The Massacre at Paris
Compared to some of his works which are difficult to date precisely even within the author's relatively short working life, we can at least be a little more confident about when Marlowe might have written the bulk of The Massacre at Paris.
The latest date by which the play can have been written can be deduced from what Henslowe records1 in the following entry in his so-called "Diary" for takings from the performance at The Rose on 30 January 1593:
|ne- Rd at the tragedy of the gvyes 30 . . . . . . . .||iij li xiiij s|
The Tragedy of the Guise undoubtedly refers to Marlowe's play, entitled The Massacre at Paris when it was published but even then subtitled "With the Death of the Duke of Guise". Furthermore we have Henslowe's intriguing marking of the play as "ne", which whilst much debated as to its exact meaning, is a label generally agreed to indicate that the play, version of the play, or particular production, was new. As [Oliver] argues, "perhaps in this instance, where there is no evidence of licensing or of any earlier production, by any acting company, of a play with a similar title, it may be assumed that Henslowe was recording the first production of a new play (and the exceptionally high receipts - the highest of the season - would confirm this)."2
The almost contemporary nature of the historic content of the play is also helpful in giving us an earliest date for composition. The final scene depicts the death of Henry III, which occurred on 02 August 1589, and so the play must have been completed some time after this date. This still leaves a theoretical window of over three years, getting on for half of Marlowe's working life. The most plausible conjecture, however (if the production in January 1593 was indeed the play's opening night), is that it was largely written some time during 1592. In this case, it would be one of Marlowe's later works, with his death at Deptford coming exactly four months after this performance of the play.
Tucker-Brooke sees in the even distribution of the historical content some confirmation of this later date. "There is nothing to indicate that it was written very immediately after the assassination of the French King [Henry III], for that event, which in a contemporary 'topical' drama would naturally have formed the mainstay of the plot, is here given very little importance, while the principal interest centres about the ancient history of St. Bartholomew and the animosities of Guise and Navarre."3
The reported nature of the published text makes any attempt at stylistic dating very hazardous, but [Oliver], although aware of this, none the less still sees "a style more informal than that of even Edward II or Dr Faustus - and probably Marlowe's development was continuously away from the set speeches, monologues, and debate-like dialogue of Dido and Tamburlaine."4
Neither of these arguments is particularly convincing, but 1592 still seems the most likely date of authorship.