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Edward II (Anglais) Relié – 1955
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He was married to Isabella of France, the sister of the French king, and had four children from her, which should mellow down the gay theme. He was at most bisexual, which was not rare in those days, but he gave too many favors to his favorites, particularly Gaveston and later the Despenser family. This irritated the barons and peers who felt neglected.
This being said we have to keep in mind he reigned from 1307 (he was 21 then) to 1327 when he was forced to abdicate in favor of his son. This was a first since Ethelred in 1013, which was 53 years before Hastings and the Norman invasion. So it was a first for the "Norman" dynasty.
Marlowe warps the picture slightly and packs up nearly twenty years of power into five acts that do not provide the time span behind the various events he deals with. That makes the sexual dimension a lot more pregnant than it should have been. The barons appear as sexual bigots whereas they were first of all concerned with their "sacred power," a power they had gained from John Lackland with the Magna Carta. The role of the Church is not extremely clear and the intervention of the Pope to banish Gaveston the first time is not clear either in its motivations: the Pope forced the king to respect the power of the barons and the peers, hence to respect the balance of power between the feudal king and his nobles, thus endorsing the limitation of the king's power who in feudal tradition was all-powerful secularly. The only power that could escape him was the spiritual power of the church. Magna Carta had introduced some kind of sharing of power between the king and his nobles.
This is alluded to several times since the nobles do not have the power nor the liberty to rebel against the king, and yet they do, thus negating the feudal architecture of the English monarchy. They even seem to use the Commons to justify their move. Though these Commons are not specified we can think they are the representatives of the various cities, like the City of London or the City of Westminster which had an important merchant class particularly in the wool industry and wool market which was a stake that the king tried to use, creating discontent.
In the same way the role of Queen Isabella is slightly seen from only one point of view, that of the jealous lover who feels sexually betrayed by the King's "love" for Gaveston, and the real stake which was the attempt of the French King, the Queen's brother, to take control of Normandy is not clearly explored and yet the Queen was sent to France, with her son the future Edward III, to negotiate peace and she betrayed her mission, entered an alliance with an exiled baron and invaded England. She was successful but the baron with whom she was in an alliance tried to take over the throne by using the Queen's support to assassinate the King imprisoned in Berkeley Castle in Gloucester. Strangely enough it is only in the very last scene of the play that confronts Edward III, the newly crowned king, to his mother Queen Isabella and the treacherous Younger Mortimer that the real political stake is finally reached. The young king brings Younger Mortimer down, has him put on a hurdle, dragged to the gallows, hanged, quartered and beheaded, and his head was brought back to him so that he could put it on his own father's casket. And Queen Isabella is taken to the Tower to wait for her trial.
That is the only moment when the political situation is dealt with politically. All along in the play the political actions of the various sides were always based on sexual innuendo. We could compare this play with Shakespeare's Edward III, premiered in 1592, the same year probably as Marlowe's performance of his Edward II that was registered at the Stationers' Company in July 1593, five weeks after Marlowe's death. The final assassination scene of the play makes as explicit as possible the method used to kill the deposed king who was anally impaled on a red hot spit by a paid murderer, Lightborn, while two men, Matrevis and Gurney, were holding the deposed king on a table brought in for that purpose. This latter two men will kill the paid murderer and betray the Queen and her noble sidekick after escaping.
The last comment of Matrevis on the killing is clear about the non-noble way it was performed:
"I fear me that this cry will raise the town,
And therefore let us take horse and away."
Strangely enough only Gurney will escape just after the killing of the paid murderer. Knowing more or less the circumstances of Marlowe's own assassination in some inn by rowdy people, we can suppose the play had some impact in the public that led to this final "execution."
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU