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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

"Edward II" by Christopher Marlowe

I saw this play at the Tristan Bates Theatre on Tuesday 29th September 2017. It was performed by Lazarus Theatre Group. I also saw them perform Marlowe's Tamburlaine. I review their production at the end of this review of the script.

Edward II was the probably gay king who doted on Piers Gaveston which made all the nobles angry because Gaveston lorded himself over them and enriched himself at their expense. So the Barons, including Roger Mortimer, rebelled and, after one defeat which led to many of them being executed as traitors, captured Gaveston and lynched him. Ed II found himself some new favourites, the Spencers, and bunged Mortimer in the Tower but he escaped and fled to France where he met Queen Isabella, Edward's wife, who was on an embassy to her brother the King of France to try to negotiate a peace treaty. Mortimer and Isabella began an affair and invaded England in the name of Edward's son, prince Edward, later Edward III. Ed II was captured and famously done to death in Berkeley Castle by having a red hot poker thrust into his anus.

Marlowe was a brilliant playwright who was also responsible for Dr Faustus. The difference between Marlowe and Shakespeare? Marlowe's iambic pentameters are almost all end-stopped. He has very few caesuras and even fewer enjambments. This makes his verse a little less natural, a little more boring. But he is still a maestro.

The original manuscript is not divided into acts but into 25 scenes. Some of these scenes are brief, a few very long. Many of the scenes in the middle of the play are rather busy with plot: Marlowe does have to tell quite a complicated history of battles won and lost and allegiances changed. But the start of the play, with Edward's love for Gaveston, and the end where Edward is forced to abdicate, is mistreated in prison and is finally murdered is brilliant.

The play opens with Gaveston, having returned from exile and newly arrived in London, reading (presumably rereading) a letter from the King Edward II summoning him back from banishment. He is petitioned by three poor men for jobs and treats them arbitrarily. He doesn't want poor men but poets and musicians:
"My men like satyrs grazing on the lawn
Shall with their goat-feet dance an antic hay [a grotesque country dance];

Sometime a lovely boy in Dian's shape,

With hair that gilds the water as it glides,

Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,

And in his sportful hands an olive tree
To hide those parts that men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring."

Scene 4 starts with the nobles signing a petition for Gaveston's rebanishment but they are interrupted by EdII and G entering and sitting side by side on thrones. As Lancaster observes:
"Your grace doth well to place him by your side,
For nowhere else the new Earl is so safe."
The Lords basic problem seems to be that G is a commoner. They force Edward to banish G again.

Now the Lords have gone and King Ed is left with G. His queen comes in. This is an interesting three parter. Gaveston accuses Isabella of being involved with Mortimer. Then Edward decides that Isabella is indeed "too familiar with that Mortimer" and so he tells her she can't have him if he can't have Gaveston; she has to reconcile the lords or be banished from the court.
Isabella says to Gaveston:
"Villain, 'tis thou that robb'st me of my lord."
and he replies (with an interesting variant of the thou/ you)
"Madam, 'tis you that rob me of my lord."

But Isabella is forced to beg the Barons to unexile G. They do.

Scene 6 starts with the King and court eagerly awaiting the return of G.
"They love me not that hate my Gaveston".
When he rocks up Edward greets him with words of love; the lords 'welcome' G by scornfully reciting his titles. He gets mad, insulting them as beef-eaters (and therefore slow, ox-witted, a favourite French jibe)
"Base leaden earls that glory in your birth,
Go sit at home and eat your tenants' beef"
There's going to be war.

The Barons force the King to flee Tyneside and capture Gaveston as he heads for Scarborough. They sentence him to death.
"I thank you all, my lords; then I perceive
That heading is one, and hanging is the other,

And death is all."
But the Earl of Pembroke's men rescue him but Warwick then unrescues him and lynches him.

On hearing the news that G is dead, Edward mourns:
"O, shall I speak, or shall I sigh and die?"
Spencer (Jr) persuades Ed to swear vengeance. The war is not yet over. After a battle the Barons are captured. Edward has won. Edmund D of Kent, the King's brother, attempts to broker peace but Edward orders him away and sentences Warwick and Lancaster to death and Mortimer to the Tower. But Mortimer escapes and flees with Kent to France.
"Fair blows the wind for France; blow, gentle gale,"
In France they meet Isabella and Prince Edward, Isabella starts her affair with Mortimer and they reinvade England, defeating and capturing Edward in a monastery, disguised as a monk.
"But what is he, whom rule and empery
Have not in life or death made miserable?"
Edward is told he must go to Kenilworth. He replies:
"Must! 'Tis somewhat hard when kings must go.
A litter hast thou? Let me have a hearse,

And to the gates of hell convey me hence,

Let Pluto's bells ring out my fatal knell,

And hags howl for my death at Charon's shore"
The soon to be executed king's men mourn:
"We are deprived the sunshine of our life.
Make for a new life, man; throw up thy eyes,

And heart and hand to heaven's immortal throne,

Pay nature's debt with cheerful countenance."
Scene 20: Leicester is trying to persuade Edward to resign his crown. Edward is bemoaning his captivity:
"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 


Whilst am lodged within this cave of care"
And he argues back and forth, taking the crown off and putting it back on again, begging:
"let me be King till night 

But day's bright beams doth vanish fast away."
At last he abdicates, saying:
"Commend me to my son, and bid him rule
Better than I."
Berkeley appears with a letter to take Edward to his castle.
"Whither you will; all places are alike,
And every earth is fit for burial".

Scene 24: Edward is being kept in a very damp and smelly dungeon:
"the sink
Wherein the filth of all the castle falls


And there in mire and puddle have I stood

This ten days' space; and lest that I should sleep,

One plays continually on a drum.
My mind's distempered and my body's numbed,
And whether I have limbs or no, I know not.
O would my blood dropped out from every vein
As doth this water from my tattered robes."
tormented by his jailers. Lightborne arrives and murders the king with a red hot spit newly from the fire. Edward screams and dies.

Scene 25: Back at the palace. The news arrives. King Edward III is cross. He tells his mum
"Forbid me not to weep; he was my father,
And had you loved him half so well as I,

You could not bear his death so patiently."
and then he sentences Mortimer to beheading and Isabella to the Tower
"Weep not for Mortimer,
That scorns the world, and as a traveller

Goes to discover countries yet unknown."

The Lazarus production reduced the play to 90 minutes by cutting out the Spencers and the bit where Mortimer goes to the Tower but escapes (with Kent) and the bit where Isabella goes to France, meets up with Mortimer and returns at the head of an army and the bit where Edward is captured disguised as a monk. This certainly simplifies things! It still leaves all the flip-flopping politics of Isabella, forced to defend her husband's boyfriend and managing to persuade Mortimer to rescind the second decree of banishment, and the turning of Kent. It also simplified the capture and execution of Gaveston.

What was left was a play ostensibly about a King, deposed because he loved a man, and it was billed as Marlowe's gay play. But Marlowe offers much more than that. It has been said that all of Marlowe's plays are about a man overreaching himself. Edward II's 'fatal flaw' was not his love for a man. At one point the elder Mortimer (in this production they were brothers rather than uncle and nephew) reminds his nephew of all the great men who had lovers including Alexander, Hercules, and Socrates; it would seem that Edward II's problem is that he is not a great man. EdII flings titles, honours and riches at Gaveston (and when attempting reconciliation with the rebellious barons he bestows honours on them too); it is his weakness that is the cause of his downfall. His tragedy is perhaps that he doesn't really want to be king. What he wants is his lover. And it is he who oscillates. The ostensible changing allegiances of Isabella, Mortimer and Kent are merely external signs of the terrible wavering to and fro of EdII. Even at the end he tries to cling to his crown. And perhaps a sub-theme of this play is that if you would sacrifice all for love, as Edward does, then make sure your love is worthy. This play showed very well that Gaveston was a spoilt little boy who throws piss at the Archbishop of Canterbury and who flaunts his riches in the face of poor men (although the scene at the start with the three men seeking employment was not included in this production). It isn't really about being gay. It is about being weak.

The murder of EdII was superbly done. After the long sequence in which he begs to keep his crown he is placed face down on a table. All the lords (who have stripped to their underpants, put on plastic aprons and grotesque masks) then hold him down. His underpants are then stripped off and a large mace is thrust towards his anus. The lights go off and he screams; there is the sound of something splattering. The lights come on again and Ed is naked, lying on his side, curled into a foetus; blood is pouring from the ceiling splattering him and the floor. He stays like that until the end of the play (when he is given a towel to protect his modesty as he takes the bow). A stunning end.

The final scene of this play has the new King, Edward III, denouncing and condemning his mother and her lover, Mortimer. This was done in the Lazarus production by a telephone call which was very clever (I wish the acoustics had been a little better).

Incidentally, the story of Edward II and his possible escape from imprisonment rather than his horrible death forms part of the background to Robert Goddard's Name to a Face, a thriller with several historical back stories. Roger Mortimer's fascinating life story is brilliantly told in Ian Mortimer's biography The Greatest Traitor. Mortimer (Ian not Roger) outlines his theory that Edward II escaped execution in Medieval Intrigue. The brilliant life of Edward III, the son of EdII and Isabella, is told in a wonderful Ian Mortimer biography: The Perfect King

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