A play written by Christopher Marlowe about the life and death of King Edward II of England. It monkeys around with the history a bit with, at one point (just after the death of Piers Gaveston) several years being condensed into one scene. However, there are a lot of scenes which correspond to actual historical events, such as the description of Edward's humiliating defeat by the Scots (at the Battle of Bannockburn), and the basic plot is historically accurate. It can be compared to Shakespeare's Richard II.
Act I The play opens with a monologue from Gaveston, who has been exiled to France. The letter says that Edward I has died, and Gaveston's childhood sweetheart, Edward II, is on the throne. Gaveston, overjoyed, heads back to England. His arrival is not treated with joy by the nobles and bishops who, along with Edward I, exiled Gaveston in the first place. Edward, of course, is delighted, and showers Edward with titles. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Coventry, on protesting, is arrested. The nobles later succeed in having Gaveston exiled to Ireland; the Queen, however, in order to regain Edward's affections, has to persuade them to let him come back. Gaveston is betrothed to Lady Margaret de Clare.
Act II Lady Margaret's servants and friends, including the Spencers, decide to support the king. Meanwhile, Mortimer Snr. is taken prisoner by the Scots, and Edward's refusal to ransom him triggers a full-scale rebellion by the nobles. Edmund/Kent, the king's brother, finally joins the nobles, on the grounds that Edward's reign is harming the country. Isabella, too joins the rebels, but with more selfish motives. Gaveston is eventually captured by the rebels; Arundel offers to guard him to and from the king so that Gaveston and Edward can have some time together, but they are ambushed en route by Warwick, and Gaveston is beheaded.
Act III Edward finds out that Gaveston has been executed. This act is mostly taken up with battles between the rebels and the king, who has chosen Spencer Jnr. as his new favourite. King Valois of France takes Normandy because Edward has not been paying sufficient homage; Edward sends Isabella to negotiate with him (Isabella is Valois' sister).
Act IV Edward manages to persuade King Valois of France not to aid the rebels. However, he is unsuccessful in capturing Mortimer, whose forces go to attack Edward. Edmund/Kent, in a monologue declares Mortimer a traitor. Edward and his men hide in a monastery; eventually they are found by Rice Ap Howell and the Earl of Leicester. Spencer Jnr. and Baldock are executed; Edward is imprisoned.
Act V Edward is imprisoned in Killingworth (Kenilworth) Castle, where Leicester and Winchester go to ask him for the crown. This scene can be compared to the one in Richard II where Richard is in two minds about giving the crown to Bolingbroke. He gives up the crown, and Mortimer Jnr. can now rule through young Edward III. Edward II is moved to Berkeley Castle, where he is kept in a sewer. Edmund/Kent attempts to rescue him while he is being transferred, but fails. Mortimer realises that Edward must die for him to consolidate his power, and writes a vaguely-worded order to this effect, so no-one can accuse him of having Edward murdered. Edward is killed by Lightborn, who is in turn stabbed by Gurney, a gaoler. Mortimer also has Edmund/Kent beheaded as a traitor. Edward III, on hearing of his father's death, accuses Mortimer and Isabella of having him killed. He has Mortimer beheaded and Isabella imprisoned, declaring:
"Sweet father here, unto thy murdered ghost,
I offer up this wicked traitor's head;
And let these tears distilling from mine eyes
Be witness of my grief and innocency."
The play is not really a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense; Shakespeare's tragic heroes, like Othello, were men of high birth, with one fatal flaw which meant that they lost everything. Edward is certainly of high birth (king of England!), but has rather more than one fatal flaw. In fact, you'd probably do better searching for his one non-fatal good point. However, my English teacher was talking about the Medieval idea of tragedy, being a half-turn of the wheel of fortune, with the guy at the top ending up at the bottom. Edward II, as well as being a history, is more of a tragedy along these lines, with first Edward and Gaveston losing everything, and then Isabella and Mortimer junior, having gained the kingdom, being defeated by Edward III.
Another issue with the play (in particular with it being a tragedy) is that Edward, bless him, is neither a sympathetic nor the sole central character. Firstly, Edward is annoying. He is a weak king by the standards of the time. He cannot control his barons, he loses spectacularly at all his wars, he spends treasury money on his favourites (probably read 'lovers') he pisses off his wife (although, to be fair, he had produced a viable heir by that point), and he runs around with his boyfriend who is, quite frankly, a non-aristocratic bit of rough. The audience does feel, "Well, Edward, you got yourself into this one." On the other hand, it is clear that he loves Gaveston, and the audience does feel very sorry for him when he is imprisoned and murdered. Queen Isabella, too, has no real 'poor injured wife' status, as she is having an affair with Mortimer Jnr. and plotting to rule the kingdom. Also, his status as central character is not clear. Mortimer Jnr., Queen Isabella and Gaveston all have comparable amounts of dialogue and stage time, and major roles in the plot. While he is the title character, the full title of the play is: 'The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer', futher indicating that the play is not solely about Edward.
As Othello is not a play about race, so Edward II is not a play about homosexuality. Yes, Edward is gay, or at least bisexual. No, Gaveston is not popular. However, Edward's downfall comes about, first and foremost, because he is a bad king (see above). The nobility justify their coup on the grounds that it is for the good of the country, although it is obvious by the end of the play that the motives of Mortimer Jnr. and Isabella are not completely selfless. While the nobility do make nasty comments about Gaveston, it is more on the basis that he does not have a hereditary peerage. Their reference to him as a "base peasant" is clearly an exaggeration, but their main gripe seems to be that he is not an aristocrat. The impression is given that, had he been a bit nicer to Isabella, a bit more discreet, and had he picked a more aristocratic boyfriend, his homosexuality would have been less of an issue.
The characters are as follows:
- Edward II, king of England
- Queen Isabella, wife of Edward
- Prince Edward, later Edward III, their son
- Edmund, Earl of Kent, Edward II's brother
- Piers Gaveston, Edward's lover
- Mortimer junior, Isabella's lover and aspirant to the throne
- Mortimer senior, his uncle
- Earl of Lancaster
- Earl of Warwick
- Earl of Pembroke
- Earl of Arundel
- Earl of Leicester
- Lady Margaret de Clare, proposed wife of Gaveston
- Baldock, Margaret's tutor
- Spencer the Son, favourite after Gaveston's death
- Spencer the Father, father of the above
- The King's Champion
- The Bishop of Coventry
- The Bishop of Canterbury
- The Bishop of Winchester
- An Abbot
- Some Monks
- Gurney, Mortimer Jnr.'s henchman
- Matrevis, Mortimer Jnr.'s henchman
- Lightborn, Edward's murderer
- James, servant to Pembroke
- Rice Ap Howell
- Mayor of Bristow
- Sir John of Hainault, a friend of Isabella
- Three poor men
- A stable boy
- A mower
- A herald.