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.
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.
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 and time. Marlowe reconstructs the story out of this jumble and creates a streamlined narrative that focuses on a few key events and relationships that led to Edward II's downfall. Modern scholars, in comparing Marlowe's text to Holinshed's and to other historical accounts of the time, have for the most part authenticated Marlowe's narrative, affirming that these are generally accurate (if dramatized) representations of events that took place during Edward II's reign.
Machiavelli and Edward II
Many scholars have noted the importance of Machiavelli's political treatise The Prince in discussing Edward II. Though Machiavelli himself would say that The Prince merely provides instructions and guidelines on how to be an effective leader, most readers agree that the methods Machiavelli advocates are brutal, manipulative, and, in certain lights, evil. The word "Machiavellian" has become synonymous with devious, self-serving behavior, in large part because Machiavelli encouraged princes to use force whenever necessary to achieve their goals. In Machiavelli's mind, a prince should be a cunning mastermind capable of outmaneuvering his enemies both in battle and in politics. Edward II does neither. Edward breaks what Machiavelli would consider the cardinal rule: he lets his whims and passions get in the way of governing. Edward's gallivanting and inattention allow the ambitious Mortimer, Earl of March, to plot against him. Ultimately, it is Mortimer, a traitor to the crown, who displays the characteristics Machiavelli praised in The Prince. Mortimer uses his wealth, connections, and influence to manipulate events in Edward II, eventually placing himself in a position of power from which he has King Edward tortured and killed. In the process, however, he reveals himself to be a fatally ambitious man and makes enemies of his friends—including Queen Isabella, whom he professes to love. Mortimer leads the Marcher Lords against Edward II, deposing the king and making himself the de facto ruler of England while Edward III comes of age. Mortimer misuses his power by betraying Edward III's wishes and executing Kent, who could have become a powerful ally for the young king.
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