Christopher Marlowe



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The Abbot of the abbey where Edward II, Baldock, and Spencer hide after failing in their escape to Ireland. The Abbot assured the three that neither he nor his monks would turn them over to Mortimer and Queen Isabella. Edward's forces had been defeated, and the fleeing king took refuge in the abbey when their escape vessel ended up in Wales. Chronicler Holinshed states that Edward's refuge was the Abbey of Neath.


After the nobles capture Gaveston and are preparing to execute him, the Earl of Arundel arrives with a plea from Edward II to be allowed one last visit with Gaveston. Arundel offers himself as prisoner to assure Gaveston's return, and ultimately, accompanies Pembroke in conveying Gaveston to the king. Years later, Arundel is the one who reports to Edward that numerous opposition barons, including Warwick and Lancaster, have been executed in the Tower.


Tutor to Edward II's niece and servant to the late Earl of Gloucester, Baldock comes into Edward's service and encourages the king to fight the barons for his kingdom. When Edward's forces are defeated, Baldock urges the king to take flight and ends up hiding with him and Spencer in an abbey in Wales. Taken prisoner there by Leicester and Rice ap Howell, Baldock and Spencer are both executed.


The Clerk of the Crown. After Gaveston's exile to Ireland is followed by a brief reconciliation among Edward II and the barons, the king sends Beaumont, Clerk of the Crown, to overtake Gaveston and bid him return.


On Mortimer's command Sir Thomas Berkeley takes charge of Edward II from Leicester and leads the recently abdicated king under arrest to Berkeley Castle. Shortly afterward, Mortimer orders Berkeley to hand Edward II over to Gurney and Matrevis.


As medieval coronation etiquette prescribed, a Champion at King Edward III's coronation offers to fight anyone who refuses to affirm that Edward II's son is the true king of England.


The Archbishop of Canterbury sends his attendant to the pope to protest Edward II's imprisonment of the Bishop of Coventry and the confiscation of Coventry's property, but he rejects the noble's urging to take up arms against the king to rid England of Gaveston. Instead, he shelters Lancaster, the Mortimers, and other conspirators in Lambeth Palace, urges Edward to banish Gaveston anew, and is relieved when the king acquiesces to the exile demand. Years later, Canterbury declares the deposed Edward II's son, Prince Edward, to be King Edward III at the latter's coronation ceremony.


Edward bestowed the title, the Earl of Cornwall, on his favorite, Piers Gaveston.


Because the Bishop of Coventry was instrumental in Gaveston's exile to France before the action in Act 1 begins, newly crowned Edward II sends Coventry to the Tower and gives the bishop's house, goods, and lands to the recently returned Gaveston. Coventry calls Gaveston "wicked" and Edward "accurst of God."


Edmund is the given name of King Edward II's half brother, the Earl of Kent. For details see Kent.


Central figure in this tragedy, details of the reign of the historical Edward II, who reigned from 1307 to 1327, provide Marlowe's basic story line. Marlowe's Edward II loves the lowborn Frenchman, Gaveston, spurning his wife and incurring the enmity of nobles such as Lancaster, Mortimer, and Warwick, all of whom tolerate the king's bisexuality but not his favoritism toward commoners such as Gaveston and Spencer. Warwick murders Gaveston, war ensues, and a temporarily victorious Edward sends Lancaster and Warwick to the block. Later, troops loyal to Queen Isabella and Mortimer defeat Edward's forces, and Edward is captured, forced to abdicate in favor of his son, confined to a cesspool, and brutally murdered with a red-hot spit rammed up his anus.


Under pressure from his mother, Queen Isabella, and from Mortimer, her partner, Prince Edward succeeds his deposed father in 1327 at the age of 15, becoming Edward III. He tries to prevent the execution the Earl of Kent, his uncle, but Mortimer overrules him, and his mother, the regent, goes along. Desiring revenge for the murder of his father, he has Mortimer hanged, drawn, quartered, and beheaded (in 1330), and sends his mother to the Tower.


Edward II's love for Piers Gaveston is presented as the ultimate cause of The war, executions, and abdication chronicled by this play. For the love of Gaveston the king spurns Queen Isabella and accepts the armed rebellion of his nobility. Edward II bestows many titles on this non-noble Frenchman, including Lord High Chamberlain, Chief Secretary to the state, and Earl of Cornwall, enraging Lancaster, Mortimer, Warwick, and other barons, and earning the enmity of the church. Gaveston attacks the barons verbally for glorying in their lineage, and urges Edward to bring Spencer, another man of non-noble birth, into his court. Jealous of Gaveston's influence over the king, the rebellious nobles capture Gaveston, and Warwick beheads him (in 1312).


A "ghost character." Edward II's niece, whom the king plans to wed to Gaveston, is the late Earl of Gloucester's heir. After Warwick murders Gaveston, Edward bestows this earldom on the late earl's former servant, Spencer.


Edward II's Guard blocks Mortimer and Lancaster from seeing the king when the two seek Edward's help in ransoming Mortimer's uncle who was captured in Edward's war with the Scots.


Gurney and Matrevis are commanded by Mortimer take from Berkeley charge of deposed Edward II, to treat the king poorly, and move him constantly to foil rescue attempts. While confining the former king in Berkeley Castle's sewer, they surrender Edward on Mortimer's orders to the assassin Lightborn and hold the royal down while Lightborn murder him. Shaken, Gurney stabs Lightborn, and together he and Matrevis throw Lightborn's lifeless body into Berkeley's moat. Gurney and Matrevis bring Edward's corpse to Mortimer in court, after which Gurney flees to save his own life.


A Herald brings a message to Edward II from the lords who have taken up Arms and executed Gaveston saying that, if he will rid himself of the pernicious upstart flatterer, Spencer, and make England's hereditary nobility his advisors, they will support him and the bloodshed can stop.


The Earl of Pembroke's Horseboy leads Arundel and him to Cobham, Pembroke's estate, when the two earls take a break from conducting Gaveston to see Edward II.


James is the Earl of Pembroke's man and leader of the four soldiers Guarding Gaveston on his final visit to Edward II. James is overpowered by Warwick's company when the latter breaks his word by seizing and executing Gaveston. Warwick sends James and the other three to announce Gaveston's death to Pembroke.


Edmund, Earl of Kent, King Edward II's brother and King Edward III's uncle, Gives moderating advice to Edward II as well as to the nobles who oppose the king and his favorites, Gaveston and the Spencers. When Edward II beheads Lancaster and Warwick, Kent joins the escaping Mortimer to France. He returns with Mortimer and Queen Isabella, fighting against King Edward's forces, but his attempt to save his brother from death and to keep Prince Edward out of Mortimer's influence cause the latter to order Kent executed.


Outspoken leader of the nobles against Gaveston, he joins the two Mortimers And Warwick in open rebellion to banish or kill Edward II's lowborn French favorite. He chastises Edward for rejecting his nobility, neglecting his queen, and ignoring his subjects to heap favors on Gaveston. He helps capture Gaveston, but later is captured and beheaded by Edward II. The historical Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II's cousin, led the baronial opposition to Edward until he was defeated by the king's forces at Boroughbridge in 1322 and beheaded.


Leicester comes with Trussel and the Bishop of Winchester to Killingworth Castle to ask Edward II, who was taken there after being captured at the Abbey of Neath, to abdicate in favor of his son. When Edward refuses to yield his crown, Leicester persuades him to do so for Prince Edward's sake. After Edward is deposed, Leicester yields him to Berkeley's custody on the queen's orders.


Levune, a Frenchman, brought news to Queen Isabella who shared it with Edward II that the Queen's brother, Lord Valois, the King of France, had seized Normandy from Edward's and English control. Later, after Edward II's victory over the nobles and his execution of Lancaster and Warwick, Spencer and Baldock give Levune money from Edward, charging him to return to France and use the money to dissuade the French nobility from joining Queen Isabella's cause against Edward. Levune did as instructed and reported by post to Spencer that the Queen, Mortimer, and numerous others had gone with Sir John of Hainault to Flanders in preparation for doing battle against Edward II in England.


An assassin who specializes in killing without leaving a trace of foul play on the victim, Lightborn is charged by Mortimer to take custody of Edward II from Gurney and Matrevis and to kill him. Lightborn makes Gurney and Matrevis unwitting accomplices in such a disgusting and painful regicide that Gurney immediately stabs Lightborn to death. Together he and Matrevis then throw the assassin's body into Berkeley Castle moat.


Two Lords of Edward III's council urge the teenage king to stand up to Mortimer and Queen Isabella in his desire to avenge his father's death and dismiss his regents. The First Lord then escorts Mortimer to his traitor's death, returning with the earl's head for the king, and the Second Lord leads the Queen to the Tower.


On Mortimer's command Matrevis writes a letter for Mortimer to sign Charging Berkeley to hand imprisoned Edward II over to Matrevis and Gurney. Queen Isabella asks Matrevis to take her ring to Edward, and Matrevis takes it. Matrevis joins with Gurney in the torture and assassination of Edward, described in the entry for Gurney. Matrevis reports the death of Edward back to Mortimer at court and then flees for his life.


Queen Isabella tells Mortimer that the Mayor of Bristol supports her in her effort to remove Baldock and the Spencers from Edward II's service. He is with Rice ap Howell when the two present Spencer Senior to the Queen and Mortimer, but the mayor says nothing.


A Messenger from Scotland, also described as "a Post," brings letters to Mortimer that his Uncle Mortimer has been taken prisoner. Later, a Messenger from Killingworth brings a letter to Mortimer that Edward II had abdicated and reported to Queen Isabella that the former king was "in health."


Monks in the Welsh abbey where Edward II, Baldock, and Spencer took refuge help their abbot hide them in disguise. One monk assured the three that they would be safe so long as nobody saw them escape into the abbey.


Outspoken critic of Edward II's favorite, Gaveston, Mortimer joins with his uncle, Mortimer Senior, Lancaster, and other nobles in open rebellion against Edward over Gaveston. When Mortimer Senior, commander of English forces in Scotland, is captured, Mortimer demands that Edward ransom him, and the king's refusal further disaffects the two. Mortimer helps capture Gaveston, but is later defeated and captured by Edward's forces. Sent to the Tower, he escapes to France by drugging his guards. He joins Queen Isabella, who is mutually romantically attracted to him, and their forces return to England and defeat Edward II's army. Reveling in his power, Mortimer has Edward murdered, Kent beheaded, and Prince Edward crowned Edward III. When Edward III overturns the regency to rule in his own right, he orders a traitor's death for Mortimer. The historical Mortimer returned from France with Isabella in 1326 and was hanged by Edward III in 1330.


Lord Mortimer of Chirk, is described as Mortimer Senior in the dramatis Personae to distinguish him from his nephew, Mortimer. Mortimer Senior joins with his nephew and other barons in rebellion against Edward II to rid the court of Gaveston. In a brief moment of reconciliation, Edward recognizes Mortimer Senior's achievements in foreign war by appointing him commander of English forces against the rebellious Scots. When Mortimer Senior is captured by the Scots, however, Edward II deflects the younger Mortimer's plea to ransom his uncle.


A Mower spies Edward II, Baldock, and Spencer fleeing into the Abbey of Neath, reports this, conducts Rice ap Howell there, and identifies the three hiding in religious garb. The Mower asks for compensation and is promised it.


King Edward II plans to marry his niece to his beloved Gaveston. Heir to The Earl of Gloucester, she is in love with the king's favorite and is delighted by the prospect of the wedding. She asks Edward to take the late earl's servant, Spencer, and her own tutor, Baldock, into his court, and they become his flatterers after Gaveston is assassinated.


Three Poor Men confront Gaveston as he returns from exile in the opening scene, asking him for jobs. . The First Poor Man tells Gaveston he "can ride"; the Second Poor Man says he is "A traveller"; the Third, "A soldier." Gaveston dismisses them sharply, then relents, but ultimately tells himself that he no longer needed by have poor men as servants.


A Post brings letters to Spencer from Levune in France, reporting that Mortimer, Kent, and others were raising a force to battle Edward II in England.


Son of King Edward II and Queen Isabella. Prince Edward is born (in 1312) after the play begins and goes as a child with his mother to visit her brother, the king of France. As she endeavors to raise support to force Edward II to abdicate in favor of Prince Edward, the latter speaks of concern for his father and with naivete about threats to his own safety. He does not want to raise arms against Edward II, asks that he not made king prematurely, and resists the influence of Mortimer. Under pressure from his mother and Mortimer, however, he becomes King Edward III when his father is deposed in 1327. See EDWARD III.


Queen Isabella, wife to Edward II, mother to Edward III, and sister to the King of France is devoted to her husband but is continually spurned by him in favor of Gaveston. Called Isabel throughout the play, she goes to France with Prince Edward and with Edward II's blessing, but there tries to raise support to put her son on the throne. Joined by Mortimer, who has a romantic interest in her, forces are gathered which defeat Edward II's troops, capture him, and crown the prince King Edward III. In the final scene the young king sends her to the Tower to await trial for complicity in the murder of King Edward II.


Rice ap Howell, a Welshman, appears with the Mayor of Bristol before Queen Isabella and Mortimer and, as a demonstration of support, presents them the captive Spencer Senior as a gift. Later he captures the defeated Edward II, hiding in the Abbey of Neath, along with Spencer and Baldock, and turns them all over to the Queen's party. Rice promises to reward the mower who alerted him to the whereabouts of the king and his final faithful courtiers.


When the French king and nobility reject Queen Isabella's plea for help against Edward's sycophants, Sir John of Hainault offers his estate in Flanders as a base against King Edward II. He joins her forces in crossing the channel and is heard urging them on into battle with Edward's knights. The historical Edward III married a relative of Sir John's, Phillipa of Hainault, at Queen Isabella's urging.


Soldiers are seen capturing Gaveston shortly before he was murdered and later in seizing Kent, when he endeavors to visit his brother, the deposed Edward II. The soldiers take Kent to Mortimer, and one of them reports that Kent tried to free the imprisoned former king. This report leads Mortimer to question Kent and then to have him executed.


Former servant to the late Earl of Gloucester, Spencer is accepted into Court by Edward II at Edward's niece's urging. After Gaveston's death Spencer becomes Edward's confident, and the king bestows the title Earl of Gloucester on him. Spencer remains at Edward's side until the two are captured by Rice ap Howell after failing in their escape to Ireland. He is beheaded by troops loyal to the Queen and Mortimer. The historical Edward II had two favorites detested by the barons, Hugh le Despenser and his father of the same name.


Hugh Spencer, known in the dramatis personae as Spencer Senior, is father to Spencer and described as "an old man." He backs his son and Edward II, who makes him Earl of Wiltshire and calls him Lord of Winchester. Shortly before his son and the king are arrested, he is captured and turned over by Rice ap Howell to Queen Isabella and Mortimer who have him executed.


At the abdication confrontation with Edward II, Sir William Trussell, the Earl of Leicester, and the Bishop of Winchester face the king and urge him to give up his crown. Trussell is there to convey the king's decision to Parliament.


Queen Isabella refers to her brother, the King of France, as Lord Valois.


Guy, Earl of Warwick, stands with Lancaster and Mortimer in demanding the exile of Gaveston. Older than the other barons, he speaks alternately with wisdom and with defiance. When the barons capture Gaveston and reluctantly agree to allow Edward II to see him one last time, Warwick defies his peers as well as his king by capturing and executing Gaveston. Years later Warwick is defeated on the battlefield along with Lancaster and Mortimer, captured by the Edward II's men, and executed on the king's orders.


At Killingworth Castle with Leicester and Trussell for the abdication of Edward II, the Bishop of Winchester urges Edward to give up his crown for his son's sake. After Edward abdicates Winchester brings his crown to the Queen and reports a rumor that Kent had plotted to free Edward.


Edward II rewards Spencer Senior with the title, Earl of Wiltshire, and Thereafter addresses the old man as "my Lord of Winchester."


Edward II, recently made king by his father's death, takes advantage of his power to recall his favorite and lover, Gaveston, back from exile in France. Mortimer Sr. & Jr., Warwick, Lancaster, Pembroke, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of Winchester deplore Gaveston, who was exiled by the former king. The former king made his subjects promise their enmity to Gaveston, which they readily did. Now they oppose the recall of Gaveston. When Gaveston returns the king puts many honors onto him, neglects his Queen, Isabella, daughter of the king of France, and flouts his nobles. When the nobles advise Gaveston be exiled, Edward refuses. The nobles revolt, win, and demand the ouster of Gaveston. Gaveston, who has been promised in marriage to Margaret, Edward's niece, is sent to Ireland.

The Queen convinces the nobles to allow Gaveston to be recalled from Ireland so that they may assassinate him. When he returns, the nobles rise and capture him. The king asks that he see Gaveston one last time before Gaveston is executed, but Warwick intercedes and beheads Gaveston in a ditch.

Edward chooses a new favorite, Spencer, Jr. and bestows many honors on him. The nobles object to Spencer, Jr. and seek his ouster, believing him to be another mere waterfly. When Edward refuses to disassociate himself with Spencer, Jr., the nobles rise up again. Edward wins this time and takes the nobles prisoner. He sends all except Mortimer, Jr. and Mortimer, Sr. (the latter is held prisoner by the Scots and never heard from again in the play) to be executed.

Kent, the king's brother, speaks in defense of the nobles and is exiled from the king.

Isabella, meanwhile, has gone to her father, king of France, to enlist aid, ostensibly for the king, but actually in league against Edward. Isabella has by now joined with her lover Mortimer in his Machiavellian quest for power.

Mortimer escapes from the Tower and makes for France. Edward sends money to bribe the French nobles and keep them from joining with Isabella and Mortimer against him.

Isabella is thwarted in raising an army in France because of Edward's bribes, but she and her son, the heir apparent, is joined there by Mortimer and Kent.

Mortimer succeeds in raising an army and attacking the king. His efforts are successful. He defeats Edward. Kent, seeing that the Queen and Mortimer are dissembling in an attempt to wrest power from the line of Edward, has second thoughts about them.

Edward, Spencer, and Balldock flee to an Abbey where they are caught after a Mower betrays their whereabouts. In the Abbey the king reverts to childlike behavior and a wish to remain in the pastoral setting, free from the cares of monarchy. Edward, Spencer, and Baldock are captured. Spencer and Baldock are executed; Edward is sent to Killingworth castle where he is placed in the dungeon, knee-deep (?) in water, and mentally tortured by unsympathetic wardens.

He survives the ordeal to the admiration of even his captors, who see in him the true demeanor of a noble king. Mortimer and the Queen dissemble and have Edward further tortured, all unbeknownst to the prince, Edward's son. The Queen and Mortimer, who wants the Regency, see Kent as a threat because Kent has the ear of the young Prince.

Mortimer and the Queen send Lightborn (a loose translation of Lucifer) to kill Edward at Killingsworth. Lightborn does not know that Mortimer gave orders to the wardens of Edward, Gurney and Matrevis, to kill Lightborn once the commission is fulfilled.

Meanwhile, Kent is called before Mortimer and the Queen for attempting to redeem Edward. He is labeled a traitor by Mortimer and, despite the Prince's protestations to save Kent, Kent is taken off and executed. The Prince becomes wrathful.

Lightborn arrives at Killingsworth. He pretends at first no harm to Edward, but Edward sees through him. Edward is strapped down and a hot iron is inserted in his fundament. After Edward's death, Gurney and Matrevis are shocked at the death and happily carry out their commission to murder Lightborn. They repent themselves of the heinous crime and flee the court of Mortimer after announcing the outcome of Lightborn's act.

The Prince, now king, rallies the support of the lords and condemns Mortimer for his part in Edward's slaying. Mortimer goes to his death with scorn. Mortimer sentences his mother, the Queen, to the Tower until her part in the crime can be determined. Edward's body is brought in a hearse and Mortimer's decapitated head is placed upon it.

The play ends with the new king attesting to his obvious innocence of all that has transpired regarding Edward II.


Edward II is first viewed as a weak king, interested in toying with his favorites (in a suggestively homosexual manner) than in running his kingdom, which is threatened on all sides by either Ireland, Scotland, France, or Denmark. While Gaveston is his favorite, Edward languishes and loses in the noble's uprising. When Spencer is chosen favorite Edward becomes a stronger king, mainly because of Spencer's patriotic streak and belief in the sovereignty of kingship. Edward defeats the nobles with Spencer as his favorite. But, ultimately, Edward must find his own strength without relying upon favorites. This he does in the dungeons of Killingsworth; stripped of all dignity and show, Edward rises to the height of nobility.

Gaveston is little more than a pandering waterfly, who leads Edward astray with his licentious, hedonistic ways.

The Prince is wholly innocent of all the wrongdoing in the play.

Kent is a man on conscience, who opposes tyranny from all quarters at all times.

Mortimer, Jr. begins the play by appearing to be the noblest of the nobles, eager only for the betterment of England and truly concerned for the threat imposed by Gaveston in Edward's court. He turns out, however, to be a Machiavel, interested only in his own rise to power. When his Machiavellian tendencies surface, Mortimer, Jr. becomes a cardboard character.

The Queen appears at first to be truly devoted to Edward. Indeed, even in soliloquy, she professes her all-encompassing love for Edward. But she turns to Mortimer, Jr. as lover and co-ruler without much (if any) motivation or foreshadowing. So great is her change that we find her at the end of the play requesting a new warden for Edward when she learns that the present wardens begin to pity their charge. She is bent on Edward's destruction, but moreover, she thirsts for his torture and humiliation–possibly for the humiliation she felt earlier when cast aside in favor of Gaveston. Her change, nevertheless, is a matter of consternation in critical circles. One hint that she has Machiavellian tendencies appears early in the play–at I. iv.229-73–when she has the idea to call Gaveston back from Ireland in order to assassinate him.

Spencer, Jr. is not the waterfly Gaveston was. He demonstrates a true patriotism and love of king qua king which is to be admired by the auditor. When we first see him and Baldock (II.i.) we are given to believe that both are mere favor-seekers, but by their demise we find both bewailing the fall of their king although it has been suggested that, at least as far as Baldock is concerned, he may be "putting the make" on God to get in with the "big guy" whence he goes. But Spencer, Jr. as favorite demonstrates Edward's gradual conversion from irresponsible king (as suggested by his choice of Gaveston) to the wholly noble and honorable king (as demonstrated in the dungeons of Killingworth).

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Notes of interest:

There are 11 deaths–10 are executions (counting Edward's death as a state-ordered murder) and 1 is a murder (of Lightborn).

There is a chiasmus of fortunes that can be traced between Edward II and Mortimer, Jr. Socially (in court) Edward is at the top and Mortimer is at the bottom. As Mortimer's fortunes wax, so Edward's wane, and vice versa. Morally, however, Edward is at the bottom and Mortimer appears to be at the top–Edward is a wonton and Mortimer a patriot. As Mortimer's morality degenerates, however, Edward's increases. (Perhaps "morality" is too loaded and "dignity" the better discriptor.)

This play demonstrates Boccacio's De casibus virorum et feminarum illustrium by which the theme is of falling when vanity of human wishes climbs aboard the Wheel of Fortune. There is no tragic flaw in the character, but the character makes the mistake of taking his eyes off of God in favor of temporal success and damns himself to the vagaries of the Wheel of Fortune. This demonstrates the Marlovian deterministic world wherein everyone is responsible for his/her own fate.

Plays to be compared:

Shakespeare's Richard II (for general themes, movement, line echoes, and especially the characterization of the chiasm between sovereign's fortunes and his rebellious foe–Edward II/Mortimer, Jr. & Richard II/Bolingbroke–as well as the weak-king syndrome).

Shakespeare's Richard III (for line echoes esp. at V.iv.55- 63; and also make note of the possibility that RIII could have preceded EII to the stage.)

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