The Massacre at Paris: The Exorcism of
WHILE IT SEEMS LIKELY THAT READERS WILL CONTINUE TO Disagree as to which of Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, or Edward II is Marlowe’s best play, there will probably always be universal agreement that The Massacre at Paris is his worst. To offer a coherent reading of it would be, as Kuriyama claims, to “seriously misrepresent a play that is not itself very coherent.”1 Yet the play is difficult to assess fairly since we possess what is presumably a reported text, “put together by memorial reconstruction” as H. J. Oliver conjectures.2 We are thus left forever wondering how faithfully the “singularly crude and unpoetic potboiler”3 that has come down to us represents the original form of the play.
In the face of this limitation, and in spite of Oliver’s warning of “how dangerous it is to reach conclusions even about characterizations from such a text,”4 the play’s meaning and its place in the Marlowe canon can best be understood by exploring the three main male characters: the Duke of Guise, Navarre, and Henry III. We have seen the importance of the Barabas/Ferneze contrast in The Jew of Malta, and in Marlowe’s subsequent plays—The Massacre and Edward II—he moves even further away from the monodrama of Tamburlaine and Faustus. It is therefore wrong to see The Massacre as centered wholly on the Guise, and Kocher falls wide of the mark when he claims that Marlowe assembles “bloody deeds from all quarters of his source to construct one of those titans of evil who so delighted him, and at the same time diminish[es] the other actors until they scarcely reach to the Guise’s knees.”5 Levin, who also exaggerates the Guise’s importance in the play, nevertheless astutely remarks that if Marlowe “does nothing else in The Massacre at Paris, he exorcises this devil [the hero as villain] that he has raised [in The Jew of Malta]”;6 indeed, Machevil in the prologue to The Jew of Malta mentions the Guise as one of his incarnations, and in his next play Marlowe strives