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  • Marlowe, Ramus, and the Reformation of Philosophy
  • John Guillory

They will get it straight one day at the Sorbonne …

—Wallace Stevens, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

i. “i knew the organon to be confusde,” or, ramus the reformer

Christopher Marlowe’s late play, The Massacre at Paris, takes as its nominal subject the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, which inaugurated yet another cycle of violence between Catholics and Protestants in France. Among the two thousand or so Huguenots slaughtered in the city of Paris the most well remembered today is Petrus Ramus, Regius Professor of eloquence and philosophy at the University of Paris. Marlowe’s fascination with the massacre was shared by most of his contemporaries, but his special interest in Ramus reflects the fact that Ramism reached the zenith of its influence at Cambridge during the 1580s, when he matriculated there.1 Here is the scene of Ramus’s death, which it will be necessary to set before us in full:

Enter ramus in his studie.


What fearfull cries comes from the river Sene,

That Frightes poor Ramus sitting at his book?

I feare the Guisians have past the bridge,

And meane once more to menace me.

Enter taleus.


Flye Ramus flye, if thou wilt save thy life.


Tell me Taleus, wherefore should I flye?


The Guisians are

Hard at the door, and mean to murder us:

Harke, harke they come, Ile leap out at the window. [End Page 693]

[Exit from studie].


Sweet Taleus stay.

Enter gonzago and retes.


Who goes there?


Tis Taleus, ramus bedfellow.


What art thou?


I am as ramus is, a Christian.


O let him goe, he is a catholick.

Exit taleus.

Enter ramus [from his studie].


Come Ramus, more golde, or thou shalt have the stabbe.


Alas I am a scholler, how should I have golde?

All that I have is but my stipend from the King,

Which is no sooner receiv’d but it is spent.

Enter the guise and anjoy [dumaine, mountsorrell and Soldiers]


Who have you there?


Tis ramus, the Kings professor of Logick.


Stab him.


O good my Lord,

Wherein hath Ramus been so offencious?


Marry sir, in having a smack in all,

And yet didst never sound anything to the depth.

Was it not thou that scoftes the organon,

And said it was a heape of vanities?

He that will be a flat decotamest,

And seen in nothing but Epetomies,

Is in your judgment thought a learned man.

And he forsooth must goe and preach in germany:

Excepting against Doctors actions,

And ipse dixi with this quidditie,

Argumentum testimonii est inartificiale.

To contradict which, I say ramus shall dye:

How answere you that? Your nego argumentum

Cannot serve, sirra, kill him. [End Page 694]


O good my Lord, let me but speak a word.


Well, say on.


Not for my life doe I desire this pause,

But in my latter houre to purge my selfe,

In that I know the things that I have wrote,

Which as I heare one Shekius takes it ill,

Because my places being but three, contains all his:

I knew the Organon to be confusde,

And I reduc’d it into better forme.

And this for Aristotle will I say,

That he that despiseth him, can nere

Be good in Logick or Philosophie.

And that’s because the blockish Sorbonests,

Attribute as much unto their workes,

As to the service of the eternall God.


Why suffer you that peasant to declaime.

Stab him I say and send him to his friends in hell.


Nere was there Colliars sonne so full of pride. kill him.2

Although the text of the play is corrupt—many lines are evidently missing from what editors now believe is a memorial reconstruction—this scene appears to retain sufficient integrity to bear sustained analysis. In the exchange between the Duke of Guise and Ramus, we are given a surprisingly detailed brief of Ramism, far more compendious than is needed for the purpose of dramatizing the assassination. The rehearsal of these esoteric particulars might seem...


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