Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II: The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable End of Edward the Second, King of England” narrates the dramatic and ultimately catastrophic events of the reign of Edward II based on the chronicle histories written by Holinshed and Stowe. As is typical to Marlowe’s plays “Edward II” deals with the concept of transgression followed by retribution in which Edward II is delineated as a very weak king. A good ruler is supposed to lead his country and keep his kingdom united but Edward II prefers to waste time and enjoy himself with his flatterers. Edward II is a homosexual king who is more interested in his lovers than in his kingship responsibilities.
The Pliant King
Edward II is introduced to the audience as a “pliant king”, a pleasure seeker who prefers to divide his kingdom than have his lover Gaveston exiled from the kingdom.
In the first act of the play a confrontation takes place at court where the nobles and the Archbishop of Canterbury threaten civil war unless Gaveston is exiled. In order to preserve his reign and allow Gaveston to stay Edward II seeks a compromise by offering to divide his kingdom among the nobles: “Make several kingdoms of this monarchy/And share it equally among you all/So I may have some nook or corner left/To frolic with my dearest Gaveston”.
From the very beginning his shortcomings as a king are evident. The first duty of a king was to unite the nation. Here, however Edward II prefers to offer the nobles several kingdoms as long as he can have the pleasure of his lover, Gaveston. Edward does not possess the strength or power to oppose the nobles and the only way he can think of to defend his lover is by dividing his kingdom.
A Tragic Ending
“Edward II” is ultimately the tragedy and downfall of the pleasure seeking king who divided his kingdom. His orders are disregarded by the nobles and a civil war within the kingdom of England ensues. Betrayal and treachery follow and his lover Gaveston is murdered.
Meanwhile Mortimer, Isabella’s lover, hires the professional killer Lightborne (whose name is a broad English translation of Lucifer) to murder Edward so that he can supplant the king of England.
By the end of the play we see the king at his most tragic, having lost everything including his friends, his lover Gaveston, his kingdom and having been betrayed by his own wife, Isabella.