- What glory is there in a common good,
- That hangs for every peasant to achieve?
- That like I best that flies beyond my reach.
- Set me to scale the high Pyramides,
- And thereon set the Diadem of France,
- I'll either rend it with my nails to naught,
- Or mount the top with my aspiring wings,
- Although my downfall be the deepest hell.
- The Massacre at Paris, Scene II.37-44
The Massacre at Paris
Guise Plots Two Murders and his Own Rise
Location: The Guise's Apartments
Following on from the Huguenot distrust expressed at the end of the previous scene, we are now introduced to the Duke of Guise who immediately confirms their worst fears to the audience as he secretly plans the murders of both the Queen of Navarre (Henry of Navarre's mother) and Admiral Coligny. Having set these plots in motion, Guise delivers a characteristically Marlovian speech in which he outlines his Machiavellian aspirations in one of the few lengthy and substantial soliloquies remaining in the extant text. The quality of the verse here hints at an untarnished remnant from Marlowe's original play.
Guise rages against the marriage of Navarre and Margaret ("If ever sun stain'd heaven with bloody clouds" - II.3) before calling for his loyal Apothecary and hatching a plan to poison the Queen of Navarre by presenting her with a pair of perfumed gloves.1 Shortly a soldier is summoned and another murder plot hatched: "Stand in some window opening near the street, / And when thou seest the Admiral ride by, / Discharge thy musket and perform his death" (II.26-8).2
The Duke is then left alone on stage as he shares his "deep-engender'd thoughts" (II.31) at some length with the audience. His aspirations are high as befits a Marlovian anti-hero ("that like I best that flies beyond my reach" - II.39), and his aim is nothing less than the "diadem of France". He is determined to realise these ambitions by whatever means necessary, having "learnd, / That peril is the chiefest way to happiness, / And resolution honours fairest aim." (II.34-6). But Guise's methods are ruthlessly Machiavellian, and he "hath often pleaded kindred to the king" (II.48) whilst at the same time plotting for the crown, as "this head, this heart, this hand and sword, / Contrive, imagine and fully execute / Matters of import, aimed at by many, / Yet understood by none." (II.49-52). Guise is dismissive of Charles' weakness, and believes he has the king, whom "as a child, I daily win with words" (II.70), under his control and even prepared to take responsibility for Guise's actions. Catherine de Medici is also firmly under his spell, working "wonders for my sake / And in my love entombs the hope of France / Rifling the bowels of her treasury" (II.73-5).
The Duke of Guise also confirms the earlier Huguenot fears of powerful Catholic backing, boasting of significant financial support from Spain and the Vatican. But whilst those supporters are religiously motivated, Guise uses religion merely for his own ends: "My policy hath framed religion. / Religion: O Diabole! / Fie, I am ashamed, however that I seem, / To think a word of such a simple sound, / Of so great matter should be made the ground" (II.62-6). With a staunch and aggressively Catholic Paris, Guise "hast all the cards within thy hands / To shuffle or to cut, take this as surest thing: / That right or wrong, thou deal'st thyself a King" (II.85-7). Navarre and his "rabblement of heretics" (II.90) will be dealt with.
Guise compares himself to Caesar, a man not afraid to take on and beat his enemies in pursuit of ultimate power (we will ultimately see the Duke of Guise assassinated by his rivals for power just as Caesar was), and ends his speech by reaffirming his determination to succeed: "The plot is laid, and things shall come to pass, / Where resolution strives for victory" (II.104-5).
- Note 1: As noted in the historical contect section on her death, it is unlikely in reality that this is how Joan of Navarre died. There were however contemporary rumours, and Marlowe's source describes the use of poisoned gloves to murder the Queen of Navarre. [Varamund] does not identify Guise as being behind the murder though, but does mention the "King's Apothecary". Back to Text
- Note 2: Again [Varamund] does not identify Guise as being behind the attempted assassination of the Admiral, saying only that the Duke of Guise was playing tennis with King Charles at the time of the shooting. As noted in the historical summary on the shooting of Admiral Coligny, in real-life the house from which the shot was fired was alleged to be owned by the Duke of Guise. Back to Text