World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Edward II (play)

Title page of the earliest published text of Edward II (1594)

Edward II is a Renaissance or Early Modern period play written by Christopher Marlowe. It is one of the earliest English history plays. The full title of the first publication is The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer.

Marlowe found most of his material for this play in the third volume of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587). Frederick Boas believes that "out of all the rich material provided by Holinshed" Marlowe was drawn to "the comparatively unattractive reign of Edward II" due to the relationship between the King and Gaveston. Boas elaborates, "Homosexual affection ... has (as has been seen) a special attraction for Marlowe. Jove and Ganymede in Dido, Henry III and his 'minions' in The Massacre, Neptune and Leander in Hero and Leander, and all akin, although drawn to a slighter scale, to Edward and Gaveston."[1] Boas also notes the existence of a number of parallels between Edward II and The Massacre at Paris, asserting that "it is scarcely too much to say that scenes xi–xxi of The Massacre are something in the nature of a preliminary sketch for Edward II."[1] Marlowe stayed close to the account but embellished it with the character of Lightborn (or Lucifer) as Edward's assassin.


  • Publication 1
  • Authorship 2
  • Synopsis 3
  • Stage history 4
    • Bertolt Brecht's adaptation 4.1
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on 6 July 1593, five weeks after Marlowe's death. The earliest extant edition was published in octavo in 1594, printed by Robert Robinson for the bookseller William Jones;[2] a second edition, issued in 1598, was printed by Richard Braddock for Jones. Subsequent editions were published in 1612, by Richard Barnes, and in 1622, by Henry Bell.

The 1594 first edition of the play is very rare and was uncovered only in 1876.[3] Only one copy, held at the Zentralbibliothek Zürich, was known to exist after a second was lost in the Second World War. In 2012, a third copy was discovered in Germany by Dr. Jeffrey Masten, a scholar of English Renaissance literature and the history of sexuality and a faculty member at Northwestern University. The volume was bound with a treatise arguing against the execution of heretics and another on Turkey and Islam.[4]


There had never been any doubts about the authorship of the play. Dodsley included it in his Select Collection of Old Plays in 1744, but Marlowe's name was not even mentioned in the preface.[5] Marlowe's reputation was still damaged by Thomas Beard's libel in The Theatre of God’s Judgement, published in 1597.[6]


The play telescopes most of Edward II's reign into a single narrative, beginning with the recall of his favourite, Piers Gaveston, from exile, and ending with his son, Edward III, executing Mortimer Junior for the king's murder.

Marlowe's play opens at the outset of the reign, with Edward's exiled favourite, Piers Gaveston, rejoicing at the recent death of Edward I and his own resulting ability to return to England. In the following passage he plans the entertainments with which he will delight the king:

Music and poetry is his delight;
Therefore I'll have Italian masques by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies, and pleasing shows;
And in the day, when he shall walk abroad,
Like sylvan nymphs my pages shall be clad;
My men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns,
Shall with their goat-feet dance an antic hay.
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 which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring; and there, hard by,
One like Actaeon, peeping through the grove,
Shall by the angry goddess be transformed,
And running in the likeness of a hart
By yelping hounds pulled down and seem to die.
Such things as these best please his majesty. (I.i.53–70)

Upon Gaveston’s re-entry into the country, Edward gives him titles, access to the royal treasury, and the option of having guards protect him. Although Gaveston himself is not of noble birth, he maintains that he is better than common people and craves pleasing shows, Italian masques, music and poetry. However, as much as Gaveston pleases the king he finds scant favour from the king's nobles, who are soon clamouring for Gaveston's exile. Edward is forced to agree to this and banishes Gaveston to Ireland, but Isabella of France, the Queen, who still hopes for his favour, persuades Mortimer, who later becomes her lover, to argue for his recall, though only so that he may be more conveniently murdered. The nobles accordingly soon find an excuse to turn on Gaveston again, and eventually capture and execute him. Edward in turn executes two of the nobles who persecuted Gaveston, Warwick and Lancaster.

Edward now seeks comfort in a new favourite, Spencer, and his father, decisively alienating Isabella, who takes Mortimer as her lover and travels to France with her son in search of allies. France, however, will not help the queen and refuses to give her arms, although she does get help from Sir John of Hainault. Edward, both in the play and in history, is nothing like the soldier his father was – it was during his reign that the English army was disastrously defeated at Bannockburn – and is soon outgeneralled. Edward takes refuge in Neath Abbey, but is betrayed by a mower, who emblematically carries a scythe. Both Spencers are executed, and the king himself is taken first to Kenilworth. His brother Edmund, Earl of Kent, after having initially renounced his cause, now tries to help him but realizes too late the power the young Mortimer now has. Arrested for approaching the imprisoned Edward, Edmund is taken to court, where Mortimer, Isabella, and Edward III preside. He is executed by Mortimer, who claims he is a threat to the throne, despite the pleading of Edward III.

The prisoner king is then taken to Berkeley Castle, where he meets the luxuriously cruel Lightborn, whose name is an anglicised version of "Lucifer". Despite knowing that Lightborn is there to kill him, Edward asks him to stay by his side. Lightborn, realizing that the king will not fall for deception, kills him. Maltravers and Gurney witness this before Gurney kills Lightborn to keep his silence. Later, however, Gurney flees, and Mortimer sends Maltravers after him, as they fear betrayal. Isabella arrives to warn Mortimer that Edward III, her son with Edward II, has discovered their plot. Before they can plan accordingly, her son arrives with attendants and other lords, accusing Mortimer of murder. Mortimer denies this, but eventually is arrested and taken away. He tells Isabella not to weep for him, and the queen begs her son to show Mortimer mercy, but he refuses. Edward III then orders Mortimer's death and his mother's imprisonment, and the play ends with him taking the throne.

Stage history

The first quarto of 1594 states that the play was originally performed by the Earl of Pembroke's Men. The title page of the 1622 edition states that the play was performed by Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull Theatre, showing that Edward II was still in the active repertory well into the seventeenth century.[7]

Since the twentieth century, the play has been revived several times, usually in such a way as to make explicit Edward's homosexuality.

Marlowe's play was revived in November 1961 in a student performance at Nottingham University.[8] It was frequently revived in the 1970s. The Prospect Theatre Company's production of the play, starring Ian McKellen and James Laurenson, caused a sensation when it was broadcast by the BBC during the 1970s. Numerous other productions followed, starring actors such as Simon Russell Beale and Joseph Fiennes. In 1995 a ballet adaptation was created for Stuttgart Ballet.

In 1977, the 26-episode BBC radio drama Vivat Rex included an abridged version of the play as its first two episodes. John Hurt portrayed Edward.

In 1991, the play was adapted into a film by Derek Jarman which used modern costumes and made overt reference to the gay rights movement and the Stonewall riots.

In 2000, a production of the play was presented in Los Angeles by the ARK Theatre Company, founded by former RSC member Paul Wagar. The production was directed by Don Stewart.

The Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company 2007 staging used mostly fascist-era and jazz age costumes. The production strongly emphasized the gay relationship between Edward II and Gaveston and was one of two Marlowe works inaugurating the company's new Sidney Harman Hall.

in 2011 EM-LOU Productions staged the play at The Rose Theatre, Bankside, returning it (for the first time in 400 years) to the space where it may have had its very first production. The production was directed by Peter Darney.

The play continues to be popular, with University of Birmingham students staging it in November 2012.[9]

In August 2013 the play was revived by the National Theatre in their Olivier auditorium, with John Heffernan taking the title role.

In October 2013, the New National Theatre Tokyo staged the play in Japanese, featuring Mori Shintaro as a director.[10]

On 21 May 2015 a production by Scena Mundi opened at St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield London, scheduled to run until 2 July.

On 1 October 2015 a production by Sport for Jove opened at the Seymour Centre Sydney, directed by Terry Karabelas.

Bertolt Brecht's adaptation

The play was adapted by Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger[11] in 1923 as The Life of Edward II of England (Leben Eduard des Zweiten von England). The Brecht version, while acknowledging Marlowe's play as its source, uses Brecht's own words, ideas, and structure, and is regarded as a separate work. The German premiere took place in 1924 under Brecht's direction at the Munich Kammerspiele with Erwin Faber and Hans Schweikart as Edward and Baldock; the New York premiere of Brecht's The Life of Edward II of England took place in 1982, staged by W. Stuart McDowell by the Riverside Shakespeare Company, sponsored by Joseph Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival at The Shakespeare Center on Manhattan's Upper West Side.[12]


  1. ^ a b Boas, Christopher Marlowe: A biographical and critical study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), pp. 174f
  2. ^ Logan and Smith, p. 31.
  3. ^ The Atheneum, No. 2562, 2 Dec. 1876.
  4. ^ Masten, Jeffrey (21 & 28 December 2012). "Bound for Germany: Heresy, sodomy, and a new copy of Marlowe's Edward II". Times Literary Supplement. pp. 17–19. 
  5. ^ Robert Dodsley. Select Collection of Old Plays (12 vols.), 1744
  6. ^ cf. Thomas Dabbs. Reforming Marlowe: The Nineteenth-Century Canonization of a Renaissance Dramatist. London, (Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1991)
  7. ^ Chambers, Vol. 3, p. 425.
  8. ^ Taken from the Nottingham University Dramatic Society programme
  9. ^ "Home - Shakespeare Institute Players". 
  10. ^ "Edward II". 
  11. ^ "I wrote this play with Lion Feuchtwanger"; Dedication page from Leben Eduards des Zweiten von England, 1924.
  12. ^ McDowell, W. Stuart. "Acting Brecht: The Munich Years," The Brecht Sourcebook, Carol Martin, Henry Bial, editors (Routledge, 2000).


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
  • Marlowe, Christopher. Edward II, Nick Hern Books, London, 1997. ISBN 978-0-7136-3942-1
  • Jeffrey Masten, "Bound for Germany: Heresy, sodomy, and a new copy of Marlowe's Edward II," Times Literary Supplement, 21 & 28 December 2012, pp. 17–19.
  • Jeff Rufo, "Marlowe's Minions: Sodomitical Politics in Edward II and The Massacre at Paris," Marlowe Studies 1 (2011): 5–24.

External links

  • Text at The Perseus Project
  • Text at
  • Text at Project Gutenberg
  • Edward II at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Edward II article on the Edinburgh Festival production of Bright Lights Film Journal
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.