Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II: The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer is an intense and swiftly moving account of a king controlled by his basest passions, a weak man who becomes a puppet of his homosexual lover, and pays a tragic price for forsaking the governance of his country. The action takes place in early fourteenth-century England, during a period when England was surrounded by enemies in Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, and France. Edward, preoccupied by the banishment of his lover, Gaveston, barely acknowledges the nascent crises that threaten his realm; he indulges his passions and abdicates his duties, failing to recognize that his willful and persistent refusal to attend to state affairs is eroding his royal authority. It is this resulting loss of power, which he has brought upon himself by his own irresponsibility, that irks him more than the absence of his lover. He picks his battles, preferring those petty skirmishes over Gaveston's fate to those that would benefit his rule and enhance the power of the state. When a group of nobles has Gaveston executed, Edward's own execution soon follows, and the play closes by unveiling the Machiavellian vices of the would-be saviors.
Marlowe found most of his material for this play in the third volume of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587). He stayed close to the account, but he embellished history with the character of Lightborn (or Lucifer) as Edward's assassin. First played in 1593 or 1594, Edward II was printed in 1594. It has played sporadically throughout the twentieth century, usually to audiences surprised by the power of a work by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries.
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