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:
  • Guise:
  • Marry sir, in having a smack in all,
  • And yet didst never sound any thing to the depth.
  • Was it not thou that scoff'dst the Organon,
  • And said it was a heap of vanities?
  • He that will be a flat dichotomist,
  • And seen in nothing but Epitomies
  • Is in your judgment thought a learned man;
  • And he forsooth must go and preach in Germany:
  • Excepting against Doctors actions,
  • And ipse dixi with this quidditie,
  • Argumentum testimonii est inartificiale.
  • To contradict which, I say Ramus shall dye.
  • How answer you that? Your nego argumentum
  • Cannot serve, Sirrah, kill him.
  • The Massacre at Paris, Scene IX.24-37

The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris

Scene IX

The Murders of Ramus and the Huguenot Schoolmasters

Location: Ramus' Study; Navarre's Study

Following on from the murder of two religious figures, the concluding scene of the Paris Massacre sequence comprises the murders of three Huguenot scholars.1 The first is the eminent French humanist, logician and mathematician, Petrus Ramus,2 who most notably taught a reformed version of Aristotelian logic. In the second part of the scene, two schoolmasters who tutor the Huguenot leaders Navarre and Condé are killed. As the action and actors are continuous, these two murders are treated as a single scene by most editors, although the change of location would require careful staging.

Ramus is disturbed from his studies by "fearful cries [coming] from the river Seine" (IX.1), and fears the Guisians "mean once more to menace me" (IX.4). His friend Taleus3 rushes in, urging him to "fly, if thou'st wilt save thy life" (IX.5) but Ramus remains calm. As Taleus himself flees, he is accosted by Gonzago and Retes, but tells them that he "is a Christian" (IX.14) which they presume to mean a Catholic, and let him go. The two nobles demand gold from the scholar, but Guise (together with Anjou and others) bursts in and immediately demands that they "stab him" (IX.22).

This time, however, Guise indulges his victim in a little intellectual sparring before the kill. Ramus asks what he has done to offend, and Guise responds by citing the scholar's arguments against Aristotelian logic and scholasticism4 (presumably Marlowe is bringing his own education to bear here), rather than accusing him of heresy. Guise taunts Ramus by attempting to disprove one of his theories on logic via the act of murdering him, the theory that a statement cannot be deemed true simply on the basis of the authority of the person making that statement ("Argumentum testimonii est inartificiale" - IX.34). Guise's contrary example is the statement that "Ramus shall die" (IX.35), which, based on his authority will become true. Even under threat of death the scholar will not renounce his beliefs, insisting that he improved Aristotle's work ("I knew the Organon to be confus'd / And I reduc'd it into better form" - IX.45-6) albeit he was not completely set against the Greek philosopher ("he that despiseth [Aristotle] can ne'er / Be good in logic or philosophy" - IX.48-9). But Guise has grown impatient with the debate and curtly orders his death. It is Anjou that obliges by stabbing Ramus.

Guise now takes stock of the massacre. He complains that some Huguenots have survived by swimming in the Seine. Dumaine suggests a gory solution: that soldiers use "bows and darts to shoot at them" from the bridges (IX.61). Guise is also unhappy that the tutors to Navarre and Condé still live. Anjou again takes the initiative and knocks on their door (which we must imagine to be close by) and finds the Huguenot leaders and the schoolmasters within.

Navarre questions Anjou about the massacre and his role in it, but the King's brother brazenly denies involvement: "I have done what I could to stay this broil" (IX.72), whilst offering a rather lame alibi ("I rose but now" - IX.75). Guise and his blood-thirsty mob charge in shouting their murderous intentions. The Huguenot leaders' response is once again somewhat gutless: they quickly run off to "tell the king" (IX.78), leaving their tutors to die by Guise's "poniard's point" (IX.79).

These last two deaths conclude Marlowe's depiction of the main part of the St.Bartholomew's Day massacre, and the Duke of Guise now dispatches his lieutenants to extend the massacre to the other cities of France.5 Five brief scenes have piled up six bodies and made clear the vicious and ruthless intent of the murderous Guise, whilst Anjou (the future Henry III) also has blood on his hands with the stabbing of Ramus.

  • Note 1: See a historical summary of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, including the murder of Ramus. Back to Text
  • Note 2: Petrus Ramus (1515-1572) (forename anglicised as Peter) was a French humanist who had constantly come into conflict with the conservative authorities even before his conversion to Protestantism in 1561. [Varamund] mentions his death in passing: "Why were so many aged persons, many that lay sicke in their beds, many gownemen, many Counsellers, Aduocates, Proctors, Phisitions, many singularly learned professors and teachers of good artes, and among the rest Petrus Ramus that renoumed man throughout the worlde, ..." Back to Text
  • Note 3: Taleus here is presumably Omer Talon (Audomarus Talaeus), Ramus' friend and collaborator, but he died in 1562, some 10 years before Marlowe's scene is set. Back to Text
  • Note 4: Guise accuses Ramus of scoffing at the Organon, Aristotle's treatises on logic (IX.26), and of favouring dichotomy (IX.28), a form of logic that Aristotle had rejected. Back to Text
  • Note 5: [Varamund] alludes to the atrocities which spread throughout the country, "... as at Orleance, Angiers, Viaron, Troys and Auxerre, the like butcheries and slaughters vsed..." Marlowe now has Guise dispatch "Mountsorrell unto Rouen" (IX.84), although according to [Varamund] the latter's murder of Masson de Rivers portrayed in Scene VIII saw him travel to Angiers. Back to Text
 
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