In Edward II, as in much Renaissance literature, the sun functions as a symbol of the reigning monarch. This is likely at least in part the result of the prevailing cosmology of the day. Elizabethan England viewed the universe in terms of an orderly and hierarchical “Great Chain of Being,” and analogies could be drawn between various relationships along the chain: the sun, for instance, naturally “ruled” the planets in much the same way a king naturally “ruled” his subjects. Not surprisingly, then, various characters in Edward II compare Edward himself to the sun, as when Warwick scolds Gaveston for trying “like Phaëthon” to control the sun/king.
Using this basic symbolism as a starting point, Marlowe also plays with sun imagery to develop the play's themes and plot. Edward's favorites, for instance, draw on the metaphor frequently, but often in personal rather than political ways. When Edward summons Gaveston to his side at the beginning of the play, Gaveston questions, “What need the arctic people love starlight, / To whom the sun shines both by day and night?”. The lines, which immediately precede Gaveston's resolution to ignore the nobility entirely, underscore the extent to which Edward’s personal relationship with Gaveston supersedes his responsibilities as king. It is therefore fitting that when Edward finally falls from power, he remarks that “kings, when regiment is gone, / [Are] but perfect shadows in a sunshine day”: far from being a sun himself, Edward now feels that his rule is, in effect, a trick of the light.
The Sun Quotes in Edward II
Spencer, I see our souls are fleeted hence;
We are deprived the sunshine of our life.
Make for a new life, man; throw up thy eyes,
And heart and hand to heaven's immortal throne,
Pay nature's debt with cheerful countenance.
Reduce we all our lessons unto this:
To die, sweet Spencer, therefore live we all;
Spencer, all live to die, and rise to fall.
But what are kings, when regiment is gone,
But perfect shadows in a sunshine day?
My nobles rule; I bear the name of King.
I wear the crown, but am controlled by them