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Queen Isabella in Christopher Marlowe's Edward II is a complex and at times inconsistent character. Married to Edward II at the early age of 12, she was never far from the political intrigues between France and England. Complicating what must already have been a complex situation for such a young girl, she immediately realized that her husband's relationship with Piers Gaveston was probably stronger than his relationship with her, and that he repeatedly over the course of the play would endanger his kingdom and marriage due to this obsession. Although at the start of the play, Isabella is portrayed as loyal to Edward II despite his weakness for Gaveston and general incompetence as a king, her role always seems to be one of constant negotiation, compromise, and duplicity, traits very necessary for survival in the fraught political atmosphere of the play. Her adulterous relationship with Mortimer and scheming on behalf of her son towards the end of the play make her a stronger, if less sympathetic character by the standards of the original audience.
Isabella’s character is a model example of Marlowe’s skill in turning historical fact, as recorded in the Chromicles, into dramatic characterization. In the first acts, he shows her loyalty to Edward, despite losing his affection in competition with Gaveston, and her desire to forgive – “For now my lord the King regards me not,/ But dotes upon the love of Gaveston..” In the military/political struggles of the last acts, her attention shifts to her son’s accession to the throne, the complicated struggles with France’s support, the designs of Mortimer and Kent, and similar public matters. At the play’s final scenes reveal her nobility, we see her passion for righteousness, and her desire to keep her son in power, even after he sends her to the Tower “ Then come, sweet death, and rid me of this grief.” She is, in many respects, the noblest character in the play.
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