The Marlowe Society

Marlowe's Works

Marlowe's Works
Massacre Woodcut

The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris

History:

History:

Interpretation:

Interpretation:

Plot:

Plot:

References:

References:

The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris

Marlowe's Hand?

For those commentators who consider the Collier Leaf a forgery, there is of course no need to consider further the question of whether the manuscript might be in Marlowe's own hand. But for those who consider it a genuine fragment of Marlowe's working text, the next obvious question is whether it could possibly be holograph.

Strangely, neither Adams nor Nosworthy address this point in any detail. Adams writing in 1934 tentatively puts forward the hypothesis that the manuscript represents "a preliminary or tentative draft of a single episode,"1 perhaps one of Marlowe's "foul sheets", something "that dramatists commonly worked with ..., composing individual scenes at various times as occasion allowed."2 If this is the case, "the natural inference, of course, would be that the writer was Marlowe himself; yet, in the absence of any recognized specimen of Marlowe's hand, we can not be certain."3

The signature of Christopher Marlowe from the 1583 will of Katherine Nenchkin of Canterbury
Witness: Marlowe's signature on the 1585 will of Katherine Benchkin. Another witness to the will, John Moore, later recalled in legal testament how Christopher Marlowe was asked to read the will out, and did so "plainely and distinktly".13

This impediment was removed five years after Adams' article, when in 1939 Mr. Frank Tyler from Canterbury discovered the will of Katherine Benchkin, which had been signed as witnesses by Christopher Marlowe along with his father, uncle, and brother-in-law in 1585.4

Nosworthy writing in 1945, however, is unaware of the signature, or at any rate makes no mention of it. Having demonstrated to his satisfaction that the Collier leaf "is a genuine Elizabethan dramatic document," he considers the next logical step that "[s]ince it clearly belongs to The Massacre at Paris one is tempted to go further and claim that it must be Marlowe's and that it may be in holograph. But this requires proof".5 Indeed it does, but unfortunately Nosworthy's attempt to provide that evidence is somewhat flawed by his initial statement of the problem, which considers as the only alternative to Marlowe's hand "an equal possibility that it is a draft made by one of those hacks who were employed, from time to time, to write ' additions' to plays whose run extended over a number of years, as that of The Massacre at Paris did."6 This is the cue to provide his evidence regarding similar uses of words and images in both the Collier leaf additions and Tamburlaine, from which he concludes "the manuscript, then, undoubtedly reproduces a passage of Marlowe's work, and the balance of probability is that it is also in Marlowe's handwriting."7

This last conclusion seems a bit of a stretch, and Nosworthy's subsequent statements seem similarly less than justifiable. "It is obvious," he adds, "that a fragment roughly written on an old scrap of paper has no possible kinship with theatrical prompt copy, and one is compelled to accept Adams's view that it is a tentative draft of a single episode. In that case, since Marlowe's authorship is proven, there is not the remotest likelihood that it is in another man's handwriting. If this is not in holograph, it must, of course, be a copy of Marlowe's original draft made by some one who had some inconceivable reason for his inexplicable action. But the leaf looks more like an original than a copy, for no copyist would be guilty of all the blemishes and irregularities that it contains." There are surely conceivable reasons why someone else might have made a copy, and the 'blemishes and irregularities' he cites do not stretch to any crossings-out or annotated revisions that one might possibly expect to see in a "tentative draft".

A.D. Wraight was the first to compare the handwriting of Marlowe's relatively recently discovered signature with the manuscript hand in the Collier Leaf. She reproduces and enlarges the individual letters of Marlowe's signature, and compares these directly to "tracings of these letters as found in a photograph of The Massacre at Paris leaf enlarged to approximately the same size."8 Wraight concludes that "all the letters in Marlowe's name match extremely well with the playscript leaf, with the exception of the 'r' and to some extent the 'i' and the capital 'C', and the change here is one of simplification of letter forms",9 whilst also suggesting that the variation may in part be due to the seven year gap in the two documents. She also cites (but doesn't reproduce) examples of multiple-letter combinations, and adds that "[s]ignificantly, the pen pressure used in both the Marlowe signature and the MS. is the same, as also the general flow of the writing."10

Wraight also cites the "opinion of Dr. William Urry, who has inspected both, [that] there is no doubt that the leaf and the signature are in the same hand, that of Christopher Marlowe."11 However, as far as I am aware neither Wraight nor Urry could claim to be a professional expert in Elizabethan handwriting, despite their working familiarity with documents of the period. Whilst some of the letters cited by Wraight look similar, it is difficult for the layman to be certain. The single sample of Marlowe's signature, whilst it is all we have, remains statistically a very small sample, and we might also want to compare all examples of each letter as they appear in the manuscript to get a wider view of the correspondence. Furthermore, although Wraight cites Adams' arguments at some length as evidence of the manuscript's authenticity, she might have taken heed of his warnings about relying on the evidence of photographs, especially in regard to her statements about "pen pressure" and the "general flow of the writing".

As with the question of authenticity then, the arguments remain inconclusive, and the debate, such as it is,12 might once again benefit from some independent expert analysis.

  • Note 1: [Adams] p.449. Back to Text
  • Note 2: [Adams] p.450. Back to Text
  • Note 3: Ibid. Back to Text
  • Note 4: Kent Archives Office PRC 16/36. [Boas-Marlowe], [Urry] and others date the signing of the will as November 1585, but [Kuriyama] establishes that it was in fact 19 August 1585. Back to Text
  • Note 5: [Nosworthy] p.163. Back to Text
  • Note 6: [Nosworthy] pp.163-164. Back to Text
  • Note 7: [Nosworthy] p.167. Back to Text
  • Note 8: [Wraight-Search] p.230. Back to Text
  • Note 9: Ibid. Back to Text
  • Note 10: [Wraight-Search] p.232. Back to Text
  • Note 11: [Wraight-Search] p.227. Back to Text
  • Note 12: Despite their general acceptance of the document as genuine, commentators are divided on their interpretation of the holograph evidence. Some are uncertain: F.P. Wilson in [Leech] (p.128) says that it is "possibly in Marlowe's handwriting," whilst [Steane] (p.236) concludes that "no one can establish that it was written in Marlowe's hand." Others are more categorical that it is not Marlowe's handwriting. [Honan]'s (p.275) opinion is that "scholars accept it as Marlowe's work, though it is not in his hand," whilst Laurie E. Maguire in Marlovian Texts and Authorship ([Cambridge] p.46) states simply that "it is not in Marlowe's hand." [Briggs] (p.258) accepts that the manuscript is "in all probability by Marlowe, though not (as was once supposed) autograph." All of these are writing after the signature was discovered in 1939.Back to Text
  • Note 13: Kent Archives Office PRC 39/11, fo 234. Evidence of John Moore recounted on 30th September 1586 in a legal case relating to the estate of Katherine Benchkin: "shee gave her saide will now exhibited vnto Cristofer Marley to bee redd, which he red plainely and distinktly, and being soe red the saide testatrix [Benchkin] acknowledge the same to bee her laste will and testament...". The testimony is transcribed by [Urry] pp.127-129. Back to Text
 
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