Edward II


Christopher Marlowe

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Themes and Colors
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
Fortune and Tragedy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Edward II, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Language and Violence Theme Icon

From start to finish, Edward II is an exceptionally violent play: Gaveston attacks a bishop in the very first scene, and the play ends with Edward brutally murdered and his son, Edward III, displaying the severed head of Mortimer Junior alongside his father’s corpse. What is even more striking, however, is how much of the dialogue in the play centers on violence, often describing it as something that, like language itself, can convey meaning. In fact, Marlowe seems to suggest that words are of limited usefulness in the world of Edward II—a message given further nuance by the fact that the work is a play, and is therefore a medium that blends language and physical action.

The idea that violence might function as a substitute for language appears very early in Edward II. When the nobles first speak out against Edward’s decision to recall Gaveston, Kent advises his brother, Edward, to “let these their heads / Preach upon poles for trespass of their tongues.” Mortimer responds by threatening to “henceforth parley with our naked swords.” Similar statements recur throughout the play, with the implication generally being that the spectacle of violence conveys a more powerful message about power and the consequences of treason than language alone ever could.

Initially, this is a view that Edward himself seems to share. Some of the most powerful speeches in the play are about the vengeance he intends to seek for the nobles’ treatment of both Gaveston and himself. He threatens at one point, for instance, to “unfold [his] paws / And let their lives’ blood slake [his] fury’s hunger.” But, at some point, all Edwards’ talk of violence comes to feel more like bluster than true strength. And, over time, Edward’s own language becomes more passive and uncertain. When Edward hears of Gaveston’s death, for example, he responds by wondering aloud, “O, shall I speak, or shall I sigh and die?” Neither alternative seems particularly effective, as Spencer Junior points out when he advises the king to “refer [his] vengeance to the sword.” Spencer, in other words, is advising Edward not to talk about violence, but to use actual violence to assert his power. Edward does so, and initially defeats his enemies. But battle creates inherent vulnerability; the cost of losing is much greater than the cost of losing an argument. Edward, does eventually lose, and the play’s final scenes further underscore the idea that violent action has triumphed over language (this time to Edward’s dismay), with Mortimer transforming language into a kind of weapon when he writes the note ordering the deposed king’s murder.

With all that said, it is worth remembering that Edward II is a work of literature, and therefore a testament to the power of language in and of itself. This, in fact, is something that Marlowe draws attention to by repeatedly noting the king’s fondness for poetry and theater. A performance of the play, of course, would also draw some of its power from its depiction of violence, but Marlowe at least raises the possibility that Edward’s preference for language is vindicated after his death: his son, Edward III, claims that his “loving father speaks” through him, thereby quite literally giving Edward II the play’s final word.

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Language and Violence Quotes in Edward II

Below you will find the important quotes in Edward II related to the theme of Language and Violence.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

These are not men for me;
I must have wanton poets, pleasant wits,
Musicians, that with touching of a string
May draw the pliant King which way I please.
…In the day when he shall walk abroad,
Like sylvan nymphs my pages shall be clad.
My men like satyrs grazing on the lawns,
Shall with their goat-feet dance an antic hay;
Sometime a lovely boy in Dian's shape,
With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
Crownets of pearl above his naked arms,
And in his sportful hands an olive tree
To hide those parts which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring.

Related Characters: Piers Gaveston (speaker), Edward II
Page Number: 1.1.549–65
Explanation and Analysis:

Come uncle, let us leave the brainsick King,
And henceforth parley with our naked swords.

Related Characters: Mortimer Junior (speaker), Edward II, Piers Gaveston, Mortimer Senior
Page Number: 1.1.124–125
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Bishop of Canterbury: …We and the rest that are his councillors
Will meet and with a general consent
Confirm his banishment with our hands and seals.

Lancaster: What we confirm the King will frustrate.

Mortimer Junior: Then may we lawfully revolt from him.

Related Characters: Mortimer Junior (speaker), The Earl of Lancaster (speaker), Bishop of Canterbury (speaker), Edward II, Piers Gaveston
Page Number: 1.2.69–73
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

Edward: Lay hands on that traitor Mortimer!

Mortimer Senior: Lay hands on that traitor Gaveston!

[The NOBLES draw swords]

Kent: Is this the duty that you owe your King?

Warwick: We know our duties; let him know his peers.

Related Characters: Edward II (speaker), Edmund, Earl of Kent (speaker), Mortimer Senior (speaker), Guy, Earl of Warwick (speaker), Piers Gaveston, Mortimer Junior
Page Number: 1.4.20–23
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

You must cast the scholar off
And learn to court it like a gentleman…
You must be proud, bold, pleasant, resolute,
And now and then, stab, as occasion serves.

Related Characters: Spencer Junior (speaker), Baldock
Page Number: 2.1.31–43
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Lancaster: Look for rebellion, look to be deposed:
Thy garrisons are beaten out of France,
And, lame and poor, lie groaning at the gates;
The wild O'Neill, with swarms of Irish kerns,
Lives uncontrolled within the English pale;
Unto the walls of York the Scots made road
And, unresisted, drove away rich spoils.

Mortimer Junior: The haughty Dane commands the narrow seas,
While in the harbour ride thy ships unrigged.

Related Characters: The Earl of Lancaster (speaker), Edward II
Page Number: 2.2.158–164
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

Monster of men,
That, like the Greekish strumpet, trained to arms
And bloody wars so many valiant knights,
Look for no other fortune, wretch, than death;
King Edward is not here to buckler thee.

Related Characters: The Earl of Lancaster (speaker), Edward II, Piers Gaveston
Page Number: 2.4.14–18
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Edward: O, shall I speak, or shall I sigh and die?

Spencer Junior: My lord, refer your vengeance to the sword
Upon these barons.

Related Characters: Edward II (speaker), Spencer Junior (speaker), Piers Gaveston, Guy, Earl of Warwick
Page Number: 3.2.121—123
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

Mortimer Junior: Then, Edward, thou wilt fight it to the last,
And rather bathe thy sword in subjects' blood
Than banish that pernicious company?

Edward: Ay, traitors all! Rather than thus be braved,
Make England's civil towns huge heaps of stones
And ploughs to go about our palace gates.

Warwick: A desperate and unnatural resolution.

Related Characters: Edward II (speaker), Mortimer Junior (speaker), Guy, Earl of Warwick (speaker), Spencer Junior
Page Number: 3.3.27–33
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 4 Quotes

Isabella:…A heavy case,
When force to force is knit, and sword and glaive
In civil broils make kin and countrymen
Slaughter themselves in others, and their sides
With their own weapons gored. But what's the help?
Misgoverned kings are cause of all this wrack;
And Edward, thou art one among them all,
Whose looseness hath betrayed thy land to spoil
And made the channels overflow with blood.
Of thine own people patron shouldst thou be,
But thou—

Mortimer Junior: Nay madam, if you be a warrior,
Ye must not grow so passionate in speeches.

Related Characters: Mortimer Junior (speaker), Isabella (speaker), Edward II
Page Number: 4.4.4–15
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Well may I rend his name that rends my heart!
This poor revenge hath something eased my mind.
So may his limbs be torn, as is this paper!

Related Characters: Edward II (speaker), Mortimer Junior
Page Number: 5.1.140–142
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

King Edward III: Traitor, in me my loving father speaks
And plainly saith, 'twas thou that murd'redst him.

Mortimer Junior: But hath your grace no other proof than this?

King Edward III: Yes, if this be the hand of Mortimer.

[He presents the letter]

Related Characters: Mortimer Junior (speaker), Prince Edward/Edward III (speaker), Edward II
Page Number: 5.6.41–44
Explanation and Analysis: