It’s hard to read the Massacre at Paris without wondering a little at the slightly corner-cutting feel of it. It seems hastily done in its violence and gore, and there is the fact that it is considerably shorter than the average Marlowe play. So it has long be assumed that the Octavo edition we have must be the result of some actor’s imperfect memory.
And then there is the Collier Leaf.
The Collier Leaf is a manuscript page with part of Scene XIX on it – the murder of Mugeroun, the King’s young mignon. Only, it’s different from the Octavo: longer, more articulated, more accomplished in many ways. For instance, instead of just briefly congratulating himself, see how the Duke of Guise gloats over Mugeroun’s body:
Thus fall, imperfect exhalation,
Which our great sun of France could not effect.
A fiery meteor in the firmament!
Lie there the King’s delight, and Guise’s scorn!
Revenge it, Henry, if thou list or dar’st.
I did it only in despite of thee.
Fondly hast thou incensed the Guise’s soul,
That of itself was not hot enough to work
Thy just digestion with extremist shame!
The army I have gathered now shall aim
More at thy end than extirpation;
And when thou think’st I have forgotten this,
And that thou most reposest on my faith,
Then will I wake thee from thy foolish dream,
And let thee see thyself my prisoner.
So there: the Massacre was a finer play than what we have in the Octavo – and you can find here a full comparison of the Collier Text with the Octavo. Oh, this would be so perfect, if it weren’t for Collier… Because John Payne Collier, you see, was a remarkable scholar, and an equally – if not more – remarkable compulsive forger, obsessed with readjusting Elizabethan theatre according to his ideas. Not that he was alone in that – but he tweaked Second Folios and costume lists, forged ballads and entries in Ned Alleyn’s diary… You understand that it’s hard to trust anything he touched – much as we’d like to.
The good thing is, scholars seem to warily agree that the Leaf might be authentic, though probably not in Marlowe’s own hand, as Collier claimed. Ah well. I’m not sure I much care whose hand it is. Not that I dislike the idea of a page written by Kit himself – but I can do without it if I can push aside thoughts of forgery and hope that, if one leaf turned up, who knows what else might…