Analysis Of All Characters in Edward II

King Edward II:

King Edward II is not a tragic hero in the real sense. The tragic hero has, no doubt, some flaw in his character on account of which he suffers. But he also possesses nobility of soul and character. In some way, he elicits our admiration. The essence of tragedy does not lie in the spectacle of suffering that it offers to our view, but in the nobility of soul and greatness of character that is revealed through the process of suffering. That is why the sorrow and suffering and ultimate fall and death of the tragic hero does not leave us downcast and depressed. He does suffer and ultimately dies but he suffers nobly and fights bravely against adverse circumstances.

But King Edward II has no such nobility in his nature. He cannot take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing to end them, nor can he suffer like a man. He is petty even in the hour of victory, and is abjectly crushed by defeat. For he is not a soldier, but a voluptuary and a pleasure-seeker.

Marlowe is here refining on Holinshed’s description of Edward “passing his time in voluptuous pleasure, and riotous excess.” Gaveston is here anticipating such entertainments as the Earl of Leicester gave for Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth.

The King is a voluptuary, and has an unusual fascination for his friend. Gaveston, which can be described as “homoeroticism.” It is not normal love between two friends, but an unnatural attachment for a person of the same sex. The Queen describes the way in which the King fondles and Caresses Gaveston:

It is not how a friend normally shows his love for a friend. Mortimer says that the King “is love-sick for his minion, and the Queen that “his mind runs on his minion. “Hark how he harps upon his minion,” says the Queen once again. When the infuriated Lord ask the King why he loves a man “whom the world-hates so,” A reference has been made above to the pliant nature of the King. He has not the strength to subdue his Barons and to keep them under proper control. “The ‘brain-sick King’ is petulant with his headstrong Barons vainly commanding and pleading by turns, a spoiled child now cajoling and now capitulating.” “I’ll have my will’, he declares on his first entrance, and a moment later: I will have Gaveston. But Mortimer and the other nobles. taking their stand upon an absolute alternative, decide to be resolute

It is only once in the play that the King is genuinely roused to fury and action. He defeats the Barons at the hattle of Boroughbridge and avenges Gaveston’s execution by putting them to death. Once only he executes his purpose with determination. But he cannot proceed from strength to strength His fondness of base company and low pleasures, his lack of manly courage and dogged persistence would not let him retain the power he has once achieved.

King Edward grossly mishandles the affairs of the state. He has neither shrewdness, nor practical wisdom. He lacks foresight and statesmanship. He is neither feared by his enemies nor loved by his friends in the true sense. His friends are time-serving to a dies and flatterers. His foreign policy is a failure. England. during his regime, loses international prestige. The King of France occupies Normandy, and the Scots fearlessly raid the English Border. At home, the growing power of the Barons is a menace to his security. Neither he nor his lowhorn advisers can cope with the dangers with which he is surrounded. To make matters worse, his own wife joins his enemies. So, the King is neither a soldier, nor an administrator, nor a statesman.

In the last hours of his life, the King does not rise to tragic dignity. But we pity him for his miserable fate. The scene in the Abbey where he takes refuge from his pursuing enemies, is deeply pathetic. His mood is drowsy and hopeless, and he longs for death.

Equally pathetic is the scene of his abdication. When the crown is demanded of him, he is full of striking words.

Then there is the pitiful roadside scene where vile indignity follows on grief of mind. But the scene of his murder surpasses all the others in pathos. The outworn, outwatched and terrified King gives his last jewel to his murderer in the hope that he may yet spare his life: pathos has reached its intensity. The last ray of hope is gone, and through the abysmal darkness there rings a sudden cry of death-agony. Thus ends the “pitiful” life of King Edward II.


Mortimer’s is a case somewhat of a dual personality. He is a strange combination of straightforward bluntness and Machiavellian tactics. His character undergoes a change in the play: Since time is foreshortened and events develop rapidly in the play. the change in Mortimer’s character comes a bit too suddenly. The few months during which he stays in France with Queen Isabella make him a different man altogether

From the beginning of the play till the battle of Boroughbridge, Mortimer is exceptionally frank, blunt, downright and hearty-the very antithesis of the intriguing courtier. With his boldness, firm defiance and bravery, he also stands as a foil to the King, who is unreasonable, weak-willed and irresolute He hates Gaveston, the base-born “minion” of the King, and because Edward is excessively fond of him, he is hostile to him also.

A reference has already been made above to the downright bluntness of Mortimer. W.D. Briggs sees in him a model of Hotspur. But his bluntness assumes the shape of open threats to the King at the earliest possible opportunity

Came, uncle, let us leave the brain-sick King,

And henceforth parley with our naked swords.

These words are spoken in the very presence of the King. He grows so.bold as to speak even worse words. He even threatens to depose the King:

 The King shall lose his crown, we have power,

And courage too, to be reveng’d at full.

At every step, he flouts the authority of the King, and is virtually a rebel from the very start of the play. His uncle, a wise elderly statesman, advises him to be reconciled to the King in the interest of the peace of England. But. so deep is his hatred for Gaveston that he would not listen to reason. His strong voice and will prevail with the other Barons, who follows his lead and oppose the King,

Mortimer’s illicit intimacy with Queen Isabella develops even before he escapes from the Tower and flees to France. Marlowe gives enough suggestion of it even before that incident. With winning smiles and the practice of feminine art she easily prevails on him to agree to the recall of his bitterest foe. Gaveston from exile (Act I. Sc. iv). When she complains that the King does not love her. he advises her to cease to love him in return:

Cry quittance, Madam, then; and love him not.

Before the battle of Boroughbridge,

he invites the Queen to sail to

Scarborough with him and the other rebel Lords. The Queen declines his offer, but all the same she wishes she could live with him for ever:

So well hast thou deserv’d sweet Mortimer,

As Isabel could live with thee for ever.

It is possible that Mortimer’s illicit love for the Queen is partly responsible for his hostility to the King.

After his escape to France. Mortimer develops a Machiavellian character. A clue to this side of his nature is already given by Marlowe in Act 1, Sc. iv,, where having himself played the foremost part in the banishment of Gaveston, he now pleads with the Barons for his return on the ground that his recall is necessary “to mend the King, do our country good.” We know that the real motive behind Gaveston’s recall is to satisfy the wish of Queen Isabella. Verily Mortimer can make the worse appear the better reason.

After his return from France, Mortimer becomes the greatest power behind the throne on which he placed a mere boy whose Protector he has become. He is now openly the Queen’s lover. “For Mortimer and Isabel do kiss, while they conspire,” says Kent, and he gives expression to an open secret. Mortimer is no more a blunt. downright but honest Lord. He is seducer of woman, a dissembler and a traitor filled with an excessive lust for power. He confesses what he is in a soliloquy occurring in Act V. Sc. iv:

It is an honest confession of a power-drunk dissembler, wily hypocrite who, though the King’s Protector, schemes to use him as an instrument to serve his ends, who does not scruple to use his ill-got power to plague his enemy and advance his friends. And he does ‘plague’ his greatest enemy. King Edward II. But in so doing, he is no more a brave soldier but a wily diplomat who values his own safety above everything else:

The king must die, or Mortimer goes down;

The commons now begin to pity him.

For his own safety, he makes an extremely cruel,

treacherous and deceitful plan for the King’s murder:

Yet he that is the cause of Edward’s death

Is sure to pay for it when his son is of age;

And therefore will I do it cunningly.

And the murder is arranged most “cunningly”. Lightborn, a professional murderer, is engaged for the purpose; and when the gruesome murder is done. Lightborn is stabbed to death by the order of Mortimer, so that the Lord Protector’s hand in it may never come to light.

Still the murder is out and Mortimer has to pay for it with his life. In the hour of his death, he discovers a new vein in his nature. This man of pride and power, this reacherous dissembling Lord. who started his life as an honest soldier, can also wisely philosophize on the instability of Fortune.

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Not Hotspur but Hamlet is adumbrated hy Mortimer, when he sets out toward that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns. He dies bravely like a soldier, and calmly like a philosopher. “Proud Mortimer retains his pride till the last moment of his life.

He is a larger stature than any other character in the play. In force of will and power of intellect, the other Lords of the land are no match for him. He fought and won great battles: he indulged in great crimes; and he fell life a great man.

Queen Isabella:

Queen Isabella is a split personality, though not a “subtle” character. She is the first real woman character of Marlowe, more alive than the corpse of Zenocrate or the wraith of Helen. But the characterization of women had not yet been developed into any degree of subtlety.

The Queen’s character undergoes a change like that of Mortimer, and just as Mortimer’s character is transformed during the few months he spends in France, so is the character of the Queen. Before her departure of France, she is different from what she is after her return from that country. The change in her character is a bit too sudden. From a loving devoted wife, she becomes a scheming adulteress and the transition is abruptly made in two brief soliloquies, which stand no more than a page or a scene apart. “Despite the modifications that have been effected in order to give the drama, a semblance of unity, the elaborate construction that differentiates it from all others, there is a break in the middle of Edward II, a watershed which divides our sympathies. Upto that point. Edward’s follie’s alienate us, and afterward his trails win us back, while Isabella, who starts by being ungallantly abused, ends by justifying his antipathy.”

The Queen is a forlorn wife, neglected by her husband, and insulted by is favourite Gaveston. She makes her first appearance on the stage complaining that the King “regards me not”.

Prompted by Gaveston. Edward repels her as a “French strumpet,” says that she is “too familiar with that Mortimer,” and thus calls her honour in question. To make matters worse. Gaveston accuses her in the presence of the King of an illicit relation with Mortimer.

Perhaps it is Gaveston who has brought about this unhappy estrangement between the husband and the wife, by his evil insinuations and hints at her infidelity. The King appears to regain his better self in the absence of Gaveston, but no sooner does he arrive, than he lapses into folly. Gaveston is the King’s evil genius. He corrupts and misleads him and alienates him from all those who would have been his friends.

The Queen patiently hears the King’s insults and Gaveston’s taunts, and repeatedly protests her fidelity to her lord. She pathetically yearns for a kind

word or a friendly gesture from the King:

O how a kiss revives poor Isabel.

The only man to sympathise with her and console her in her sore affliction is Mortimer, and to him she tells her sorrows off and on. The King constantly spurns her, and so for kindness, sympathy and even protection, she goes to Mortimer. He helps her out of pity, and in course of time that pity changes into love. Spurned and neglected by her husband, she clings more and more to Mortimer till at last she becomes his mistress.

A reference has been made above to the change in the Queen’s character. In the first half of the play, she is a poor forlorn wife, vainly seeking her husband’s love in the second half, she is a scheming adulteress secretly contriving her husband’s murder. Between these two pictures, there is not much compatibility. Time might have wrought this great change in her nature: this can be one explanation. Another can be the evit influence of Mortimer. who himself changes into a diabolical character. A third reason for the latter character of Queen Isabella is to be sought in the Elizabethan stage-conditions Female parts were then played by boys. “The theatre,” says Harry Levin, “was still a man’s world: its heroines, as played by boys, were not unnaturally somewhat androgynous: they could behave without effort like shrews or viragoes or the proverbial Hyrcaniah tigresses”. Queen Isabella, in the second half of the play, is hucna tigress. In the first half, she is, as already pointed out a long-suffering, patient. Griselda type of woman, consistently neglected hy her husband. She plays these two inconsistent parts.


In Edward II. Gaveston has been portrayed as the “minion of the King Edward II. But he occupies a more important place in the drama than he does in the work of Holinshed, for even-after his death, like the ghost of Julius Caesar, he haunts the lamenting King:

0 Gaveston, it is for thee that I am wronged,

For me, both thou and both the Spencers died!

When the play opens. Gaveston is seen reading a letter from the King. His fondness for the king is evident:

The King, upon whose bosom let me die,

And with the world be still at enmity.

Equally infatuated is the king for his ‘minion”:

I’ll bandy with the barons and the earls, And either die or live with Gaveston.

Gaveston adopts flattery as the surest way to rise in Edward’s estimation. He contemplates over the various ways to please the King:

I must have wanton Poets, pleasant wits,

Musicians, that with touching of a string

May draw the pliant king which way I please.

He has devised the Renaissance pageant in a medieval age to please his friend, the King:

Gaveston is hated by all except Edward II. His recall is vehemently opposed by the barons in the strongest terms. Mortimer gives vent to the anger of the barons:

But this I scorn, that one so basely born

Should by his sovereign’s favour grow so pert,

And riot it with treasure of the realm.

But the King would not tolerate any opposition. He is determined to have Gaveston recalled:

I have my wish, in that I joy thy sight:

And sooner shall the sea O’erwhelm my land

 Than bear the ship that shall transport thee hence.

It is Gaveston who is the cause of much of Edward’s suffering. He has been called by Steane the ‘ambitions failure in the play. Like Tamburlaine, Gaveston also attempts to set out for his goal .

What greater bliss can hap to Gaveston

Then live and be  the  favourrite of a king?

Occasionally, he aspires also to Tamburlaine’s language, but his pride is merely pert and his hravado peevish and unimpressive:

Whose mounting thought did never creep As to bestow a look on such as you.

Gaveston has little dignity vis-a-vis the lords, and snaps pettishly and poisonously at the queen. His influence would make of the court a conch for pampered luxury or a Yellow Book paradise. In part a Machiavellian self- seeker. he intends to manipulate the pliant king as he chooses.

However, Gaveston invites some kind of sympathy for himself. Although his self-seeking deprives him of respect or heroic status, it does not kill all sympathy. In the first place, the nobles are no better than he is. They speak of his upstart pride, but he, with the voice of the disruptive outsider, can give a fair retort:

Base leader Earls, that glory in your birth. In the skirmish with the bishop of coventry, he probably gains as much sympathy as he loses. On the one hand, he is sacrilegious in his violence and ‘God himself is up in arms, when the ‘Holy church is outraged. On the other. ‘Holy church’ is only the Roman Catholic Church, and Reformation principles are brought to the defence:

What should a priest do with so fair a house.

In the end, it may also be noted that there is a grain of sincerity in Gaveston’s attachment for Edward. In spite of the scheming parasitical self presented in the second main speech. Gaveston is shown as having real affection for the king. In the first-soliloquy he says he values London because:

………it harbours him I hold so dear,

The King, upon whose bosom let me die..

And in his last, he speaks of the hope to see his royal sovereign once again. It seems to be a sincere regard. To the lords, he is a monster of men, but not to Marlowe. Gaveston would normally have been portrayed dramatically. Like Ateukin, a caterpillar of the kingdom not merely in function but in remoteness from recognisable humanity. But as Marlowe’s play has no hero, so is it without villains. Gaveston is merely part of a struggling, thwarting. humiliating world. The middle class careerist is shunted hither and thither at the will of the powers-that be. He had seemed to be secure and the realisation that he must again submit is pathetic:

My lord, I hear it whispered everywhere,

That I am banished and must flee the land.

In the end he suffers the further indignity of Mortimer’s jibes. Pembroke’s coldness and Warwick’s treachery. He is finally hustled off the stage to the accompaniment of Warwick’s harsh joke in the plays characteristic manner.


Edmund, the Earl of Kent and the brother of King Edward II, is one of the important characters of the play Edward 11. His role has been variously interpreted by the critics. Mr. Levin comments on his role. “Amid these bewildering shifts of moral winds. Kent is a sort of weathervane whose turnings weer with the rectitude of the situation, not unlike his namesake in King Lear”.

In the whole of the play. Kent seems to be the only character who talks more wholesome sense than the others. He is found to be loyal and straightforward, and his eventual defection from Edward shows the extent to which the King is to be condemned. But Kent is certainly not a character who makes things happen. He has been described by Steane as ‘a choric weather cock. He goes on to comment further that Kent has not in fact the authority to fulfil the office. But the fact is that Kent is the person who is too helpless to change the course of events. Like a weather-cock, he can only mark the direction of the wind and not change it.

However. Kent is a great well-wisher of Edward. He advises Edward to renounce Gaveston when he finds that the minion will be the ruin of the king and the realm. He protests against the extravagant titles loaded on Gaveston:

 Brother, the least of these may well suffice

For one of greater birth than Gaveston,

 He is deeply shocked when kingship is affronted:

“What Mortimer, you will not threaten him!

Even when he joins the rebel barons, he stands for moderation. He very well recognizes the evil of rebellion. He retains his moral sense, when all around him are losing theirs, and his clear-sightedness tells him that Isabella and Mortimer ‘do dissemble’, when he is left a solitary figure in the end, his heart and his orthodox conscience once again lean toward the king:

Vile Wretch, and why hast thou of all unkind,

 Borne arms against thy brother and thy king,

Rain showers of vengeance on my cursed head,

Thou God, to whom in justice it belongs

To punish this unnatural revolt.

Till the end of his life, he exercises a good influence over the prince and makes an attempt to save Edward:

Edward, this Mortimer aims at they life:

O fly him, then.

But Kent fails in his mission primarily because he sees the situation more reflectively than actively. His counsels of moderation are timidly and ineffectually proferred, and when Mortimer is talking war, Kent merely observes sadly that it would be better if ‘all well and Edward well reclaimed He is seen still more timid when he speaks to the Queen:

Madam, without offence if I may ask

How will you deal with Edward in his fall?

In his timidity and ineffectiveness, he is most unlike his namesake in King Lear. He acts passively throughout the drama. Lear’s Kent was also banished, but his way was very different; so were his motives. This Kent joins the rebels because he resents the way the king has treated him: ‘dost thou banish me thy presence? Lear’s Kent had far better grounds for complaint, but Edward’s shares in the general littleness. His right-mindedness does not always stand the test, and he has not sufficient energy and courage to command much respect.



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