Edward II

by

Christopher Marlowe

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Edward II: Act 5, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Edward has now arrived at Kenilworth, which Leicester urges him to imagine is his court. Edward, however, says that while he appreciates the kindness Leicester has always shown him, he cannot be consoled by “gentle words”: as a king, he says, he cannot help but chafe against his imprisonment at the hands of Mortimer Junior and his “unnatural queen” Isabella. Almost as soon as he has vowed to seek revenge, however, Edward's mood changes. He questions whether kings are actually anything more than “perfect shadows in a sunshine day,” and remarks bitterly that he now rules only in name. Finally, he questions whether he will be forced to give up the trappings of his position—i.e. his crown—to Mortimer.
Edward's comments about kingship in this passage once more suggest a tension between the exceptional glory of the position and the fact that monarchs ultimately meet the same fate as everyone else. Although Edward recognizes that a king without his wealth and authority is simply a "shadow," he also suggests that the sufferings of kings are more intense than those of commoners, perhaps because there is further for them to fall. Meanwhile, Edward's remark that Isabella is an "unnatural queen" mark a major shift in the play. Prior to this, it was Edward's relationship with Gaveston that was "unnatural," not only for its homosexuality but also because it threatened to destabilize the social order. Now that Isabella has embarked on her own illicit affair, however, she herself has become "unnatural." 
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The Bishop of Winchester, who has also come to Kenilworth, responds to Edward's question by arguing that they “crave the crown” for the sake of England and Prince Edward—not Mortimer Junior. Edward, however, suspects that Mortimer plans to take power himself and hopes that the crown will be a curse to him, “So shall not England's vines be perished, / But Edward's name survives.”
Edward's suspicions turn out to be well justified. Whatever Mortimer Junior's motives were at the beginning of the play, he now seems to crave power for its own sake, and uses his position as Isabella's lover to control Prince Edward. Ironically, this places him in the same position that Gaveston earlier occupied: a social climber who leverages sexual relationships to attain power.
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Leicester presses Edward for a response, and Edward takes off his crown, remarking that while it is hard to stomach the thought of Mortimer Junior as king, his fate leaves him no choice. He further asks for death, since “Two kings in England cannot reign at once.” Almost immediately, however, he reconsiders and begs to be allowed to retain his crown until nightfall, which he prays will never come. Then, calling those around him “inhuman creatures…who gape for [their] sovereign's overthrow,” he places the crown back on his head. Although he realizes that the sight of him with a crown will no longer strike fear in those around him, he asks to be allowed to wear it for a while longer.
Edward's request for death may be sincere in some respects, but it is also a statement about his understanding of the monarchy. The implication is that death is the only way to unmake a king, probably because the position is God-given rather than dependent on the fulfillment of particular duties (e.g. defending the realm). According to this view, anyone who rebels against the King is rebelling against a social order that has been ordained by God, and is therefore, as Edward puts it, a "monster." On the other hand, Edward's willingness to "obey" the dictates of fate suggests that he no longer sees his status as king as exceptional enough to protect him from the ups and downs of fortune.
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Trussel, a member of Parliament who has come to Kenilworth with Winchester, says that they need a definite answer from Edward about whether he will give up the crown. Edward responds that Mortimer Junior and the other “traitors” can do as they wish, but that he will not comply. Trussel and the Bishop of Winchester leave. However, when Leicester warns Edward that his course of action could result in Prince Edward losing his rights to the throne, Edward changes his mind and asks Leicester to call Trussel and the Bishop of Winchester back. He then removes his crown again, although he says that anyone who takes it from him will be guilty of murdering a king. Eventually, however, he hands the crown to the Bishop, praying as he does so to either die or “forget [him]self.” 
Edward's inability to call Winchester and Trussel back for himself would seem to suggest that Mortimer's preference for action has finally won out over Edward's for language. That said, Edward speaks at great length elsewhere in the scene, so his words here may be another way in which he refuses to cooperate in his overthrow: Edward repeatedly stalls for time, denounces the actions of the nobles as illegal, and generally makes Winchester and Trussel's job as difficult as possible. His wish for death or madness, however, does ring true, since Edward has shown a tendency toward instability and self-destruction throughout the play.
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Edward orders the Bishop of Winchester and Trussel away, but hands them a handkerchief—”wet with [his] tears”—to take to Isabella. He fears for Prince Edward's safety while his son is under Mortimer Junior's care, but hopes the Prince will prove a better ruler than he himself did. He hastens to add, however, that his only mistake was showing too much “clemency.”
Edward's views on kingship continue to waver in this passage. His remarks about his son suggest that he agrees to some extent with the nobles' assessment of Edward's own rule as ineffectual. He immediately qualifies this statement, however, so it is difficult to know how much his ideas have actually shifted.
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Before the Bishop of Winchester and Trussel can leave, another messenger—Berkeley—arrives. Edward expects that Berkeley has come to kill him, which he now looks forward to. Berkeley protests that he has merely come to serve Edward: the letter he has brought dismisses Leicester and appoints Berkeley as Edward's guard. Edward tears up the letter, which was written by Mortimer Junior, but resigns himself to go with Berkeley on the grounds that he can only die once.
Edward's destruction of the message in some ways reflects the futility of language under Mortimer's rule. Edward describes "rending" Mortimer's name as a substitute for attacking Mortimer himself, but it obviously does Mortimer no harm. It is symbolically important, however, that Edward wishes for Mortimer's "limbs [to] be torn" like the message itself, because Edward III will eventually order Mortimer to be hanged, drawn, and quartered (i.e. to have his limbs torn off). Since the historical Mortimer was simply hanged, the change is especially significant: in some sense, Edward’s words do seem to bring about Mortimer's downfall.
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