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:
  • Q.Catherine:
  • And if he do deny what I do say,
  • I'll dispatch him with his brother presently,
  • And then shall Monsieur wear the diadem.
  • Tush, all shall die unless I have my will:
  • For while she lives Catherine will be Queen.
  • The Massacre at Paris, Scene XIV.62-6

The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris

Scene XIV

The Coronation of Henry III

Location: Rheims Cathedral

Anjou has returned from Poland and this scene shows him crowned as King Henry III of France.1 His mother Catherine makes a great show of welcoming him, but behind his back she believes that the new King's proclivity for mignons, or male favourites, will allow her to continue to be the real power behind the throne, as she was with his elder brother Charles. Meanwhile, we learn that Guise is raising an army with which to attack Navarre, and Catherine is confident that she can bring her influence to bear such that her son will support this venture.

Henry III enters the stage (already crowned) to the sound of "trumpets within" and cries of "Vive le roi!" from the assembled crowd. Catherine makes a speech welcoming her son to the throne of France and highlighting the benefits of his new position: "a country void of fears / A warlike people to maintain thy right, / A watchful senate for ordaining laws" (XIV.4-6), but perhaps most significantly from her perspective "A loving mother to preserve thy state" (XIV.7)!

The new king initially responds with a formal expression of hope that his "deeds may well deserve your loves" (XIV.13), but soon his attention turns to his mignons,2 assuring them that "Henry's heart will ... both harbour love and majesty" (XIV.16-17) and that they are "Removeless from the favours of your king" (XIV.22). Henry assures one of those mignons Mugeroun that "we will be friends, / And fellows too, whatever storms arise" (XIV.27-28), a vow that the latter immediately exploits to ask the king's permission to punish a cutpurse for the "cutting of the gold buttons off [Mugeroun's] cloak" (SD at XIV.30.1-2).3 Before Henry can answer, Mugeroun has cut off the thief's ear, and with dark humour demands "Come, sir, give me my buttons, and here's your ear" (XIV.33). Guise orders the cutpurse to be taken away, but Henry intervenes, standing "bail" for the thief, and sending him on his way with an almost light-hearted warning to "work no more / Till this our coronation-day be past" (XIV.36-37). This may just be the carefree clemency of a newly crowned king, or Marlowe may be giving the first hint at a more humane Henry, who here is perhaps establishing his authority in a small way by over-ruling Guise (who was very much in charge during the Massacre escapades that involved Anjou).

Henry calls for the coronation celebrations to begin, and all depart "to feast / And spend some days in barriers,4 tourney, tilt, / And like disports, such as do fit the court" (XIV.39-41). All except Catherine and the Cardinal of Lorraine that is, the latter again cast by Marlowe as the Queen Mother's confidant, a dramatic vehicle for confiding her plotting to the audience. The mind of her son, she notes, "runs on his minions, / And all his heaven is to delight himself" (XIV.45-6). But such hedonism will only serve her designs on effective power, that "Guise and we may now provide / To plant ourselves with such authority / As not a man may live without our leaves" (XIV.48-50), such that the "Catholic faith of Rome / [shall] Flourish in France, and none deny the same" (XIV.51-2).

The Cardinal reveals that "Guise hath gather'd a power of men" (XIV.54) with which he secretly means to attack "the house of Bourbon", justifying the fears that Navarre voiced in the previous scene. He urges Catherine to lobby the king to support this act of war "for his country's good / And common profit of religion" (XIV.58-9). They might expect Henry's support after his active role in the Massacre, but Catherine is anyway supremely confident of her personal power. Henry is dispensable ("if he do deny what I do say, / I'll despatch him with his brother presently, / And then shall Monsieur [her youngest son] wear the diadem" - XIV.62-4) and believes herself all powerful ("Tush, all shall die unless I have my will. / For, while she lives, Catherine will be Queen" - XIV.65-6).

  • Note 1: Anjou took his time returning from Poland, touring Italy before returning to France in September 1574 - [Holt] p.103. His coronation took place at Rheims Notre-Dame Cathedral on 13th February 1575. Back to Text
  • Note 2: See a summary of the leading mignons and contemporary opinion of them. Back to Text
  • Note 3: There is no known source for this brief episode involving the cutpurse. Back to Text
  • Note 4: Martial combat by two combatants on foot with short swords and pikes. Back to Text
 
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