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:
  • Navarre:
  • But he that sits and rules above the clouds,
  • Doth hear and see the prayers of the just,
  • And will revenge the blood of innocents
  • That Guise hath slain by treason of his heart,
  • And brought by murder to their timeless ends.
  • The Massacre at Paris, Scene I.41-5

The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris
 

Scene I

The Wedding of Navarre and Margaret

Location: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

This opening scene introduces both the historical context1 of the action to follow, and the three factions (Royal family, Catholic Guise faction, and Protestant Huguenots). It is likely that many in the original audience would have been broadly familiar with the main protagonists, with Guise murdered at the end of 1588, Catherine and Henry III dying in 1589, and Navarre still trying to assert his authority as King of France even as the play debuted at The Rose in January 1593. However, it is worth noting that Marlowe has changed the chronological order of events (both in real life and as laid out in his source [Varamund]) to start his drama with this pivotal wedding scene, with the earlier death of Navarre's mother delayed until Scene III.

King Charles IX opens the play with an apparently sincere welcome to the Huguenot Navarre, who has just married his sister Margaret, expressing the hope that both their union, and the "religious league" (I.3) that the wedding was also intended to cement, will last "till death dissolve our lives" (I.5). The king's mother, Catherine de Medici, makes a slightly more ambiguous welcome: "You see we love you well" (I.13), "our difference in religion / Might be a means to cross you in your love" (I.15-16). This difference is emphasised when the bride's family head inside the cathedral for a mass, leaving the Huguenots outside.2 As she departs, Catherine reveals her true intentions to the audience in an aside: she confides that she will "dissolve [the union] with blood and cruelty" (I.25). Here Marlowe is already insinuating the Queen Mother's guilt in the massacre, despite the fact that it was after all Catherine de Medici who had arranged this marriage in the face of opposition on both sides.

Twiddling their thumbs outside Notre Dame, the three Huguenot leaders - Navarre, Prince Condé and Admiral Coligny - discuss their distrust of the Guises. Navarre initially states that now he is married to the king's sister, Guise can "do us little hurt" (I.27) even though he "seeks to murder all the protestants" (I.30). In anticipation of the massacre to come, Navarre has heard rumour "that all the Protestants that are in Paris / Should have been murdered the other night" (I.33-34) had Guise obtained the King's consent. Condé wonders that Guise should require the King's consent, "For what he doth the Pope will ratify" (I.39). Coligny notes how the Guise faction "did storm at these your nuptial rites" (I.48) because the marriage has only served to reinforce Navarre's claim to the French throne should the Valois line die out.

Navarre, somewhat insipidly, can only assert his faith in God, who he implicitly believes to be on his side, the side of the "just" (I.42). In this reported play text, the character of Navarre is left with few meaty or lengthy speeches, and his character rarely extends beyond a one-dimensional Protestant mouth-piece.3 We wonder how Marlowe pitched him in the original text, but it seems clear that he was far from being the clear-cut hero of the piece.

  • Note 1: See the historical summary of the Navarre-Valois wedding. Back to Text
  • Note 2: This detail is also in [Varamund]: "... the bride was with great traine and pompe led into the Church to heare Masse, and in the meane time the brydgrome who mislyked these ceremonies, together with Henrie Prince of Conde, sonne of Lewes, and the Admirall, and other noble men of the same Religion, walked without the Church dore, wayting for the Brides returne." All extracts from [Varamund] are quoted from Appendix B of [Oliver]. Back to Text
  • Note 3: See [Oliver] pp.lxiv-lxvi for a discussion of Navarre's character. Back to Text
 
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