Blank Verse

Christopher Marlowe wrote Edward II in blank verse, a verse form utilizing unrhymed lines with traditional meter. Marlowe didn't invent blank verse, but he did popularize it among English dramatists, many of whom wrote in rhyming verse prior to the posthumous publication of Edward II. Marlowe's blank verse freed him from the constraints of traditional rhyming poetry, allowing him to write in a natural rhythm, producing dialogue that sounded colloquial and unrehearsed. He adhered to the constraints of iambic pentameter (lines of ten syllables and five metrical feet, where the "feet" are pairs of one stressed and one unstressed syllable) but was otherwise free to experiment. Shakespeare would continue Marlowe's experiments in blank verse to great effect.

Historical Drama

Edward II falls into the category of "historical drama"—a genre for which Shakespeare was famous, with Richard III being a prime example. Historical drama is one of the three main genres of Western theater, alongside tragedy and comedy. Traditionally, history plays are based on historical narratives of some importance, as is Edward II, which dramatizes the downfall of King Edward II of England, who reigned from 1307 to 1327. Other important historical figures include Queen Isabella, Edward's wife; Piers Gaveston, Edward's lover and favorite; and Mortimer Junior, Earl of March, who leads the Marcher lords against Edward in the Despenser War. Marlowe compresses the events of Edward II's twenty-year reign into one play, bringing drama to the historical narrative.

Source Material

Marlowe used Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland as source material while writing Edward II. Holinshed's narrative of the reign of Edward II is non-chronological, with a number of events appearing disjointed in place...

(The entire section is 789 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Blank Verse
Blank verse, unrhymed lines with a measured rhythm, was not invented by Christopher Marlowe, but he is credited with...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Center of English political power and of King Edward’s monarchy. Several locations within London are settings for important scenes, including the royal palace, the new temple (a center of legal authority), and the Tower of London, the traditional place of detention for important political prisoners. The first scene of the play is set on a London street and the last at the royal palace.


*Paris. Capital of the French monarchy and home of Edward II’s queen Isabella, sister of the French king. It is in Paris that Isabella meets Kent and the younger Mortimer, with whom she plans to invade England and make war against her husband.

*Neath Abbey

*Neath Abbey. Church in Glamorganshire, Wales, where King Edward is arrested by his enemies after failing to escape to Ireland. Edward II was born in Carnarvon Castle in Wales and was England’s first Prince of Wales.

*Berkeley Castle

*Berkeley Castle (BAHRK-lee). Castle in Gloucestershire that is the place of Edward’s final incarceration and murder.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The Reigns of Edward I & II
The historical Edward I (1239-1307) was an effective king, although he made excessive demands on...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

14th century: Homosexuality was a fairly common practice in the upper-classes and among courtiers. However, sodomy was officially...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

What consequences should there be for a sovereign who abandons his duties for personal pleasures?

Contrast the rise and fall of...

(The entire section is 99 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

British director Derek Jarman produced a film called Edward II in the United Kingdom in 1991 (it is available on VHS video). Jarman...

(The entire section is 79 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

William Shakespeare's play Richard II depicts another deposed king who laments his loss of status and power. Written just one year...

(The entire section is 193 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Further Reading
Bredbeck, Gregory W. Sodomy and Interpretation: Marlowe to Milton, Cornell University Press, 1991....

(The entire section is 516 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Levin, Harry. The Overachiever: A Study of Christopher Marlowe. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952. Discusses how in Marlowe’s plays men’s passions ultimately betray them. Asserts that whereas Shakespeare deals with the well-being of the state, Marlowe focuses upon individual tragedies.

Marlowe, Christopher. Edward the Second. Edited by Charles R. Forker. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1994. Contains an excellent 136-page introduction. Considers the relationship between Edward II and Shakespeare’s histories.

Ribner, Irving. The English History Play in the...

(The entire section is 205 words.)