Edward II: The story

A synopsis of Edward II

Playwright: Christopher Marlowe

Synopsis: Michael Forden Walker, ASP


King Edward II recalls his lover Gaveston from exile in France, and Gaveston muses of the sensual entertainments he will dream up for Edward’s delight.  The English Earls Mortimer and Lancaster warn Edward that they swore to his father to prevent Gaveston’s return at all costs, and are prepared to take up arms to keep their promise. Edward is undeterred by their threats and welcomes Gaveston home, lavishing new titles and honors upon him, ignoring his brother the Earl of Kent, who warns against the move.


Mortimer and Lancaster are infuriated at Gaveston’s elevation in rank and his disdain for them.  Their determination is to banish him, and while Queen Isabella is despairing that Edward’s love of Galveston has left her unregarded, she fears the harm that may come to Edward and pleads with the Earls not to take arms against the king.


Undeterred, the lords draw up and sign an order of banishment.  Under threat of deposition, the lords force Edward to subscribe to Gaveston’s exile. Edward swears revenge on the lords and to bring Gaveston back, and he accuses Queen Isabella of a tryst with Mortimer, threatening that she will never more come in his sight unless she can convince the lords to repeal Gaveston’s exile.


In a stunning turnaround, upon Isabella’s private entreaty, Mortimer calls for the repeal of Gaveston from exile, to the horror of Lancaster. Mortimer reasons that Gaveston is a greater danger abroad, having money and friends, and that back in England he may be more easily murdered and eliminated forever. Lancaster agrees, and they bring the news to Edward, who rejoices at it.


Gaveston returns and is confronted with the lords’ scorn, and after a quarrel narrowly escapes an attempt on his life. The lords again threaten civil war and to depose Edward.  Kent tries to convince him to banish Gaveston forever and save the kingdom, but Edward refuses, and Kent changes loyalties and joins the rebellion.


At the advance of the rebel army, Edward and Gaveston flee separately, and Gaveston is captured.  Edward pleads through Spencer to see Gaveston one last time, and the lords agree to send Gaveston to Edward under Kent’s guard, but Mortimer betrays his word and murders Gaveston in the night.


Devastated, Edward swears revenge, and names Spencer his new favorite and bestows new titles upon him. Almost on cue, Kent arrives from the lords demanding Spencer’s separation from the King.


The rebel lords are captured and Edward is exultant, ordering the swift execution of Mortimer and Lancaster and banishing his brother Kent. With the help of Kent, Mortimer escapes, forming an alliance with Isabella on behalf of the young Prince Edward, son to the King, whom they intend to plant on the throne with his father deposed. Left alone, Kent leans to remorse for opposing his brother and King, and the change is not unnoticed when he is next in the company of Isabella and Mortimer, who clearly have something more than a strategic alliance going on…


Mortimer surprises Edward and Spencer in hiding, taking the King prisoner, and leaving Spencer to a desperate act. In prison, Edward yields up his crown, and Kent and Mortimer grow increasingly at odds over what to do with him.


In a whirling conclusion, Mortimer and Isabella seem unassailable and in firm control, Edward meets his fate in prison, and it is not until the final word that we can see the surprising direction in which the kingdom is headed.