The Massacre at Paris

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The Massacre at Paris is an Elizabethan play by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe (1593) and a Restoration drama by Nathaniel Lee (1689), the later chiefly remembered for a song by Henry Purcell. Both concern the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, which took place in Paris in 1572, and the part played by the Duc de Guise in those events.

Marlowe's play[edit]

A foul sheet from Marlowe's writing of The Massacre at Paris (1593). Reproduced from Folger Shakespeare Library Ms.J.b.8

The Lord Strange's Men acted a play titled The Tragedy of the Guise, thought to be Marlowe's play, on 26 January 1593. The Admiral's Men performed The Guise or The Massacre ten times between 19 June and 25 September 1594. The Diary of Philip Henslowe marks the play as "ne," though scholars disagree as to whether this indicates a "new" play or a performance at the Newington Butts theatre. The Diary also indicates that Henslowe planned a revival of the play in 1602, possibly in a revised version.[1] A possible revision may have something to do with the surprising number of Shakespearean borrowings and paraphrases in the text.[2]

The only surviving text is an undated octavo edition, that at 1,250 or so lines seems too short to represent the complete original play and which has been conjectured to be a memorial reconstruction by the actors who performed the work.[3]

One page perhaps survives in manuscript. It is known as the "Collier leaf," after the Shakespearean scholar John Payne Collier, who is known to have been a notorious forger, although modern scholars think that this particular leaf is probably authentic. It supplies a longer version of a speech of the Guise's than appears in the printed text, adding twelve lines of blank verse.

Lee's play[edit]

Nathaniel Lee's play The Massacre at Paris was written during the 1680s when the author was in and out of Bedlam. The premiere took place in 1689.[4]

Henry Purcell set to omen to Charles IX from act V, "Thy genius, lo", in two versions, the one for baritone (Z 604a) appearing in Orpheus Britannicus.[5] For a revival in 1695 he recast the speech as a recitative for treble.[6]


  1. ^ Chambers, Vol. 1, p. 323; Vol. 3, pp. 425-6.
  2. ^ Halliday, p. 307.
  3. ^ Probes, Christine McCall (2008). "Senses, signs, symbols and theological allusion in Marlowe's The Massacre at Paris". In Deats, Sara Munson; Logan, Robert A. Placing the plays of Christopher Marlowe: Fresh Cultural Contexts. Aldershot, England: Ashgate. p. 149. ISBN 0-7546-6204-7. 
  4. ^ Curtis Price, Henry Purcell and the London stage (Cambridge University Press 1984)
  5. ^ Book I, p. 135
  6. ^ Price, p. 21

External links[edit]