Illustrate the character of Queen Isabella in Marlowe's Edward II.
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.
In Marlowe's play, "Edward ll", we find Queen Isabella a deeply devoted and loving wife when she is first introduced to us in the play. She is always prepared to sacrifice everything, even her life and happiness for the sake of her husband. She is terribly grieved, rather shaken and broken into pieces when she finds the upstart, Gaveston. She wants to leave the court and beweep her saddened and neglected lot, remote from the dins and bustle of society. Therefore, when asked by Young Mortimer where she is going, Queen replies:
"Unto the forest, gentle Mortimer,
To live in grief and baleful discontent;
For now my lord the king regard me not,
But dotes upon the love of Gaveston."
[Act l, SC.ll Lines 47-50]
Though she is ill-treated by her husband and leading a life deprived of her husband's love, yet she is caring and is worried about her husband's safety. The King is too intimate with Gaveston that he does not allow his Queen to touch him. At this Queen expresses her jealousy for Gaveston saying:
"Villain ! 'tis you that rob me of my lord."
[Act l, Sc. lV Line 160]
By this we can say that she tried to offer her heart completely to Edward with all her womanly zeal, but she is thwarted. This cause is in working to bring forth the another aspect of her character.
On Gaveston's banishment, when the King accuses her, she meets Mortimer secretly and tells him about the King's suspicion and make a resolve to recall Gaveston. She succeds and earn praise from her husband. But as the King is completely bewithched by Gaveston, he deserts the Queen once again and it is then she thinks of Young Mortimer, as is expressed by her in one of her soliloquies:
So,well hast thou deserved, sweet Mortimer,
As Isabel could live with thee forever.
In vain I look or love at Edward's hand,
Whose eyes are fixed on not but Gaveston."
[Act ll, Sc. lV Line 59-62]
Here she goes an unexpected change and becomes hostile to King Edward, and is bent upon destroying him. She vividly keeps out her heart in her soliloquy and confesses her love for Young Mortimer. Even then, she tries to win her husband by her entreaties, and decides that if she would not succeed in her endeavours she would look to it that Gaveston is killed. And, thus the Queen assumes the role of the Machiaveland displays her marked characteristic of dissembling.
Later we see that she is bent to remove the King from the throne of England and she succeeds in dethroning him but later she has to face the consequences, for fate becomes hostile in the form of her son. In the end, she is dealt with strongly by her son. As a result of her conspiracy, she burns her own hands and is insulted by her son. We evaluate her as an unnatural wife, a bundle of pretension, a greedy and a self seeking woman. She plays a pivotal role in the progress of the plot and decides the destiny of the play.