Edward II

Edward II Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What role do the Greek allusions in the text play?

    There are numerous Greek allusions in the text that provide more context, interpretation, and satisfaction for the audience, especially Marlowe's contemporaries who would have been more familiar with them. They are important for, as Sara Munson Deats writes, "exploiting traditional connotations to modulate theme, to foreshadow action, and to manipulate audience response toward the central characters of the play." For example, Gaveston is compared to Phaeton, suggesting he is overreaching and anarchic, as well as Midas, an "ambitious self-seeker." Isabella compares herself to Circe, which suggests her cruelty and jealousy. Edward and Gaveston are compared to the Greek lovers of Hero and Leander, as well as Jove and Europa. These are just some of the many examples, and they serve to deepen the meaning of the play.

  2. 2

    What role do the people play, if any?

    Like God and Nature (see next Essay Question), the people of the realm seem to have little role in the text. It's the machinations of nobles and kings that decide the way the commons live, which is a mostly true assessment of Elizabethan England overall. Some of the characters invoke the commons, such as Lancaster's claims that there are rebellions everywhere and Mortimer's that the streets are filled with libel and course ballads, and that the soldiers are mutinying while Gaveston struts and prates. The commons are pulled up to fight their lords' battles, yet we never encounter them. They are absent, irrelevant, and manipulated.

  3. 3

    Is the world of the play connected to the world of God and/or Nature?

    Marlowe's world of the play is not one where God seems to exist at all, or, if He does, He seems to care very little for those in the sublunary world. A character or two might evoke God, but there is no sense of divine power, interference, sustenance, etc. Human beings plot and scheme, triumph and fail, survive and die all in a secular world. As for Nature, she too seems absent. Critic Wendy Stocker states, "God has removed Himself and Nature fades into the gloom." There is "no similarity to the unchanging world of the stars. Any connections with Nature are to the lower realms of the animals, plants, and minerals."

  4. 4

    How does Edward actually die?

    The text of the play is somewhat unclear, but the source material of the Chronicle, which was extremely well known, clarifies it. In the text Lightborn asks for a featherbed, a table, and a red-hot poker. The stage directions say he "kills" Edward, who screams. There is no more information than that in the play, but the Chronicle says explicitly that the poker was thrust up Edward's anus to kill him so as not to leave a mark. This makes sense given the sodomitic nature of Edward's crimes. However, stagings and interpretations of the play have varied in how clearly they present this death, or in how they choose to claim Edward died. There have been stranglings instead, or Edward dying offstage, or behind a curtain, or in full view of the audience. Each of these versions would certainly impact the audience differently, revealing how crucial the director's choices are.

  5. 5

    For whom, if anyone, do we have sympathy?

    It must be acknowledged at the outset that, of course, sympathy is subjective; nevertheless, Marlowe does guide the audience/reader in a few different ways. Ultimately, it's hard to have sympathy for any of the characters, at least consistently. Edward proves himself untenably obnoxious for most of the early part of the play as he utterly refuses to see where the nobles and his wife are coming from. Isabella's plight initially seems heartrending, but she quickly loses our sympathy as she plots with Mortimer. The nobles have a point at first, but become increasingly demanding and intransigent. And the king, whose ridiculous behavior is exasperating at first, becomes a tremendously pitiable figure whose grotesque death is hard to apprehend. Edward III gains sympathy for the position his parents put him in, and largely retains it given his nature as a child; similarly, Kent is one of the few reasonable people in the class. All this to say, Marlowe's characters are nuanced and shifting, human in their flaws and cruelties and shortcomings.