Irony of kingship
One way to discuss the “irony of kingship” in Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II is to focus on the ways in which Edward himself falls short of Renaissance ideals of a good king. Edward, in other words, has inherited the title of monarch, but he often fails to live up to the responsibilities of ruling a monarchy. His personal affection for Gaveston is so great that he often neglects his duties to his other subjects. This kind of neglect is already implied in Gaveston’s opening speech. In that speech, Gaveston begins by reading two sentences from a personal letter he has received from Edward: My father is deceas'd. Come, Gaveston,
And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend.
No sooner does Edward’s father die, and no sooner does Edward thereby become king, than he is already focusing, ironically, on his own personal desires. The idea that a monarch could “share” the kingdom with a friend (no matter how “dear”) would have struck many of Marlowe’s contemporaries as foolish and irresponsible. Gaveston’s reaction – in which he delights in the prospects of being “the favourite of a king” – already suggests the potentially ironic outcome of Edward’s plan: he hopes to benefit himself by giving too much power to a man who ironically seems primarily interested in his own “bliss” and “delight.” Instead of feeling summoned to England as a responsible statesman, Gaveston correctly sees an “amorous” intention in Edward’s words. Many Elizabethans would have thought that the king now had a responsibility to put his personal affections aside (especially since he was already married) and act in the best interests of the nation. Instead, Edward’s motives seem, ironically, the opposite of those of a king who should be truly devoted to his people. Clearly, Gaveston has no great desire to go to England and encourage Edward to be a selfless ruler. Instead, Gaveston next mentions his desire to be held in the king’s “arms.” Speaking of Edward, Gaveston...
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