?Edward II plantagenet King of England,
Whose incompetence and distaste for government finally led to
His deposition and murder.?
The Elizabethan drama, Christopher Marlowe?s, Edward the Second is, according to Aristotle?s definition of the word, a tragedy. That is to say it concerns the fall of a great man because of a mistake he has made or a flaw in his character. During this essay I will demonstrate how this definition of tragedy applies to Edward II.
Edward II was king of England, and reigned from 1307 to 1327, as a prince he had developed a close, possibly homosexual, relationship with a base commoner of very low social standing named Piers de Gaveston. The young prince?s father Edward I, also known as Edward the Longshanks due to the length of his legs, disapproved of the developing relationship and had Gaveston banished from the kingdom. Partly due to this and also due to differences in personality between the two men, the relationship between father and son was relatively hostile. The young prince had little respect for his father or his father?s wishes, illustrated by his act of immediately repealing of Gaveston?s banishment upon his father?s death,
?My father is deceased; come, Gaveston,
And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend.?
His father spent his life expanding and defending his young son?s future kingdom and in trying to educate his son in the art of war. The young prince however was totally uninterested in the art of war or in expanding or defending his kingdom, as is proved by the comments made to him when he is king,
?Look for rebellion, look to be deposed:
Thy garrisons are beaten out of France,
And, lame and poor, lie groaning at the gates;
The wild O?Neill with swarms of Irish kerns,
Live uncontrolled within the English pale;
Unto the walls of York the Scots made road
And un-resisted, drave away rich spoils.?
?The haughty Dane commands the narrow seas,
While in the harbour thy ride thy ships un-rigged.?
Edward completely neglects his duty as a king to look after the country before himself. There are many examples of this throughout the play and I will illustrate a few of them as I go through.
His only real interests being in the arts such as the theatre, music and other frivolity. In fact it could be said that because of this interest in the arts, he did not learn how to defend himself physically or politically. Neither did he learn how he should treat his Earls and other nobles or even his wife, and that this helped bring about his downfall, this situation is mirrored further back in history by the roman emperor Nero and I do not doubt there are yet more examples,
?My lord, why do you thus incense your peers
That naturally would love and honour you,? ?the nobles
Subsequently Gaveston returns to the kingdom and sits at Edward?s right hand, he is then elevated above the earls with titles and money and the are understandably offended and angry that this is happening. The nobles demand Gaveston?s banishment and threaten civil war when they are not only ignored but also tyrannised and mocked and forced to bow to a,
?Base commoner? Edward eventually allows this banishment to be re-imposed but changes his mind at the last minute. When the Earls can take no more, a battle is fought. Edward loses and takes sanctuary in a monastery. However, he is seen and arrested, his favourites are executed and after being cruelly treated and deposed Edward is executed. Mortimer takes power as protector over Edward the third, but is then executed himself by Edward the third. Edward III then places his head on Edward the seconds coffin as a warning to all thinking of attempting a similar act of treachery.
The reasons for Edwards?s downfall are complex and intricate, but I believe can be divided into three basic categories, Edwards relationship with those around him, his personality and the advantage to others such as Mortimer attained because of Edwards?s downfall. However short-lived they may have been.
As I have described briefly above, and in keeping with Aristotle?s definition of tragedy, certain flaws in Edwards Character were major contributors to the king?s downfall. A point I think should be made at this point is that although he is a bad king, Edward is not necessarily a bad person. To his inner circle of friends, he is loyal. It is of course the case that his inner circle were flatterers and favourites, instead of being the loyal barons as should have been the case. This reveals to us one of his flaws; he is susceptible to flattery to such an extent he does not see real loyalty. This is a trait portrayed in kings not only by Marlowe but also by Shakespeare in ?King Lear?. I also think Edward had low self-esteem due to his relationship with his father, and that this causes him to need the security provided by the ?love? his favourites show him, rather than the honesty of the barons. An example of his in-ability to see true loyalty and love, is his preference for Gaveston, who wishes to:
?Bend the pliant king,
Which way I please?, and his rejection of Isabella who truly loves him,
?Wherein, my lord, have I deserved these words?
Witness the tears that Isabella sheds,
Witness this heart, that sighing for thee breaks,
How dear my lord is to poor Isabella.? His attitude towards Isabella does however reveal another flaw in his character that of being a poor judge of character. Edward underestimates Isabella?s love for him and the hurt he causes her, but also her ability to act against him when he pushes her over the edge. The fallen king also misjudges Lightbourne, in his mistaken belief that he might not kill him if he fell asleep, although this does not last long.
Edward was also a very extravagant king and wasted the countries money in time of war,
1) By giving all the money in the treasury to Gaveston.
2) By allowing the,
?Italian masques by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies, and pleasing shows.? to go ahead at a huge expense to the treasury.
This leads me on to my next point(s) Edwards total non-comprehension of a kings responsibilities and that he is only interested in his welfare and does not care about those around him, excluding favourites of course. For my example of how Edward does not understand his role I shall use that of the King sending his son to France in his place. Allow me to outline the background of the situation, England has garrisons in Northern France which are being attacked and losing, the King of France has agreed to peace talks where an ?arrangement? can be agreed for keeping the garrisons or losing them. However Edward the Second refuses to attend because he would rather be with Gaveston and sends his son Prince Edward in his stead. His son is nine years old, and has a greater understanding of a Kings duty than his father as he says he will go but knows he is to young for such a responsibility. Throughout the play he demonstrates his willingness to use public property for private ends e.g. his giving Gaveston all the money from the treasury. His most significant display of his placing personal values over kingly values is the fact that he allowed the civil war to occur. The king should never have allowed a civil war to occur because of his personal interests or beliefs. All these points justify Edwards?s deposition but the whole play seems to be about the issue of whether it is ever acceptable to depose a King who is the ordained ruler of the country. I believe this because to wards the end of the play we see a different side to Edward?s character, but not only Edward we see character changes in all the major players. The side of Edward revealed to us at the end of the play is a side to which we, the audience, can be more sympathetic too. Edward is down and realises his mistakes but also does not believe that they justify his deposition and as he realises towards the end his murder,
?Two kings in England cannot reign at once? He becomes suicidal and his speech becomes more poetic, his language raises him above those around him and those who are about to depose and kill him. His language indicates he is England?s ordained king and still has the right to reign, it shows him to be more than the Mortimer is, he is on a higher level than all the favourites and traitors. He also shows at this point genuine sorrow for what he now knows he has but is going to lose and he can do nothing. All he wants is to die,
?Lay I this head, laden with mickle care.
O might I never open these eyes again,
Never again lift up this drooping head,
O never more lift up this dying heart.? It seems he is dying of a broken heart anyway, regardless of whether he commits suicide or not.
Edward also heavily contributes to his own downfall because of the relationships he has with other key characters such as his wife and barons, the defenders of his royal right. I will now discuss Edwards?s relationships with some of these characters in more detail.
Edwards?s relationship with his wife Isabella started out well; this is demonstrated when Edward fondly reminisces about times long ago, specifically when,
?For her sake I ran at tilt in France,
And there unhorsed the Duke of Cleremont.?
It is obvious that, initially at least, the love between these two young people was genuine. Edward loved her and Isabella loved him. Problems and hostilities in this relationship only really began with Gaveston?s banishment being repealed. Gaveston?s return generally brought an atmosphere of hostility and high tension to the court, but, most significant in the case of this relationship, caused Edwards rejection of Isabella?s love for that of Gaveston. Isabella does not wish to give up her husband her love is still genuine and strong, she becomes very jealous of Gaveston,
?Witness the tears Isabella sheds,
Witness this heart, that sighing for thee breaks,
How dear my lord is to poor Isabel.?
?And be a means to call home Gaveston.
And yet he?ll ever dote on Gaveston,
And so am I forever miserable.? Eventually though Isabella, mentally, can?t take it anymore and so falls into the open arms of Mortimer from the closed heart of Edward II. Her love in a very short period of time goes from being immense to being non-existent. She becomes manipulative and two faced, demonstrated by her making it clear she wants him executed but sending him tokens of her love and by this false hope. Although Mortimer orders the execution it is she who has really decreed it by speaking personally to him and making it obvious that this is her will,
?Conclude against his father what thou wilt,
And I myself will willingly describe.?
Mortimer?s relationship with Edward was always one of hostility from very early on in the play and at first this was understandable, with Edward?s insult of giving the broad seal to gather throughout the realm for his father?s ransom when it was in Edwards wars his father was captured. Made even more insulting by the fact the king was giving the money to Gaveston for no good reason. I think it can be seen that the only problem in any of Edward?s relationships is his favourites. In the case of the barons the favourite was Gaveston and in the case of Prince Edward, Spencer was the cause of the aggravation. Edward?s relationship with his son was however a good one. His son felt his opinions were valued and Edward did generally listen to them, with one or two exceptions,
?Ill win his highness quickly;
A loves me better than a thousand Spencers.?
My own conclusions, in answer to the question, are that Edward II was to some extent responsible for his fate. However I also believe he was partly just not suited, personality wise, to being a King. This I do not think he can be held reasonably responsible for. I believe that, in the end, Edward was a victim of his own birth.