Edward II

Edward II Summary and Analysis of Act III



Gaveston rues his fate and Warwick returns to claim him. Gaveston asks if he is not to see the king, and Warwick grimly laughs that he might see “the king of heaven perhaps, no other king” (III.1.16).


Edward tells Spencer Junior and Baldock how he longs to hear of Gaveston. He knows there is no hope for him, as the barons’ pride subsumes them.

Spencer speaks plainly, telling the king he must not let himself be treated this way. He should strike off their heads and force the nobles to be obedient. Edward agrees that he has been too mild.

Spencer’s father and soldiers enter. Spencer Senior informs Edward he has four hundred men for him. Edward is pleased and makes Spencer Earl of Wiltshire.

Queen Isabella enters with their son, Prince Edward, and the Frenchman Levune. She tells Edward that her brother, Lord Valois, has seized Normandy. Edward is confident he will be friends again with his brother-in-law soon, and dispatches the Queen and Prince Edward to him to parley.

Prince Edward suggests this is too far beyond one of his young age, and his forthrightness unnerves his mother. The two must go, though, and depart.

Lord Arundel arrives and confirms what Edward expects—Gaveston is dead. Arundel explains how he did ask if he could take Gaveston back for one last visit and was rebuffed. He recounts how Pembroke volunteered to bring him back for a visit and the others grudgingly agreed, but Warwick surprised them and bore Gaveston to his death by striking off his head. Spencer comments bitterly that this is “against law of arms” (III.2.121). He urges Edward to be revenged.

Edward kneels and swears that he will have “heads and lives for him” (III.2.132), and will fill his kingdom with blood and gore for the traitors to quaff. He rises and says he will appoint Spencer Earl of Gloucester and Lord Chamberlain.

A herald arrives from the barons and, with the king’s permission, delivers his message. He says the barons salute him and wish him to refrain from bloodshed and grief. If he removes Spencer from his false position and esteems his former councilors and shakes off the “dissembling flatterers” (III.2.169), all will return to normal and they will honor him and consecrate to him their lives and service.

Spencer scoffs and Edward orders the herald away in anger, telling him to relay to the barons that he is coming for them after what they did to Gaveston.


A great fight ensues. Spencer, Spencer Senior, Edward, and his noblemen gather in exhaustion. The barons enter and confront them. Spencer calls Lancaster a traitor and Pembroke replies that he is an upstart. Mortimer asks if Edward really will keep fighting rather than banish Spencer, and Edward replies that they are all traitors.

Alarums sound and both sides cry out to Saint George and England.


Edward and his followers enter triumphantly, bringing the barons as captives. Edward declares it is time to be avenged on them for the murder of Gaveston. Kent speaks up, but Edward orders him away. Edward turns back to the men and says Warwick’s head will overlook the rest for giving Gaveston the death stroke. Warwick sneers that he scorns such threats. Lancaster adds that it is better to die than live under an infamous king. Edward orders the two away, and calls for their heads.

Edward then says Mortimer is to be sent to the Tower and the others will be executed swiftly. Mortimer tries to retain hope as he is dragged away by guards.

Edward gloats that today he is crowned anew, and leaves with everyone but Spencer Junior, Levune, and Baldock. Spencer tells Levune to take the treasure of the realm and dole it out to the lords of France so the Queen will have no allies to turn to. Levune agrees that this will make the Queen’s “plaints in vain” (III.4.58) and “France shall be obdurate with her tears” (III.4.59).


In this short act, Edward feels pushed to act decisively against the nobles when he hears of Gaveston’s death and realizes that he has been denied his final meeting with his lover. He also refuses to countenance the nobles’ request to demote Spencer, another basely born man whom Edward has rashly honored with new titles and favors, and vows to destroy his enemies. He speaks more boldly than he has as of yet, promising blood and gore on “You villains that have slain my Gaveston” (III.2.142). And, initially, Edward is successful in this goal. He defeats the nobles on the battlefield, executes Warwick and Lancaster, imprisons Mortimer, and sends away the Queen. At the end of the act, Spencer exults, “Then make for France amain, Levune, away! / Proclaim King Edward’s wars and victories” (III.4.60-61).

Despite these victories, Marlowe still leaves his audience/reader with a sense of portent, of the imminent reversal of Edward’s fortunes. Edward elevates Spencer to his new favorite, which is simply a continuation of the problem he had with Gaveston. Spencer is seemingly just as objectionable, with the nobles’ herald calling him a “putrefying branch / That deads the royal vine whose golden leaves / Impale your princely head, your diadem, / Whose brightness such pernicious upstarts dim” (III.2.162-165). Lancaster calls him a “base upstart” (III.3.21), which is identical to the terms used to describe Gaveston. And just like with Gaveston, Edward finds it utterly impossible to the understand the nobles’ perspective and flatly denies a compromise.

Act Three also represents a change in the structure of the play. Critic Susan McCloskey explains that the first two acts feature a lot happening at breakneck speed, but very little actually changing. There are many causally connected events and a “loosely episodic structure allows” Marlow to “present a world suddenly vulnerable to external forces.” The characters “appear to be tightly contained within their roles,” with Edward as the ineffectual king, Isabella the aggrieved wife, Mortimer the jealous lord. They are all living in the past, in a “closed system” in which “some new element must emerge to break the stalemate.”

Warwick’s dishonorable murder of Gaveston is just that thing: “By releasing the pent-up energies of the first two acts,” Warwick’s action “gives to the few who survive its bloody atonement a heady sense of their power to act, to do what they had formerly only dreamed of doing.” Edward, Isabella, and Mortimer shake themselves into action, but it is clear that the last three acts ultimately present “a world governed by chance, rather than by direct causality.” There are new characters taking on large roles out of the blue, and the overall sense that “the closed system of the first part is now open to forces from without.” Whim and chance are more conspicuous, the daytime scenes of acts one and two are now plunged into darkness more often than naught (there are multiple references to torches, which is how we can infer this), and even new sounds like trumpets and alarums are frequently employed.

One of the new characters in Act Three is Prince Edward, later Edward III. He does seem to come out of nowhere, standing at his mother’s side and wondering aloud at the drama his parents have created: “Commit not to my youth things of more weight / Than fits a prince so young as I to bear” (III.2. 74-75). This perspicacity foreshadows his rule at the end of the play and its making right the wrongs of his elders (more in Analysis 5).