Christopher Marlowe’s Tragic Art in the Death Scene of “Edward II”

The dominant theme of Edward II is the theme of many of Marlowe's   (and Shakespeare's) histories: the will to power and, ultimately, the   corruption inherent in power. Edward isn't thwarted and murdered because of   his affection for Gaveston. Rather, it is because in bestowing such   extravagant favors on Gaveston, a commoner, he is subverting the "natural"   order of his position, neglecting both his kingdom and his family. He comes to   realize, too late, that his arrogance and his disrespect of himself - or, more precisely, the institution he represents: the monarchy - has cost him his love   (Gaveston) and his life ("What is a king but a shadow on a summer's day?') But   the theme is carried on through the machinations of Isabella and Mortimer.  Read More Drama True, she may be seen as a "wronged wife", but her revenge in collusion with   Mortimer is also a subversion of the "natural" order. She is willing to commit   both murder and regicide to achieve her ends and she, too, is thwarted by her   son when he assumes Edward's throne and puts her away.

Edward II: image : wikipedia
 In accordance to history Edward II ascended to the throne of England in 1307 following the death of his father, King Edward I (Edward Longshanks). Read More Elizabethan Literature Known as Edward of   Carnarvon, the second King Edward proved to be a weak ruler who suffered   military and political defeats as well as attacks on his personal character.  Though outnumbering his foe by nearly 3-to-1, Edward's army was soundly defeated by the Scottish army under King Robert the Bruce at the Battle of   Bannockburn, a major victory in Scotland's fight for independence.  Edward married Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France, in order to   strengthen the alliance between the two countries. Read More Drama But Edward apparently   engaged in homosexual encounters, particularly with Piers Gaveston, who he had made regent. This rumored affair so undermined Edward's authority that   Gaveston was murdered under orders by the Earl of Warwick. Edward's marriage   was also damaged, and when Queen Isabella was sent to France to negotiate with   her family, she remained and joined forces with Roger Mortimer. Together, they   invaded England, much to the surprise of her husband the king.Read More Elizabethan Literature

Edward's army failed to rally around him, and the invasion by Mortimer and   Queen Isabella gained strength. Edward abandoned London and the city fell to   the French invaders in October 1326. Edward was soon captured and imprisoned   at Kenilworth Castle.  Escaping execution, Edward instead agreed to abdicate the crown to his 14-year   old son, who would become King Edward III. Read More Elizabethan Literature Edward of Carnarvon was murdered   while in custody the following April--smothered by a mattress while a hot iron   tube was inserted into his anus.

The fifth scene of the fifth act in “Edward II” is the murder scene. It is laid in the castle where imprisoned Edward is subjected to endless disgrace and inhuman torture. Matrevis and Gurney who have been posted there by Mortimer take all possible measures to torture the king by compelling him to stand up to the knees in mire and puddle for ten days.Read More Elizabethan Literature To allow him no sleep, one plays continually upon a drum. Read More Drama The king can not eat the bread and water which they throw at him. He is badly in need of sleep and sustenance. He can not stand any more the stifling stench and filth. Matrevis and Gurney wonder that still – “the king dies not”. But the king must die soon. So Mortimer has sent Lightborn, a professional murderer, to do the rest. Lightborn, as it appears, has been directed by Mortimer to murder the king artfully so as to leave no sign of the violent death. Lightborn wants to meet the king and asks. Matrevis and Gurney to keep ready a red hot iron spit, a table and a feather lead.

            Lightborn with a lantern in his hand enters into the dark dungeon. The king is startled. From the looks of the murderer the king knows that death is staring him in the face. But the man conceals his dark motive and says that he has come to comfort the king and bring him joyful news. Read More Drama He poses to be terribly shocked by the deplorable plight of the king in the horrible dungeon. Lightborn, a past master in the art of dissimulation, breaks into crocodile tears:
            “And what eyes refrain from shedding tears,
            To see a king in this most piteous state?”
Lightborn here acts his part to perfection and at least, for sometime the king is mistaken. The king offers his only jewel to this villain to make him swerve from his purpose. But as the king looks at the murderer again, the old suspicion comes back. Read More Elizabethan Literature With a pathetic supplication the king asks the man to kill him when he is wide awake so that at the moment of death he may pray to God to take his soul and condone all his guilt in like. When Lightborn urges the king to lie down and rest, the king pathetically says,
            “But that grief keeps me waking, I should sleep,
            For not these ten days have these eyes’ lids closed.
            Now as I spoak they fall: and yet with fear:
            Open again.
The king falls asleep only to wake up in suspicion at the very next moment. The villain at last tells the truth. Edward cries out, “O spare me”. Read More Elizabethan Literature But it fails to move the story heart of Lightborn. He asks for the table. Matrevis and Gurney run in, place the table on the lying king and press it on until the king dies. When it is all over with the king Gurney states Lightborn to death and they on horse back run away to carry the news to Mortimer.

            The death scene is difficult to match for stark unrelieved pathos. It is one of Marlowe’s master strokes to get our sympathy for the king. Read More Elizabethan Literature Edward’s appeal to Lightborn, the description of his miseries to one whom he knows to be his murderer, his longing for sleep, from which, he fears, he will never wake, make up a poignant situation unparalleled in Elizabethan drama. In fact, the scenes of abduction and murder are the two most powerful tragic scenes in the gallery of English drama. It is in these scenes that Marlowe “has strained to retrieve sympathy for the king”. Read More Drama But to achieve it has not relied on mere physical horrors; with an unmistakable delicacy he pictures the rigors of the prison life and death in the end. We peel that we are face to face with a great human catastrophe which wings the soul within us in sympathetic agony with the king. it has aptly been said by Lamb that “The death scene of Marlowe’s king moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or modern, with which I am acquainted”.

Ardhendu De

1.Web English Teacher
2. History of English Literature- Goodman 
3. University Study Guide: BHU, India.
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