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Garbled Martyrdom in Christopher Marlowe's The Massacre at Paris Kristen Elizabeth Poole The images of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacres of 1572 continue to shock, even in a twentieth century familiar with the atrocities of Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge, and the Bosnian Serbs, and even in a Foucauldian academic discussion concerned with the politics of torture and physical trauma. In contemporary reports of the massacre, Catholics gather Protestant infants in a large basket and throw them into a Seine overflowing with corpses.1 A renowned Protestant beauty, already wounded and struggling amidst the same bodies, desperately clings for safety to the pillars of a bridge, only to be stoned to death by the mob overhead; her hair becomes entangled in the bridge's foundations and her body floats there, rotting, for days.2 The killing spree which began in the sultry August streets of Paris and radiated throughout the urban centers of France horrified even those accustomed to fierce religious conflict. This slaughter differed significantly from the spectacle of burning heretics, the bonecrushing terrors of the Inquisition, and even the illegal execution of prisoners of war. Here, a king sanctioned the mass execution of the nobles who, weeks and even days before, had been his boon companions and confidants; here, individuals took up instruments of everyday domestic life to bludgeon, stab, and drown their neighbors;3 here, Protestant lawyers, doctors, merchants, city officials—men of wealth and power—were herded by the hundreds into halls where they watched bands of local butchers kill their friends and families with the same axes that had long prepared their daily meat.4 Here, so it was reported, Catholic children gleefully slaughtered Protestant babies.5 The accounts of the massacres are of varying credibility, ranging from reports by eyewitnesses to pamphlets by propagandists to disavowing letters from King Charles IX.6 Whatever the reliability of such individual narratives, at the end of the day (or 1 2 Garbled Martyrdom in The Massacre at Paris rather, at the end of three ghastly days) thousands of Huguenots were dead.7 Whatever the motivation for the killing—economic greed and jealousy, fear of political faction, mob violence, or genuine religious fervor—the event was a dramatic testimony to the civil upheaval that could be generated by religious difference. Protestant propagandists saw the massacres as an opportunity to make appeals for international aid, and pamphlets providing both gruesome detail and political analysis were sent abroad in English , French, German, Dutch, and Latin. The St. Bartholomew's Day massacres became one of the most infamous and most publicized of sixteenth-century international events. To tell of such horrors is one thing; to re-enact them is another. The massacres were of such overwhelming scale that they would seem to defy the scope of theater. Yet in The Massacre at Paris, Christopher Marlowe attempts to portray the St. Bartholomew 's Day massacres on the stage. Marlowe's attempt, as assessed by later critical tradition, was a failure. The play is "a blood-sodden piece of hack work," writes an unimpressed John Bakeless.8 In part, the play's perceived shortcomings are a function of the existing text, an unlicensed octavo published sometime between 1593 and 1601.9 W. W. Greg introduces the Malone Society Reprint of the play by claiming that "even among admittedly garbled versions it has an evil distinction."10 H. S. Bennett , embellishing upon Greg's distaste for the play, prefaces his own edition with the assertion that "[i]t is certainly one of the worst examples of garbled and mangled texts, and Dr. Pollard's general adjective of 'bad' for such works seems all too weak to describe this confused and often-times barely intelligible play in its present form."11 Such statements continue to be reiterated in more recent criticism as well; Clifford Leech unequivocally states, "The Massacre at Paris in its extant form is indeed one of the worst of the 'bad' Elizabethan dramatic texts."12 Editors and critics repeatedly attempt to shift blame for the alleged aesthetic sins of the play away from Marlowe and onto the heads of its printers. Bennett writes, "It has all the marks of its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 1-25
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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