Gaveston has just learned that Edward’s father has died and he has in an instant become the King’s favorite. All monarchs have their favorite, of course, but the relationship between Edward and Gaveston goes beyond mere courtly favoritism. Making matters worse, the King makes no show of hiding the depth of his affection for Gaveston, which sets in motion the deleterious events to come.
“ . . . for Mortimer
And Isabel do kiss while they conspire;
And yet she bears a face of love, forsooth.
Fie on that love that hatcheth death and hate!"
Isabel is Edward’s Queen, and professes to be heartbroken over Edward’s favoring of Gaveston. However, it becomes clear that she is in fact scheming to have him deposed with an eye on the throne for herself (via her son and Mortimer). Despite genuine affection for his brother, Kent initially recognizes the political expediency of taking sides against Edward in his madness for Gaveston. However, as time passes, he comes to believe he is wrong given Mortimer and Isabella's plotting, and decides that he must rescue his brother and protect his nephew. Kent is one of the wisest and most moral characters in the play, but it does not prevent him from being killed at the end.
"What man of noble birth can brook this sight?
Quam male conveniunt!
See what a scornful look the peasant casts."
Most critics don't discount the homophobia present in the play's characters (it's almost impossible to do so given the way Edward is killed), but they do not see this being the primary reason why Edward's behavior with Gaveston is problematic. Rather, Mortimer Senior gives voice to the main reason why the nobles are so frustrated—that Gaveston is a nobody, that he's a "peasant" who has been wrongfully elevated to a position of power. The Latin phrase translates to "how boldly do they suit!" which is an allusion to Ovid's tale of Jove becoming a bull to seduce Europa. Thus, Mortimer Senior suggests that this entire relationship is deeply wrong because of the imbalance of class.
"Let him without controlment have his will.
The mightiest kings have had their minions"
Mortimer Senior is trying to calm his son down by reminding him that many historical and mythological kings have had their minions, all of whom have been male. This is an important quote for several reasons. The first is that Mortimer Senior is actually trying to be moderate and compromise, which is the smart thing to do (at least initially). This contrasts with his ambitious son, who will suffer no insult and desperately wants power of his own. Second, the quote makes it clear that same-sex relations between men were not uncommon and were not necessarily a cause for condemnation. It's really Gaveston's behavior and his low social class that makes him obnoxious, not the mere fact that he is the king's male lover.
"A brother, no, a butcher of thy friends,
Proud Edward, dost thou banish me thy presence?
But I'll to France, and cheer the wronged queen,
And certify what Edward's looseness is.
Unnatural king, to slaughter noble men
And cherish flatterers!"
It certainly is possible to see Kent as a vacillator, but it is probably more accurate to view him as someone who is anxiously assessing the situation and trying to do what is right. Here, he condemns Edward for attacking the nobles, for wronging the queen, and for "cherishing" flatterers. He lambasts Edward's "looseness" and rues that he has been banished from Edward's presence. He isn't lamenting his own loss of power or his inability to climb higher; he is upset because he views Edward's actions as bad for the realm and he wishes he could still be by his brother's side to help him.
"But what is he whom rule and empery
Have not in life made miserable?"
Edward is logical enough to understand that every human being suffers, but he makes a case for the suffering of kings to be more brutal, more intense, more lingering. Because kings are the leaders of the realm, their responsibilities and the pressures are greater. They are more visible and thus more scrutinized, they are more privy to criticism as well as potential plotting and machinations and rebellions. If they are perceived to have done something wrong, their very life and/or the lives of those they love might be at stake. Edward is still short-sighted enough to not see the role his own behavior played in his fall, but he is still correct about the particular difficulties of his position.
"Let Pluto's bells ring out my fatal knell,
And hags howl for my death at Charon's shore,
For friends hath Edward none"
There are numerous Greek and Roman allusions in the text, and this is one of the most compelling. Pluto is the Roman name for Hades, the ruler of the underworld. Charon is the ferryman, taking souls across the River Styx where they will come to their eternal abode. Everything about the image Edward creates is distressing—the sound of bells ringing out a death knell, "hags" howling for his death, the putative darkness and stifled air, the solemn Charon, the lack of friends.
"But what are kings, when regiment is gone,
But perfect shadows in a sunshine day!
My nobles rule, I bear the name of king;
I wear the crown but am controlled by them,
By Mortimer and my unconstant queen,
Who spots my nuptial bed with infamy"
In this mournful quote Edward, who has lost nearly everything, cries out into the void. He gives voice to his complete and utter befuddlement that the natural order of things has been so upended: he wears the crown and is the legitimate, divinely-appointed ruler of the land, but he has no power, his Queen is unfaithful, his nobles control him. Very soon, he will be forced to give up the crown, languish in prison, and be put to death. He places no blame on himself for his own contributions to the upending of the realm's stability, but he still makes a point here because Elizabethan monarchies were not to be toppled by lesser beings.
"Base Fortune, now I see that in thy wheel
There is a point to which when men aspire
They tumble headlong down. That point I touched,
And, seeing there was no place to mount up higher,
Why should I grieve at my declining fall?"
In this stirring metaphor, Mortimer depicts his ascent to power and his precipitous fall. He sees Fortune as a wheel, and he has climbed it higher and higher to the point where there is nowhere else to go; by this he means that he is allied with Isabella and Protector over King Edward III, a mere child whose age means that Mortimer is in essence the actual ruler. However, this is the zenith of his climb and it is at this point that he is undone. His fall is almost preordained, as a wheel continually revolves, which leads him to accept his fate rather than rage against it.
"Away with her! Her words enforce these tears,
And I shall pity her if she speaks again."
There are few characters for whom we feel pity in this play, but the young Edward III is one of them. He has watched his parents destroy themselves and nearly the kingdom, and has to step into the role of leadership before he is old enough to do so. In this quote, he reveals his youth but also his wisdom. He seems genuinely disconsolate that his mother has proven herself so traitorous, and knows that if she stays before him longer he will soften towards her. Because he knows this and sends her away, he proves his wisdom and demonstrates that England might just have a decent ruler on the throne after all.
Edward II Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Edward II is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.