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The Massacre at Paris

The Massacre at Paris is the title of 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

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 30 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] Stylometric research carried out early in 2015 suggests strong stylistic evidence of Shakespeare and Munday whereas there is no relation to Marlowe's Tamburlaines.[3]

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.[4]

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.


England - (Amateur) in 1963 there was a student production by Cambridge University's Marlowe Society.

England - (Amateur) In 1966 there was a student production at Marlowe's old college, Corpus Christi, Cambridge.

Scotland and tour - In 1981 on 30 Jan - 14 Feb there was a two week run of the play at the Glasgow Citizen's Theatre, with Robert Gwilym as the Guise, and which saw a 20 year old Gary Oldman make his professional debut. It then toured to Holland and Germany. It was directed by Philip Prowse.

England - In 1985, on 15 and 16 October, two performances with a cast of ten actors, including Lindsay Duncan, at the Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon, as part of the RSC Youth Festival, directed by Paul Marcus.

England - In 1996 in July a staged reading of the play took place at Shakespeare's Globe's Bear Gardens Theatre on Bankside, directed by Benjamin May.

USA - (Amateur) In 1999, director Jeff Dailey staged the play with a youth group for The Marlowe Project at the Producer's Club in New York.

Australia - (Amateur) In 2001 an adapted version of the play, with much new material, was written by the leading Australian playwright Tommy Murphy for a production by Australian Theatre for Young People at the Newton Theatre, Sydney.

USA - In 2001 in February the play was given a reading by Target Margin Theatre in New York.

Holland - In 2001 the play was adapted by Hafid Bouazza, and directed for Toneelgroep Amsterdam by Ivo van Hove.

Ireland - In 2002 an adapted version of the play, with new material added by Alex Johnston, was performed by Bedrock theatre company at the Project Arts Centre in in Dublin, with Karl Shiels as the Guise, and Andrea Irvine as Catherine de' Medici, directed by Jimmy Fay.

England - (Amateur) In 2003 on 2 July Blood and Thunder Theatre Company performed a staged reading of the play with students and amateurs in the Octagon Theatre of St Catherine's College, Cambridge, as part of the Marlowe Society of America's Conference, directed by Kelley Costigan.

Australia - In 2008 6–17 August Doorslam theatre company performed the play at Theatre Works, St. Kilda, Melbourne, with Myles Tankle as the Guise, Joel Davey as Henry III, and Jenny Lovell as Catherine de' Medici, directed by Mark Wilson and Jenny Lovell.

England - In 2011 on 18 September Shakespeare's Globe's Read Not Dead project gave the play a fully staged reading, directed by James Wallace, with Linda Marlowe as Catherine de' Medici, Dominic Rowan as the Guise, Ben Deery as Henry III, and Charlie Anson as Navarre.

USA - (Amateur) In 2013 on 25 June a fully staged graduate student production took place in the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, Virginia as part of the Seventh International Marlowe Conference.

England - (Amateur) In 2014 12–15 February, Cambridge University's Marlowe Society performs the play at the ADC theatre, directed by Gareth Mattey.

England - In 2014 11-29 March the first professional run of the play in England in four centuries took place at the site of its first performance at The Rose Playhouse on Bankside, presented by The Dolphin's Back, with John Gregor as The Guise, Kristin Milward as Catherine de' Medici, James Askill as Henry III, and Lachlan McCall as Navarre, directed by James Wallace.

England - In 2014 on 18 and 19 March, the play was performed twice in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral by Fourth Monkey Theatre Company, in association with the Marlowe Theatre and the Marlowe Society, as part of the Marlowe450 season. Directors were Andy Dawson and Paul Allain.

Lee's play

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.[5]

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.[6] For a revival in 1695 he recast the speech as a recitative for treble.[7]


  1. ^ Chambers, Vol. 1, p. 323; Vol. 3, pp. 425-6.
  2. ^ Halliday, p. 307.
  3. ^ Ilsemann, p.83.
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Curtis Price, Henry Purcell and the London stage (Cambridge University Press 1984)
  6. ^ Book I, p. 135
  7. ^ Price, p. 21


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  • Ilsemann, Hartmut. William Shakespeare - Dramen und Apokryphen. Aachen, Shaker, 2014.

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