Study Guide

Edward II

by Christopher Marlowe

Edward II Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

King Edward II recalls his favorite, Pierce de Gaveston, from exile; Gaveston joyfully returns to England. While hurrying to Westminster to rejoin his monarch, he comes upon the king talking to his courtiers. Secretively, he hides from the royal assemblage and overhears the noblemen discussing his repatriation.

They discuss how Edward, an immature and weak-minded yet stubborn man, nourished for Gaveston an unwholesome and unyielding love, in spite of the fact that Edward’s father originally banished the man. The noblemen of England, sworn to uphold the decree of exile, hate the royal favorite. Most passionate in his fury is young Mortimer. Others are not far behind Mortimer in their antipathy, and they threaten the king with revolt if Gaveston remains in England. None but the king’s brother Edmund will harbor Gaveston. The fiery discussion ends; the nobles stalk off in haughty displeasure.

Gaveston, still in hiding, rejoices in his knowledge of the king’s love, for Edward reveals his pettiness by his unconcern for the welfare of his kingdom as weighed against his desire to clasp Gaveston to his bosom once more. When Gaveston reveals his presence, Edward ecstatically rewards him with a series of titles and honors, the scope of which causes even Edmund to comment wryly that Edward outdid himself. Gaveston claims with a smirk that all he desires is to be near his monarch. To add salt to the kingdom’s wounds, Edward sentences the Bishop of Coventry, the instigator of Gaveston’s exile, to die in the Tower of London.

This action, coupled with the titles and estates lavishly bestowed upon Gaveston, so incenses the rebellious nobility that under the leadership of the two Mortimers, Warwick, and Lancaster, they plot to kill Gaveston. The Archbishop of Canterbury, protesting the damage inflicted upon the Church by the king’s folly, allies himself with the plot. Queen Isabella, who professes to love her lord dearly, complains to the noblemen that since Gaveston’s return Edward snubs her beyond endurance. She agrees that Gaveston must be done away with, but she cautions the angry noblemen not to injure Edward.

When the rebellious nobility seize Gaveston, Edward, yielding to the archbishop’s threat to enforce his papal powers against the king, can do nothing but stand by and allow his beloved friend to be carried off. A bitter exchange of words between the king and his lords is tempered by the gentle sentiments of Gaveston as he bids Edward farewell. Driven by childish anger, perhaps incensed by an intuitive knowledge, Gaveston attacks the queen and accuses her of a clandestine association with the younger Mortimer, a charge that she denies. Sensing his advantage, Edward seizes upon the accusation as a wedge to undermine his enemies, and he compels the queen to use her influence to save Gaveston. The queen, because of her love for Edward and her hopes for a reconciliation, resolves to mend the rift by abetting her husband.

At first the nobles disdainfully refuse to hear her...

(The entire section is 1240 words.)

Edward II Summary

Act I Summary

Act I, scene i
The first scene opens with Gaveston reading a letter from Edward II, newly crowned sovereign of England...

(The entire section is 652 words.)

Act II Summary

Act II, scene i
In this brief scene the innocent niece of the king, muses upon the affections of her avowed lover, Gaveston. She...

(The entire section is 262 words.)

Act III Summary

Act III, scene i
While waiting for the king's visit, Gaveston is surprised by Warwick, who takes him away to be killed. The king...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Act IV Summary

Act IV, scenes i through v
Kent proclaims the wrongs of Edward and once again joins Mortimer to meet the Queen and her son in...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Act V Summary

Act V, scene i
The king is deposed, but his crown is needed to instate the new king. Edward at first refuses to give it up,...

(The entire section is 500 words.)