Love's Labour Lost by William Shakespeare and The Massacre at Paris by Christopher Marlowe.

Love's Labour Lost is a very charming comedy by William Shakespeare, written around 1594-5 (around the same time as The Comedy of Errors), making it, most likely, his third comedy. The Massacre at Paris is a bloody tragedy by Christopher Marlowe, first acted in 1593, a year before Shakespeare's play, and is his final play. It may well seem strange to review two plays by two different authors from two different genres in one post, but, when (by coincidence) I read them both last week I found they have one interesting thing in common: Henry IV of France and Margaret of Valois.

In Love's Labour Lost the king of Navarre is Ferdinand, the queen is unnamed, however Ferdinand is loosely based on Henry of Navarre, who became Henry IV of France, and the unnamed queen is Margaret. It begins with Navarre and his three friends Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine pledging an oath to dedicate themselves to scholarship and refrain from consorting with women. Navarre speaks the opening lines of the play:
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
    Live regist'red upon our brazen tombs,
    And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
    When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
    Th' endeavour of this present breath may buy
    That honour which shall bate his scythe's keen edge,
    And make us heirs of all eternity.
    Therefore, brave conquerors- for so you are
    That war against your own affections
    And the huge army of the world's desires-
    Our late edict shall strongly stand in force:
    Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
    Our court shall be a little Academe,
    Still and contemplative in living art.
    You three, Berowne, Dumain, and Longaville,
    Have sworn for three years' term to live with me
    My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes
    That are recorded in this schedule here.
    Your oaths are pass'd; and now subscribe your names,
    That his own hand may strike his honour down
    That violates the smallest branch herein.
    If you are arm'd to do as sworn to do,
    Subscribe to your deep oaths, and keep it too.
As Berowne reads, "... no woman shall come within a mile of my [the King's] court". However, it is then told that Costard, a fool, has been caught with Jaquenetta by Don Armado, a guest of the court. Don Armado reveals to his page (Moth) he is secretly in love with Jaquenetta. Meanwhile, the Princess of France (Margaret of Valois) arrives to visit however she must stay in a camp outside the court because of the oath. Unsurprisingly he falls in love with her, and Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine fall in love with her three ladies. Letters are sent back and forth and are inevitably mixed up and the four friends try to conceal their love for the women, but eventually agree that they should pursue the ones they love. Eventually, after some trickery on the ladies' part, they do and it is agreed that the men should wait one year and then declare their love again should they wish. The ladies then depart with the news that the Princess' father has died.

As we know the king and princess marry. Marlowe's play The Massacre at Paris deals with the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572; this took place days after the wedding of Margaret (a Catholic) to Henry (a Protestant). This period was marked by what's known as the Huguenot Wars or French Wars of Religion between the Reformed Protestants (Huguenots) and the Catholics. Henry avoided being killed and had to promise to convert to Catholicism, and for several years was confined to court. 

Henry and Margaret.
Marlowe's play begins with the marriage of Margaret and Henry at Notre-Dame. The marriage was designed to bring peace between the Huguenots and Catholics, however we see the tensions between the Huguenots, particularly Henry, the Royals, in this instance Catherine de' Medici, Margaret's mother, and the Catholics, represented here by the Duke of Guise. The Duke of Guise (who was a descendant of Lucrezia Borgia and Pope Alexander VI) delivers a lengthy monologue revealing his plans to kill Joan III, 'the old Queen of Navarre' (Jeanne d'Albret; Jeanne's mother, I think is worth mentioning, is Marguerite de Navarre, author of the Heptaméron, 1558). By killing Joan, which he does with poisoned gloves in Act I Scene III, he begins his plan to claim the crown (it should be noted that whilst there was a rumour that she was murdered by poisoned gloves, she in fact died of natural causes). With Jean dead, the Royals and Catholics plan the massacre, which begins with the murder of Gaspard De Coligny, Admiral Of France. Two preachers are then murdered; Loreine by Guise and Seroune by Mountsorrell (Charles De Chambes, Count Of Montsoreau), and yet more Huguenots. When King Charles IX dies, Anjou is crowned Henry III of France, though it is clear that Catherine intends to be the driving force of any of his decisions. Meanwhile, Guise is planning his attack on Henry whilst he also learns his wife the Duchess of Guise is having an affair with Mugeroun. Navarre (later Henry IV of France, Margaret's husband) hears of the plan and, whilst a battle that sees the Huguenots victorious takes place, joins forces with the king. The Duke of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Guise are murdered, and Dumaine (Charles, Duke Of Mayenne) vows revenge; a friar (Jacques Clément) acting on his behalf stabs and kills Henry III. Before he dies he declares Navarre the heir to the throne. Navarre, now Henry IV, plots his revenge against the Catholics. The play ends with the words,
Come, lords, take up the body of the king,
That we may see it honourably interr'd:
And then I vow for to revenge his death
As Rome, and all those popish prelates there,
Shall curse the time that e'er Navarre was king,
And rul'd in France by Henry's fatal death.
The Massacre at Paris is a very short play, just 1,250 lines or so (a little longer than the fifth act of Love's Labour Lost, the longest act of Shakespeare's plays), but it is packed with drama and I loved it very much. It ends, as I say, with Navarre becoming King Henry IV. His marriage to Margaret, which marked the beginning of the action, was not a happy one. A few years after the action of this play the couple separated; their marriage was childless and Henry wished to marry his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées, who died in 1599. In the same year Henry and Margaret's marriage was annulled and he married married Marie de' Medici in 1600. This was of course a good five years before the performances of both The Massacre at Paris and Love's Labour Lost. Love's Labour Lost is also a very enjoyable play full of witty and intelligent repartee between the scholars. It's also notable for containing the longest of words in Shakespeare's plays: honorificabilitudinitatibus, which means "the state of being able to achieve honours", which is also the longest word in the English laguage with alternate vowels and consonants. To be clear, I'm not suggesting these plays ought to be read together, it simply made an interesting comparison of the themes and tone of the two plays concerning the same characters, and if I had to pick a favourite, I dare say I'd go for The Massacre at Paris, but Love's Labour Lost is easily one of my favourite Shakespearean comedies.


  1. some combination! i have to say i prefer the Shakspeare... Marlowe has always seemed a bit more antisocial in some way, like he has a grudge against everything and body; aggressive while S was more civilized; maybe it's just me, though.... S could be bloody and violent also... the times, i guess...

    1. It is quite a combination, yes! As I say, I wasn't saying they should be read together, it's more a curiosity. I think I prefer Marlowe, yet it's for the reasons you aren't as keen! I think at times he was more raw, and yes Shakespeare's plays are, on the whole, a little more civilised. I've read all of Marlowe's plays now - wish there were more.


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