Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719
Politics: Machiavellian Style
In Elizabethan England, Niccolo Machiavelli's Il Principe (The Prince, 1505) was considered a treatise on the science of evil statesmanship because it outlined how a cunning tyrant could, through brutal and forceful measures, take and maintain control over a region and a people. In fact, it seemed a veritable handbook for tyranny, with its exhortation that "It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity." Although The Prince advocates morality in a prince, it also urges the ambitious prince to use whatever means necessary to keep the state intact, and that could mean resorting to evil behavior, supposedly in the name of good. Use of force is an art, the most important one the prince has at his disposal: "A prince ought to have no other aim or thought . . . than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules." Marlowe's Edward II explores two aspects of Machiavelli's theory: the misuse of power, and the neglect of power. Edward breaks a Machiavellian cardinal rule when he lets go the royal reins in order to indulge his private desires; The Prince warns, "When princes have thought more of ease than of arms, they have lost their states.'' Edward abdicates his responsibility as head of state, and he pays a dear price for it because the nobles do not tolerate his neglect of power. Mortimer, on the other hand, does not let love interfere with his quest for power; in fact, his love for Isabella serves his larger purpose to take over the state. Thus, at first he seems the epitome of Machiavellian leadership because he does not shirk at using all available means, including executing the king's lover, to restore order to the kingdom. However, Mortimer becomes a Machiavellian despot when he misuses his power in overriding the young King Edward III and executing Kent, who could have become an important and trustworthy advisor to the king. Machiavelli emphasizes that it is always necessary to portray as much "liberty'' and fairness as possible, in order to keep the people's trust. Mortimer betrays this trust by stepping beyond the line of decency and political expediency, for his murder of Kent alienates him from the young king, who decides to gather forces against him.
Duty and Responsibility
Edward's preoccupation with Gaveston would not be a matter of concern to the nobles if it did not threaten the state. It is Edward's lack of interest in pressing matters, such as France's takeover of Normandy and the battle in Scotland, that drives them to the treasonable point of questioning their king. Edward's first order of business as king seems to have been to mail a letter to Gaveston, releasing him from banishment and offering to share the kingdom with him. This act of selfish interest would have been harmless in itself, but Mortimer junior and senior had sworn to Edward I on his deathbed to prevent the return of Gaveston at any cost. The dying king knew that his son's plaything would prevent him from ruling England properly. The titles Edward bestows on his lover shock even Kent, who says "Brother, the least of these may well suffice / For one of greater birth than Gaveston." Edward admits that he cares for nothing but Gaveston, and when the nobles force him to sign a new banishment order, he tries to bribe them with lands and titles, desiring only to hold back '"some nook or corner . . . to frolic with [his] dearest Gaveston.'' He is over-liberal in all of his gifts, not using them strategically to advance the state, but squandering them drunkenly. This lavishness and his constant reveling run the treasury dry, putting the entire country at risk, for he will not be able to conscript, feed, and arm a fighting force without money. Twice he acknowledges, using the same metaphor, that he'd rather England were overwhelmed by the sea than give up his minion; his carelessness nearly drowns his realm. Because of his behavior, honored peers and ambassadors have left his court, and his enemies in Scotland, France, Denmark, and Ireland have taken advantage of his weakness to make inroads into his territory.
See eNotes Ad-Free
Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.