play's construction mirrors this preoccupation. The essay argues that the often fragmentary and difficult though strangely beautiful style of Cain is at the service of serious artistic ends.

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Author details

Callaghan, Madeleine