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:
  • Anjou:
  • Though gentle minds should pity others' pains,
  • Yet will the wisest note their proper griefs:
  • And rather seek to scourge their enemies,
  • Then be themselves base subjects to the whip.
  • The Massacre at Paris, Scene IV.13-6

The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris

Scene IV

Planning the Massacre; the King Visits Coligny

Location: The French Court; Coligny's Lodging

The scene comprises two separate meetings. First the Catholic leaders plan the forthcoming massacre, after which Charles, King of France, goes to see the injured Admiral and offer his sympathies. Many editors divide these into two separate scenes, but [Oliver] argues that the fluidity of the action demands a single scene with a number of the actors remaining on stage and merely moving to a separate location for the interview with Coligny.1

The playwright has reversed the order of these two meetings compared to the sequence in his source, and in so doing, Oliver notes, he has introduced a distinct hypocrisy to the King's apparent sympathy for the Admiral, having just been present at the planning of the massacre which Charles must have suspected will involve Coligny's death.

Marlowe does have the King worry at the reaction of other countries to the proposed massacre, as well as expressing some qualms at such a horrific act: "... my heart relents that noble men, / Only corrupted in religion, / Ladies of honour, Knights and Gentlemen, / Should for their conscience taste such ruthless ends". But after swift arguments from both Anjou and Guise, the king limply agrees to accede to their plans: "What you determine, I will ratify" (IV.25).

Guise outlines his plans for the massacre. The "actors in this Massacre, / Shall wear white crosses on their Burgonets, / And tie white linen scarves about their arms" (IV.29-31) to identify themselves. "A peal of ordinance from the tower" (IV.34) is the signal for the Parisians to take to the streets, and "a bell shall ring" (IV.36) to signal the start of the killing. These details are again contained in Marlowe's source.2

These discussions are interrupted by the arrival of the Admiral's man who reports the shooting. Catherine de Medici advises the king to "best go visit him, / And make a show as if all were well." (IV.46-7). This Charles does, offering the Admiral both sympathy and justice: "I vow and swear, as I am king of France, / To find and to repay the man with death / ... That durst presume ... / To hurt the noble man their sovereign loves" (IV.52-6). He also offers the Admiral an armed guard under Cossin, the Captain of the King's Guard, but we later learn that this is somewhat treacherous, for Cossin is a Catholic sympathiser and will let the Admiral's murderers in unopposed.3

  • Note 1: [Oliver] - footnote to Sc II.49, p.108. Back to Text
  • Note 2: [Varamund] cites the Duke of Guise identifying "the token to set vpon them" will be a "tocksein or ringing of the great bel of the Palace", and the "marke for them to be knowne from other, should be a white linen cloth hanged about their lefte arme, and a white crosse pinned vppon their capes." Back to Text
  • Note 3: This again comes from [Varamund] except that it is Anjou, the King's brother and future king Henry III, who commands Cossin to guard the Admiral's house. As Varamund puts it, "There could hardly a man be founde more hatefull against the Admiralles part, nor more affected to the Guisians, than this Cossin." So Marlowe is again blackening the character of Charles. Varamund also specifies that Catherine de Medici and the Duke of Anjou joined the king on his visit to the Admiral; in Marlowe's play it is not clear who, if anyone, joins the king at the Admiral's bedside. Back to Text
 
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