Edward II: The Illusion of Integrity
BECAUSE OF ITS DIRECT TREATMENT OF HOMOSEXUAL LOVE, EDWARD IIl is a crucial play in the Marlowe canon, and deserves the most careful critical attention. As if intuiting his muse’s dependence on narcissistic fantasies, Marlowe again chooses a protagonist who displays marked narcissistic pathology; however, as in The Jew of Malta and The Massacre at Paris, he explores psychological alternatives through the creation of contrasting characters. While Edward’s failure is in fact analyzed fairly objectively in strictly social or political terms, in the final analysis the play remains an emotionally disturbing, even devastating, portrayal of the failure of humanity in general to achieve viable individuation, psychologically reinforcing relationships, and constructive social interaction. Marlowe’s darkly secular social vision remains traumatized, uprooted from a traditionally religious worldview but still deeply emotionally and psychologically dependent on its absent spirituality.
Kuriyama remarks in her 1980 study that the play “has sparked no lively controversy… . The poet’s attitude toward his protagonist, for once, is clear and consistent: our sympathies are encouraged to run fairly close to Kent’s.”2 While this statement may be true with respect to the general manipulation of audience sympathies, the play has become, and promises to remain, controversial. Kuriyama does refer to the “generic” dispute over whether Edward II is to be regarded as an Elizabethan history play or rather the personal tragedy of an individual who “happens to be the head of a state,” as Harry Levin put it.3 Claude J. Summers, in “Sex, Politics, and Self-Realization in Edward II,” points out that the play has been dismissed as a proper “history” because of “its failure to promulgate a political lesson compatible with Tudor orthodoxy"; that is, it fails to offer a providential vision of history.4 While it may appear to some a perversion of postmodern sensibility to assume that such a failure should make the play more, not