Edward II

by

Christopher Marlowe

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The Sun Symbol Icon

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

The Edward II quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Sun. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Methuen Drama edition of Edward II published in 2014.
Act 4, Scene 6 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Baldock (speaker), Edward II, Spencer Junior
Related Symbols: The Sun
Page Number: 4.6.104–111
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

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

Related Characters: Edward II (speaker), Mortimer Junior
Related Symbols: The Sun
Page Number: 5.1.27–30
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Sun Symbol Timeline in Edward II

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Sun appears in Edward II. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
...of the world in order to be with Edward, whose presence he compares to the sun. That being the case, Gaveston casually dismisses the common people and the nobility alike, vowing... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
...manipulating the King: “Ignoble vassal, that like Phaëthon / Aspir'st unto the guidance of the sun.” Mortimer Junior, however, assures his fellow nobles that Edward and Gaveston's “downfall is at hand.”... (full context)
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
...before him. Edward addresses Lancaster first, urging him to, “as gross vapours perish by the sun, / Even so let hatred with [his] sovereign's smile.” The King then speaks to each... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
...the nobles, and vowing to “enrich [Spencer] with [the King's] favour / That, as the sunshine, shall reflect over [him].” (full context)
Act 4, Scene 6
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
Fortune and Tragedy Theme Icon
Spencer Junior and Baldock mourn their parting with Edward, likening him both to the sun and to their own “souls.” Baldock concludes that there is nothing left for them to... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Fortune and Tragedy Theme Icon
...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... (full context)