Massacre at Paris

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The Massacre at Paris is an Elizabethan play by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe (1593) and a Restoration drama by Nathaniel Lee (1689), the latter 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.

The play begins in Paris, at the wedding of Henry of Navarre (a Huguenot noble) to Margaret of Valois (sister to the Catholic king). It is immediately clear that the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, has violent intentions towards Navarre, and the Huguenots have a deep distrust of the Catholics, who are under the leadership of the Duke of Guise (who quickly makes it clear he intends to murder the Queen of Navarre and one of her admirals).

Guise's plot is executed quickly, with the Queen of Navarre receiving poisoned gloves and her admiral being shot by a sniper as he helps carry the Queen of Navarre's body. The admiral does not die but is instead gravely injured. The royal family and the Guise faction leaders begin to plot a massacre while Charles, the King of France, visits the wounded admiral.

The admiral is soon murdered in his bed by Guise nobles, and the massacre spreads throughout Paris. Henry of Navarre is held inside the palace, the marriage between himself and the Catholic princess proving to have been useless in stemming an uprising.

The massacre, led by Guise and his close compatriots, calls for the blood of Huguenots, especially any Huguenots who have close ties to the Navarre line (including tutors and pastors). The massacre is considered successful, and the Queen Mother calls her son back from abroad to be crowned Henry III of France. He is welcomed and feted by his mother, who makes it clear to those in court that she is still the real power behind the throne and that she makes all the decisions.

Navarre is able to escape during this time and return to his home territory. He discovers Guise is raising an army to come after him, led by a general named Joyeux. Navarre immediately raises his own army and sends them to meet the French army before they reach his homeland. Navarre soon receives word that Joyeux has been killed and they have achieved a decisive victory against the French.

Guise is angered by his defeat, and Henry III is ready to be done with Guise entirely. Word of this plan reaches not only Guise, who begins to plan a counterattack, but also Navarre, who sends word to Guise that he would like to join forces against the King of France. But before the two can combine their forces, Henry III convinces Guise to attend the royal court at Blois. There he has Guise murdered by three assassins and shows the body to Guise’s son so that word of what has been done will get out to the people. He also orders the Duke’s brother Dumaine murdered to reduce the risk of revenge. Henry informs his mother of what he has done, and she is saddened and angry that he has acted on his own without her. Dumaine learns of his brother’s murder, and a Jacobin friar offers to assassinate Henry III.

The two Kings of France and Navarre join forces against the Catholic League in Paris. Pretending to deliver a letter, the friar stabs Henry III, who kills the friar in the struggle. When it becomes clear that the King will not survive, he names Navarre as heir to the French throne. The play ends with Navarre, now Henry IV, vowing yet more revenge on the Catholic League.

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