Edward II

by

Christopher Marlowe

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Edward II: Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Some time after The Bishop of Coventry's arrest, Warwick and Lancaster meet with Mortimer Senior and Mortimer Junior to discuss the situation.  Warwick confirms that Coventry is in prison and that his possessions have been confiscated, and Lancaster and Mortimer Junior vow revenge on Gaveston (or, as Mortimer calls him, the  “Frenchman”). Lancaster and Warwick also explain the new titles that Edward has conferred on Gaveston, and how haughty and powerful Gaveston has become as a result. Because the King and his favorite are inseparable, however, no one dares to challenge Gaveston. Both Mortimers respond with outrage, and Mortimer Junior wonders aloud why they have not begun to raise an army. He further adds that if he had the support of the rest of the English nobility, he would kill Gaveston and display the “peasant's” body on the court gates to prevent the "ruin" of the country.
Although the nobles most commonly cite Gaveston's low birth as the reason for their opposition to him, Gaveston's foreignness (his background is French) and his sexual preferences undoubtedly exacerbate the situation. Here, for instance, Mortimer's reference to Gaveston as "that peevish Frenchman" would be disparaging in tone even without the word "peevish." Still, elements of the nobility's anger do seem to reflect genuine concern for the country's welfare. Mortimer repeatedly suggests that Gaveston's influence at court will harm England, and while it eventually becomes clear that Mortimer's patriotism is compromised by personal ambition, the concern itself seems valid: Gaveston's earlier interactions with the poor men demonstrated that he is not particularly interested in serving the common good. Characteristically, however, Mortimer's only proposed solution to the problem is violence: raising an army and assassinating Gaveston.
Themes
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Fear of the Other and Internal Discord Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
The nobles' conversation comes to a halt as the Bishop of Canterbury enters, explaining to an attendant what happened to the Bishop of Coventry and telling him to relay the message to the Pope. Hearing this, Lancaster asks whether Canterbury intends to “take arms against the King,” to which Canterbury replies that he does not need to, because “God himself is up in arms.” He does, however, agree with Mortimer Junior that Gaveston should be banished or beheaded.
The Bishop of Canterbury's response to Lancaster is telling. Although the English nobles are already considering rebellion, Canterbury is not, despite Edward and Gaveston's disrespectful treatment of the Church. Canterbury claims that he simply sees no need for an uprising, but it emerges only a few lines later that, in fact, his disinterest in a rebellion stems from the fact that he actually views the prospect of rebelling against (or even deposing) a king with trepidation. Even in a quasi-constitutional monarchy, respect for the king runs deep.
Themes
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
Mortimer Junior notices Queen Isabella walking past in a hurry, and asks her where she is going. Despairingly, she responds that she is going “to the forest,” because her husband Edward has lost all interest in her, instead “dot[ing] upon the love of Gaveston.” Mortimer Senior remarks that it is “strange that [Edward] is thus bewitched.”
Isabella's remarks in this exchange are another strong hint that the relationship Edward has with Gaveston is sexual: she clearly describes Gaveston as replacing her in her husband's affections. Mortimer Senior's response, meanwhile, places the "blame" for the relationship on Gaveston, again positioning Gaveston as an outsider who has corrupted an otherwise innocent King.
Themes
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Fear of the Other and Internal Discord Theme Icon
Mortimer Junior tells Isabella to return to court, promising that the nobility will see Gaveston banished and even depose Edward if necessary. The Bishop of Canterbury, however, warns the nobles not to rebel against their king. This sparks a discussion about whether Gaveston can be removed without violence: Canterbury favors drafting a decree for Gaveston's exile, but Lancaster anticipates that Edward would simply ignore any order Canterbury and the rest of the King's councilors sign—at which point, Mortimer Junior argues, it would be “lawful” to rebel. Isabella, meanwhile, says she would prefer to suffer her husband's neglect than see him “oppressed by civil mutinies.”
This exchange begins to explore the complexities of deposing a king whose right to rule is inherited and (in theory) divine. Canterbury is clearly disturbed by the prospect of a rebellion and insists that Gaveston can be removed without any violence toward Edward himself. The nobles are skeptical, and Mortimer Junior proposes an alternative understanding of where Edward's legitimacy comes from: as a king, Mortimer implicitly suggests, Edward's role is to uphold social order and the law. That being the case, the nobles could "lawfully" depose Edward if he failed in this role—for instance, by flouting a legal decree himself. Isabella, however, is wary of the prospect of civil unrest. All these different viewpoints highlight the play's interest in various kinds of internal national discord, and how such discord gets worked out.
Themes
Fear of the Other and Internal Discord Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The nobles and the Bishop of Canterbury eventually agree to wait at the Bishop's residence for the council meeting to take place. As the men leave, Isabella again pleads with Mortimer Junior not to go to war with Edward. Mortimer promises not to, but only if “words will serve.”
Despite Mortimer's promise to Isabella, his words throughout the scene have made it quite clear that he thinks the time for words is long past and instead favors fighting. Isabella's intentions are more ambiguous, however. Although she eventually plays a leading role in deposing her husband, her plea in this exchange seems sincere—as does her broader love for her husband. Perhaps Isabella's later change of heart reflects a disillusionment with the power of language: after all, her attempts to speak to her husband repeatedly go nowhere. 
Themes
Language and Violence Theme Icon