Rewriting History for the Stage: The Theatricality of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Christopher Marlowe’s <i>The Massacre at Paris</i> (1592)


  • Jeanne Mathieu Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès



In his 1592 play, The Massacre at Paris, Christopher Marlowe adapted his main source, François Hotman’s A true and plaine reporte of the furious outrages of France (1573), and undoubtedly gave his own version of the events of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. While representing the failure of language to solve the conflict, the playwright paradoxically created a specific sound environment and specific images to reconstitute and represent the event. This essay focuses the link between the creation of a certain vision of history on stage and the use of stage devices. The play illustrates the power of theatre to shape the collective memory of an event. Even though the dramatist cut short most of the dialogues, they are still of prime importance in the play and their brevity is significant. The paper also looks at the cacophony that emerges from Marlowe’s play and which seems to complement language when alluding to certain religious controversies. Finally, it argues that Marlowe represents the massacre as a dance of life and death in which the dancers move to the rhythm of a very precise tune and that the choreography may have reminded the audience of a hunting party where the sound of the bells stands for the sound of the horn. This created a powerful image which is still to be found in contemporary works on the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.