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Themes

(Drama for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 719 words.)