By: Christopher Marlowe
Format/Source: Audiobook via LibriVox
Tells the story of the Edward II’s reign, fall, and gruesome murder. Marlowe’s dramatization focuses on the relationship between Edward and Piers Gaveston, and indirectly engages the convoluted politics of Marlowe’s time as well as of the recent past. It is an important cultural, as well as dramatic, document from the early modern period for its treatment of sexuality and class.
All right, here we are, the last of the Christopher Marlowe plays I have lined up to listen to. I think there’s only one or two titles after this that I haven’t read by him, but of the well-known ones this is the last of them. It’s been an interesting experience thus far listening to plays by Shakespeare’s contemporary.
Also, hee hee, shiny new Christopher Marlowe author tag 😉
Okay, I actually typed down a lot of notes in Notepad listening to this play because omg there is a lot to talk about. This play pretty much hits the ground running; three scenes into Act 1 and my description to this play is pretty much
The audience is quickly introduced to the state of Edward’s court and the grievances concerning King Edward II and his favourite nobleman, Gaveston. It’s not because of their relationship but the fact that Edward II favours Gaveston so much, a man of a commoner’s background, and how he has too much sway over the king. Edward’s love and dotage over Gaveston has made him blind towards the problems happening in his kingdom and from ruling effectively. Almost the entire cast of characters are a bunch of schemers, all out for their own interests, whatever they say about Edward’s problematic rule (there’s this one scene towards the end where almost all of the characters speaking would say something followed by an aside–it was ridiculously hilarious!). I felt sorry for Isabella, Edward’s wife and mother of his children, who was only looking for her husband’s love and instead finds her vying for his attention with Gaveston.
By the beginning of Act 2, things are moving forward and awry, with the nobles beginning to plan to move against Gaveston and cornering Edward with the present situation. It becomes a political mess with back-and-forth decrees. Through this, it is revealed that Edward is pretty weak. It made me think about how the strong or competent ruler seems to skip a generation in a dynasty; Edward I and Edward III were very strong rulers who did much for their kingdoms, but Edward II is comparatively weaker, easily swayed. In fact Edward a pretty indecisive character throughout and made me wonder about his relationship with Gaveston; he cares about Gaveston than even his crown, but later was pretty quick in choosing a new favourite in court (but then was very sad when he found out about Gaveston’s death, so I don’t know). At the same time I also wondered about Gaveston too as it seems clear that he’s an ambitious climber and early in the play it sounds like he was raking advantage of Edward’s attentions. But I also wonder if perhaps the voice acting might’ve affected my interpretations of the character, so…
Oh, also, Edward is such a drama queen, lol. My favourite line from the play has to be when the court forces him to sign Gaveston’s banishment and he’s like “I will sign this banishment with my tears.” lol, oh, Edward.
The rest of the play is an escalation of events; you think the call for Gaveston’s banishment would be close to the climax of the story but in fact it’s nowhere near, having happened back in Act 2. Edward’s inability to change and general incompetence ends up isolating him from his court and his wife, who openly move against him. Isabelle in particular makes a turn for the pissed off in Act IV as she’s fed up with Edward’s treatment of her (rightfully so, I would say). It was interesting to listen to Edward becoming very obsessive and pissed off and wanting to do away with Mortimer, whom he had long suspected of having an affair with Isabelle. Mortimer was a curious character as well; he starts off appearing to act for Isabella’s sake, but by Act V, Scene 5, his true ambitions come to light.
At the end though I did feel sorry for Edward II; while he was not very effective or capable as a ruler, he was very much aware of the reality of his situation in the end and how he would not survive after his deposition from kingship. His death was OMG, heart palpatations, that stuff was pretty intense. You know it’s coming and yet the set up was pretty whoa.
All in all, Edward II is my favourite of Christopher Marlowe’s plays. It’s intense and it grabs your attention from the first scene with a lot of complex themes and characterisations. There’s still of course the signature Marlowe overexaggeration in the form of Edward and the typical overachieving characters like Mortimer and Gaveston, but I felt there was a lot more energy and nuance in this story. I can see why this play is often compared and accompanied with Shakespeare’s Richard II (review)–indeed they played around the same time at the Globe in 2002/2003)–plays about two different rulers who fell from grace because of their different shortcomings. I only wish that Edward II had some stage time with his children and gave some thought to his children; he doesn’t seem to care about anything except himself. I also wish the last scene was a little longer, but it was still satisfying. Of all of Marlowe’s plays, I highly recommend checking this one out.
On a related note, I’m really sad there’s no recording of the 2003 Globe production of this play, the cast looks and sounds fantastic ;_;