Marlowe's the Massacre at Paris: A Historical Perspective

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Abstract:

Analyzes Christopher Marlowe's incomplete play, The Massacre at Paris, with regard to what it reflects on contemporary knowledge of and attitudes toward events in France. The play has been dated 1592, twenty years after the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre to which it refers; it also dramatizes the assassinations of the Duke and Cardinal of Guise (1588), and Henry III (1589). This later section of the play is in contrast to the treatment of the 1572 massacre. The divergent approach apparent in the two halves of the play, pro-Protestant and pro-militant Catholic, questions whether violence is justified on either side, however just the cause, and it indicates the dubious way in which Henry IV had come to the throne. Many of the play's themes would have been particularly relevant for England during the last years of Elizabeth I's reign: the danger of a weak monarchy, reliance on favorites, the influence of nobles, and an insecure succession. The overall message of the play stresses the futility of destroying others for political gain concealed behind a cloak of religious respectability, and while the events portrayed remain true to the historical record, they also act as a warning.
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