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The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris

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The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris

The Collier Leaf Authenticity

The authenticity of The Massacre at Paris manuscript leaf has been much and vigorously debated. The origins of the document do not provide a promising start, with the uncollaborated discovery in Rodd's bookshop. Collier is far more notorious for his forgeries than he ever was renowned for his scholarly work, of which there was also plenty. His musing that "it perhaps formed part of a copy belonging to the theatre at the time it was first acted, and it would be still more valuable should any accident hereafter shew that it is in the original handwriting of Marlow,"1 immediately offers us a basic motive, and the lack of accuracy and consistency in his two published transcriptions immediately makes us suspicious that he was in the process of forging the document.

1. Tannenbaum Declares the Leaf a Forgery

Scholars were unable to view and properly examine the Collier Leaf until it found its way to the Folger Shakespeare Library. Dr Samuel Tannenbaum was the first to produce a comprehensive analysis of the document in 1933,2 which included over one hundred detailed notes on specifics of the manuscript text. His view was categorically that the document was a forgery. His assessment concentrated on the hand-writing, and to Tannenbaum, as one "thoroughly familiar with Elizabethan manuscripts, the writing presents a hesitant character almost throughout. When the writing is studied under the magnifying glass ... it is found that the scribe made many of his letters slowly, deliberately, paused at many points, and often repaired his strokes or the shading of individual letters."

Tannenbaum was also suspicious of the inconsistent shade of the ink, which he noted "is brown, conspicuously dark in some places, and very pale in others. It might be supposed that the pale writing was due to the pen's running dry, but, in view of the fact that lines 26 and 27, the last two lines on the recto of the leaf, are pale throughout their whole extent, this explanation can not be right." Tannenbaum wryly was "forced to conclude not only that the scribe was following a copy, and that he was not skilled in writing the Elizabethan script, but also that he was not an Elizabethan scribe."

2. Adams Disproves Tannenbaum's Evidence

Joseph Quincy Adams as Director of Research at the Folger Library had provided the foreword to Tannenbaum's book, of which just one chapter considered the Collier Leaf. But presumably Adams had not read the contents before doing so, because the following year he produced a stinging riposte in which he decimated Tannenbaum's arguments at some length. Crucially, Tannenbaum had largely worked from photographs of the leaf, "as he himself admits (p. 184): 'At the time I was too busy with the transcription to pay much attention to the writing.' As a result, he has had to rely almost entirely on photographs that were later sent to him."3

In contrast, Adams' job clearly provided him with unlimited direct access to the original, and he flatly refuted Tannenbaum's claims about the ink. "In the original, the ink is not 'conspicuously' uneven in colour (i.e. quantity), save where the quill began to run dry and the writer dipped his pen for a fresh supply."4 Adams was also able to clarify that what Tannenbaum saw as "a vertical crack or crease along [the leaf's] whole length," is not in fact present on the original, and must be an illusion in the photograph. The original contains only "a bad wrinkling of the paper, quite irregular, ... nor does it extend the whole height of the leaf".5 Adams calls his first witness at this point. "Mr. Horydczak, the photographer who made the reproductions for Dr. Tannenbaum, and who, at my request, examined both the photographs and the original, states that the ' darker' portions of certain letters mentioned by Dr. Tannenbaum were produced by shadows from the wrinkle."6

As regards the claims about the hesitant nature of the hand-writing that Tannenbaum sees as clear evidence of forgery, Adams simply disagrees. "The scribe was not a copy-book artist, but he wrote with fluency and speed, and employed throughout a consistent style, showing marked individuality. There are, to be sure, instances where he corrected single letters (inserted in error, or poorly made), and instances where he strengthened faint strokes when his pen suddenly went dry, or momentarily failed to let down ink. Such corrections are inevitable; ... further, as honest corrections, made with no effort at concealment, they tend rather to guarantee the genuineness of the document than to convict it of forgery."7

Adams calls his second expert witness, "Mr. Seymour de Ricci8, who for some years now has been engaged in examining and describing many thousand manuscripts anterior to the year 1600. Mr. de Ricci, after a careful study of the document, expressed 'astonishment' that any one could regard it as a forgery; declared that 'if ever a manuscript was genuine, this one is'; and finally assented that he was willing to stake his reputation on its authenticity."9 Adams then goes on to deal with many of Tannenbaum's detailed points directly, in most cases flatly but persuasively disputing the latter's interpretations, and citing the opinions of two more expert witnesses.10 Finally, Adams addresses a number of points about the document as a dramatic text, wherein Tannenbaum had argued that certain aspects could not have genuinely originated from a dramatist (a stage direction in the wrong place; the inappropriate use of the words "exterpatione" and "degestione"; that the absence of any corrections precludes this from being the author's working draft of the scene; Mugeroun's dying words address Guise who has not yet entered the stage; and the anonymous speech heading "Minion"). In most cases, Adams provides comprehensive and convincing arguments against Tannenbaum's points.

The effect of Adams article was devastating and without doubt demolished Tannenbaum's credibility. On the basis of this, and to a lesser extent Nosworthy's article that followed, most if not all subsequent commentators state that the leaf is now considered genuine by scholars, or at the very least that there is no evidence of forgery.11

It is perhaps worth noting, however, that whilst Adams comprehensively dismantles most (but not all) of Tannenbaum's arguments, it does not necessarily follow that this proves conclusively the positive, i.e. that the document is genuine. Adams' is far less assured when proposing his own theory, that the manuscript is "a preliminary or tentative draft of a single episode, written on a bit of blank paper that happened to be at hand."12 This explanation is plausible but speculative, is not supported by any evidence, and Adams provides little justification for the absence of any corrections or annotations that one perhaps might expect to see in a working draft.13 It is also worth bearing in mind that Adams, as Director of Research at the Folger Library, might have been deemed to have a vested interest in demonstrating that an expensive manuscript purchased by that institute was indeed genuine.

3. Nosworthy Detects Marlowe's Literary Footprint

Where Adams had largely concentrated on the authenticity of the penmanship, J.M. Nosworthy wrote an article in 1945 entitled The Marlowe Manuscript which endeavoured to prove the authenticity of the additional literary content revealed in the leaf. Nosworthy begins by considering Tannenbaum's suggestion that Collier's transcription errors were "a forger's desperate trick to throw dust in the eyes of experts".14 He produces three examples of words misread in the first transcription that change the meaning of the text, and which he asserts "can only be the result of a very hasty perusal of the manuscript",15 and would not have been deliberately deployed by a forger.

He believed that these points, together with Adams' arguments, are sufficient to prove Collier innocent of forgery, and he doubts the motive for anyone else having done so prior to that. "It is ... practically impossible to allege any motive for forgery up to the middle of the eighteenth century",16 he conjectures reasonably, and even after that when "the fabrication of bogus literary remains was, of course, a common practice," he cannot see that any counterfeiter would be moved to produce "an isolated forgery of a faked passage based on a corrupt text of a minor play by a sadly underrated dramatist [that] was scarcely worth any man's attention."17

Nosworthy's main argument is based on a number of words and literary images that appear in the additional manuscript text, which he believes constitute a vocabulary that would not have occurred to a forger. These include "degestione" (verso line 30, an image that both Adams and Boas had already justified as meaning digestion, or to dissolve with the aid of heat, that follows naturally on from "in censte" and "hote" in the previous lines), "exterpatione" (verso line 32, ditto), "effecte" (recto line 23), "fondlie" (verso line 28), "frayed" (recto line 13) and "extreamest" (verso line 30).18 He goes on to cite a number of examples of Marlowe using some of these words and other images from the additional text in other plays. This provides evidence for his belief in Marlowe's authorship of these extra lines, but also serves to confute further the arguments of Tannenbaum (who claimed echoes of Shakespeare) and Tucker Brooke (who opined that "the wording of the expanded passage is very suspicious").19 Nosworthy also shows that some of these various examples occur elsewhere in close proximity, a Marlovian trait he claims, wherein "certain words and images tended, by association, to group themselves together in his mind."20

The majority of the examples cited occur in either part of Tamburlaine. With the exception of the variations on "incenst", which Marlowe used widely, there is just one non-Tamburlaine example cited, that of "fiery meteors" in Lucan. Nosworthy uses this evidence to assert that "it is abundantly clear that the author of Tamburlaine was the author of the manuscript, and Marlowe's claim to both Tamburlaine and The Massacre needs no vindication. It is unnecessary to elaborate on the stages by which the theory of forgery has now receded beyond even remote possibility."21

4. Collier's Interest in Tamburlaine's Authorship

As Nosworthy therefore notes, if the leaf was a [late eighteenth or early nineteenth century] forgery, "we must postulate a counterfeiter who was familiar with secretary script and with Elizabethan orthography and punctuation, was at home with the Elizabethan vocabulary, and ... was capable of reproducing Marlowe's style with astonishing fidelity while basing that reproduction mainly on the two parts of Tamburlaine at a time when Marlowe's authorship of them was repudiated by Malone, as later by Broughton [1830] and Robinson [1826]."

Unfortunately, although Nosworthy had already discounted Collier, this argument can be used to undermine his own case, for John Payne Collier arguably satisfied all these criteria. He certainly demonstrated a detailed familiarity with Elizabethan script, orthography, punctuation and vocabulary during his long career as critic and forger, but he was also a strong advocate of Marlowe's authorship of Tamburlaine at a time when it was indeed being called into question. In his History of English Dramatic Poetry (1831) Collier argues that "Christopher Marlow was our first poet who used blank-verse in dramatic compositions performed in public theatres - that Tamburlaine was the name of the play in which the successful experiment was made, and that it had been acted anterior to 1587."22 In response to the then current authorship debate regarding that play, Collier cites "three pieces of evidence to show that Marlow was the author of Tamburlaine the Great, two of which have never yet been noticed".23 The second and third pieces of evidence cited are respectively Gabriel Harvey's line in relation to 1593: "Weep, Pauls: thy Tamburlaine vouchsafes to Die" in Gorgon or the Wonderful Year24, and the attribution of Tamburlaine to Marlowe in the prologue added by Thomas Heywood to his 1633 edition of The Jew of Malta.

But Collier's first piece of evidence is simply a complete and blatant fabrication: "The most conclusive is the subsequent entry in Henslowe's MS. Diary, preserved at Dulwich College, which escaped the eye of Malone" which he then produces as follows:

'Pd. [Paid, clarifies Collier in brackets] to Thomas Dekker, the 20th of De-
sember, 1597, for adycyons to Fosstus twentye shel-
linges, and five shellinges more for a prolog to
Marloes Tamburlan: so in all I saye payde twen-
tye five shellinges.'25

Collier goes on explain that this must be Dekker being paid for additions to spruce up these two Marlowe plays which were to be played at court that Christmas, adding that "[t]his testimony can be considered decisive".26 This is so demonstrably a forgery, and not a very good one at that, one can only assume that Collier never envisaged that Henslowe's Diary would be made available for the scrutiny of a wider audience.

So if Collier was prepared to go to such lengths in 1831 to prove Marlowe as the author of Tamburlaine, it seems not beyond the realms of possibility that he might have produced a forgery six years earlier that built on a play whose authorship by Marlowe was uncontested, and introduced a small amount of new invented material that would infer the same author. This would strengthen Marlowe's claim to the authorship of Tamburlaine by showing the similar use of imagery in a play known to be Marlowe's, but at the same time add a sheen of authenticity to the manuscript leaf through the same links in reverse to a genuine text. It has to be said though that the additional Massacre lines, if they are a forgery, are much subtler and of a far better quality.

It seems then that we have come full circle in considering the question of the Collier Leaf's authenticity. There has been as far as I know no attempt to analyse the paper and ink using modern scientific techniques, and it seems the original document would benefit from further analysis by independent Elizabethan handwriting experts. Until then, and despite the forceful arguments put forward by Adams and Nosworthy, there must still on balance remain a substantial question mark against the authenticity of the Collier Leaf. This remains on the books as one of Collier's possible earlier crimes, albeit one that he is yet to be proved guilty of beyond all reasonable doubt.

 
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