What have you found of interest in Marlowe's presentation of history in Edward II?
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What have you found of interest in Marlowe's presentation of history in Edward II? Throughout Edward II, Marlowe uses a variety of stimulating techniques to present the drama as a history play. Marlowe manages to use the tradition of the chronicle or history play and develop it further producing an extremely compelling, unique piece of work. It is a play which on one hand shows structural affinities with the chronicle plays, in that it has a stirring plot with a rapid flow of incident and plenty of variety while on the other hand it has points of contact with tragedy in its attempts to show on stage heart-rending scenes filled with passionate utterances, deep pathos and high tragic dignity. This can be seen in Act four, scene two where the pace quickens as Marlowe deviates between countries. We see Edward receiving the news that Isabella, Mortimer, Kent and the young prince Edward are collecting an army in Hainault to attack on King Edward: 'Ah villains, hath that Mortimer escaped? With him is Edmund gone associate? And will sir John of Hainault lead the round? Marlowe therefore states historical moments, which did actually occur, but real, human, affectionate feelings are also shown from Edward, which makes the drama so much more intriguing. Also, in this scene the importance of Prince Edward continues to grow in a carefully controlled way. In the midst of Edward's anger and warlike preparations, Marlowe now has him spare a moment to think kindly of his son, whom he describes as a 'little boy': 'Ah, nothing grieves me but my little boy If thus misled to countenance their ills.'
This rapid movement helps the play to display historical events, keep us intrigues and allows us to experience a variety of settings. Moreover, Marlowe makes a step in the direction of the Shakespearian type of history plays, altogether remarkable for its economy and dramatic tension and skilful use of its source-for here he is handling social groups and is not concerned so much with one dominating individual. For example the first few scenes show clearly the contrast of society on which the play is based. In Act one, scene one the nobles enter in their formal attire to show their sense of importance and position in the social hierarchy of the time. Their clothing would distinctly contrast with that of Gaveston who is at a lower social class than them. This is typical of the society on which Marlowe wanted his play to structure upon. Everyone wanted a frivolous lifestyle and the higher they were on the social scale the easier this was to achieve. In Jarman's version of 'Edward II' he shows the distinguishable classes of society. He has the nobles and Queen Isabel dressed in royal colours such as red and purple to reflect their important state whilst Gaveston wears a ripped black shirt and trousers, reflecting his unimportance in society. A particularly large range of characters, part of whose dramatic function is to display the rich variety of social classes whose lives are affected by Edward's behaviour and bad government, populates the geographical space.
It is within a structure supported by 'nature' that feudal duty has its place. This is why the Lords can feel that they no longer owe Edward the duty of allegiance, once they see him as unnaturally neglecting them. This can be seen in Act 4, scene 5 as Mortimer Junior says: 'Madam, have done with care and sad complaint; Your King hath wronged your country and himself.' Therefore Marlowe in using the twin concepts of what is 'natural' and what is 'unnatural'- recurring themes of the play allows us to understand the duties of a King at this time, which therefore makes Edwards's failure so much more apparent. One of Marlowe's narrative techniques is to foreshadow events through curses or promises. For example Mortimer's prophetic curse in Act four, scene five asking that Edward's voyage to Ireland should be turned back by storms, comes uncannily true: 'Some whirlwind fetch them back or sink them all! They shall be started thence, I doubt it not.' This also serves the banal narrative function of preparing the audience to comprehend the situation when precisely this has happened in Act four, scene six. Curses that come true give a play a sense of inevitability, and in a way this is so, since the audience knows that certain historical events happened, and the play must work with those. Thus, the sense of premonition is entirely appropriate to a history play. Marlowe therefore uses a variety of fascinating techniques when presenting history in 'Edward II'. Whether looked at as a history play with a political focus or a tragedy with a personal focus it is definitely an exhilarating, unique piece of work.
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