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Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II can be (and has been) read as a satirical work in a number of different ways. Various analysts emphasize different kinds of satire in the play, including the following:
- satire of Edward’s own weaknesses, especially his inability to control his passions.
- satire of Edward’s neglect of his duties as king.
- satire of Edward’s neglect of his obligations as a husband.
- satire of the king’s homosexual impulses.
- satire of Gaveston as a corrupting influence on the king.
- satire of the king’s inappropriate promotions of Gaveston.
- satire of Edward’s mistreatment of the clergy.
- satire of Edward’s violations of the rites and traditions of kingship.
- satire of mercenary motives in connection with the mower who reveals the king’s location, thus allowing him to be captured and eventually killed.
- satire of the hypocrisy of the queen in the final act.
- satire of the mistreatment of the king in the final act.
- satire of the political ambitions of Mortimer.
One aspect of the play’s satire is sounded quite early, when Gaveston contemplates some of the means by which he will control and manipulate 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:
Music and poetry is his delight;
Therefore I'll have Italian masks by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies, and pleasing shows . . .
These lines can be read as satirizing the scheming nature of Gaveston, the shallowness of Edward’s interests, the ease with which Edward can be manipulated, the perversion of the proper purposes of art, and the superficiality of much existence at royal courts, which should ideally be fountains of virtue.
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