Unreliable Allies in an Uncertain World: Warnings from History in Marlowe’s <i>The Massacre at Paris</i>


  • Joanne Hill University of Exeter




The Massacre at Paris.

Marlowe brought the horrors of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre onto the London stage in 1593 at a time when England was facing a threat of invasion from the expansionist powers of Europe. The Massacre at Paris demonstrates vividly what was at stake if such an invasion were to be successful: Protestantism in England would face an existential crisis, just as it had done in France in 1572. While previous critics have focused on Guise’s representation in the play, this article examines the character of Navarre because in the early 1590s Henri IV was key to England’s defence, but he was a controversial figure who divided the international Protestant alliance. As a result, many of its members refused to provide the French King with the military and financial support he required to fight the Catholic League. To reflect his divisive nature, Marlowe portrays Navarre in an ambiguous light in The Massacre at Paris and thus raises questions about whether the historical Henri IV and the Huguenot nobility had the qualities necessary to defend England and the future of Protestantism. This article will investigate how Marlowe exploited contemporary anxieties about the Huguenot leadership by highlighting their failings during the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. By raising the spectre of the Massacre, Marlowe forced his audience to confront the terrifying question of whether England’s principal ally would be strong and trustworthy enough to keep the extremist Catholics from the English coast, or whether he would leave them to be slaughtered like the Huguenots in Paris.