Edward II

by

Christopher Marlowe

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Edward II: Act 3, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Edward waits anxiously with Spencer Junior and Baldock. He knows that he cannot save Gaveston's life, and fears that the nobles will not even let him see Gaveston again. Spencer says that if he were king, he would not allow the nobles to insult him and his lineage in this way, and urges Edward to “strike off their heads, and let them preach on poles…As by their preachments [others] will profit much / And learn obedience to their lawful King.” Edward agrees that he has so far been “too mild,” and Baldock approves of his resolution to be harsher in the future.
Perhaps in order to curry favor with Edward, both Spencer Junior and Baldock defend the King's right to exercise virtually unlimited power. In fact, Spencer goes further and suggests that in allowing the nobles to act in opposition to him, Edward is actually dishonoring his own royal status, since his birth and lineage entitle him to respect. Ironically, this defense of royal birthright shares may similarities with the nobility's protectiveness of their own status (and corresponding dislike of Gaveston and Spencer). It's telling, then, that Spencer ultimately urges Edward to act as the nobles have and shore up his claims to authority with violence. 
Themes
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
Spencer Senior, Spencer Junior's father, arrives and announces that he has brought a company of soldiers to defend Edward's “royal right.” Edward responds by making him Earl of Wiltshire, promising him money to “outbid” the nobles, and vowing to “enrich [Spencer] with [the King's] favour / That, as the sunshine, shall reflect over [him].”
Once more, Edward reveals himself to be easily swayed by flattery and personal emotion. He takes Spencer Senior's words about Edward's royal prerogative as an indication of the man's "noble" character and confers a title on him, effectively revealing that he is more interested in having his own ideas confirmed than in seriously considering what is best for either him or the country.
Themes
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Spencer Junior notices Isabella approaching with Prince Edward and Levune, a messenger from France. Edward II asks Isabella for news, and she explains that her brother, the King of France, has seized Normandy because Edward has “been slack in homage.” Edward, preoccupied with Gaveston's fate, dismisses this as easily solved and decides—over the young prince's reservations—to send his son and wife to France to negotiate. He will remain, he says, to deal with the domestic turmoil, which prompts Isabella to remark on the “unnatural wars, where subjects brave their King.”
As the nobles earlier warned, Edward's negligence has opened England up to attacks by foreign powers. What is even more worrying, however, is Edward's response: he still does not see Isabella as a potential political threat, and therefore entrusts her with representing his interests in France. This proves to be a disastrous decision, since Isabella eventually returns from France with the army that will unseat Edward. Once again, in other words, the most serious dangers in the play come from within. Isabella's comments about the uprising attest to this, while also touching on the play's interest in disruptions of the social order: according to Isabella, it is not just treasonous but "unnatural" to challenge the rule of a king.
Themes
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Fear of the Other and Internal Discord Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
As Isabella, Prince Edward, and Levune leave, Maltravers arrives. He is alone, and reports that Gaveston is dead. Edward presses him for details, and Maltravers explains the events leading up to Warwick's ambush and the capture and beheading of Gaveston. Edward despairingly wonders whether he should “speak, or…sigh and die?”, but Spencer Junior—who remarks that Warwick's actions are “flatly against law of arms”—urges the King to “refer [his] vengeance to the sword.”
Edward's initial response to Gaveston's death is typically passive. In fact, Edward seems in this case to reject not only action, but even words. Instead (and as Isabella did earlier), Edward turns whatever violent impulses he has inwards and wishes for death. It takes the intervention of Spencer Junior to persuade Edward to shift his attention from self-destruction to the rebel nobles.
Themes
Fear of the Other and Internal Discord Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Edward kneels, swearing by heaven, his lineage, and his status as king to be revenged on anyone involved in Gaveston's death: “If I be England's king, in lakes of gore / Your headless trunks, your bodies will I trail, / That you may drink your fill and quaff in blood, / And stain my royal standard with the same.” He then makes Spencer Junior Earl of Gloucester and Lord Chamberlain—two of Gaveston's former positions.
Once again, Edward speaks at length about the elaborate vengeance he intends to take. In this case, Edward's words do translate into action, since he (temporarily) succeeds in crushing the nobles' rebellion. This in turn allows Edward to execute Lancaster and Warwick, partially fulfilling the vows he makes in this speech. Interestingly, however, Lancaster and Warwick's eventual deaths are rather anticlimactic when compared to the passion of Edward's speech in this scene (in fact, the nobles do not even die onstage). This is perhaps an indication of where the play's real sympathies lie: although the plot repeatedly suggests that words are useless in such a violent world, Marlowe ensures that it is the play's language (rather than its action) that ultimately sticks in the audience's mind.
Themes
Language and Violence Theme Icon
Spencer Junior remarks that a herald has arrived from the nobles. The herald greets Edward and reports that the nobles want the King to dismiss “This Spencer, as a putrefying branch / That deads the royal vine whose golden leaves / Impale your princely head.” Instead, they hope that he will “cherish virtue and nobility, / And have old servitors in high esteem.” If the King complies, they say that they will happily remain loyal to him, but if he does not they warn that there will be bloodshed.
The nobles' description of Spencer as a corrupting influence on both Edward and the country echoes their earlier statements about Gaveston. Given that Spencer has now stepped into the role Gaveston formerly held as Edward's favorite, the comparison is a logical one. In this case, however, the nobles are unwilling to even pretend to compromise with Edward over his favoritism, instead jumping straight to threats of civil war. This is an early hint that the nobles have begun to overstep their own authority, and have even perhaps lost sight of their justified grievances as a result of their own ambition.
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
Edward angrily sends the herald away, saying the noble have no right to dictate the King's “sports, his pleasures, and his company.” He embraces Spencer Junior to prove his point. He further orders the herald to tell the nobles that he is on his way to seek revenge for Gaveston's death. Then, turning to the rest of those present, Edward urges them to notice “how these rebels swell” and to join him in “mak[ing] them stoop.” 
Once again, Edward defends his right to do as he wishes as a king. In previous scenes, this insistence has tended to sound arrogant: Edward's love for Gaveston might be understandable, but his preoccupation with his own power verges (as the nobles themselves say) on "tyrannical." In the context of the nobles' own high-handed behavior, however, Edward's complaints begin to seem justified. As the play goes on, Edward will become increasingly sympathetic while his enemies (particularly Mortimer Junior and Isabella) become increasingly less so.
Themes
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon