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In Marlowe's own life probably many historical plays were written and acted ; two are well-known, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, 'partly in prose, partly in blank verse frequently of a very rude description,' and The Troublesome Raigne of King John. And it is elmost certain that Peele’s Famous Chronicle of Edward I, sirnamed Edward Longshanks, with his returne from the Holy Land, had already been acted. Two others also, the First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of York and Lancaster, and The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke were produced at about the same time (1591 ?). Much controversy has been spent on the question of the authorship of these two plays, and the small points of likeness between them and Marlowe's Edward the Second. But on the whole it is not proved that Marlowe had any hand in the composition of them. All these plays are little more than somewhat rough reproductions of one or other of the popular chronicles, such as Fabyan, or Hall, or Holinshed, with very little dramatic construction, and very little development of motive and of character.
$ 7. Marlowe's Edward the Second, on the contrary, is a fairly typical English historical play. It is history, in the main, well presented, history well dramatised. The wicked are punished, but that is rather accidental ; for the tragedy is not the poet's, it is part of the history. The poet does not moralise, or teach a lesson. He lets his characters speak for themselves ; the audience may see the King's weakness, his coldness to his wife, and his carelessness about his French dominions and the honour of England. They may see the roughness of the Barons, the haughty, selfish, and unpatriotic spirit of Mortimer, the unfaithfulness and hypocrisy of the Queen ; and they may form their own judgments..
The dramatic structure is good; the difficulty of presenting so long a period as a whole reign is well and easily got over by careful compression, and by a skilful union of the stories of Gaveston and Spenser --Act ii. Sc. I. And the poet's
power is strongly shown in his successful treatment of King Edward himself. The historian writes of the Edward II of history: 'His reign is a tragedy, but one that lacks in its true form the element of pity; for there is nothing in Edward, miserable as his fate is, that invites or deserves sympathy 1.' But the critic, Charles Lamb, says of the king of the dramatist : “the death scene of Marlowe's king moves pity and terror beyond any scene ancient or modern, with which I am acquainted And a comparison of the King Edward II of
Marlowe with the King Richard II of Shakespeare cannot X fail to leave a strong impression of the force, passion, and
tragic power of Marlowe.
younger Mortimer, and Prince Edward,- bear marks of genius. The easy, lighthearted, scoffing, intriguing Frenchman, the favourite who deserves his fate for the evil he has brought on the realm, yet stirs a certain sympathy with his affection for the King, and his gay impudent air of superiority to his rough unjust enemies. The younger Mortimer, haughty and selfish, coarse and forward in his opposition to the King, no representative of the older patriot barons, such as Simon de Montfort, or William Marshall, or even Hubert de Burgh, is a fit companion of Thomas of Lancaster. He is rightly presented as rather jealous of the upstart darling of the infatuated Prince, than careful of the law or of the rights of the people. Easily and naturally when the fit time comes, he is the accomplice of an unfaithful queen. He usurps the royal power for his own selfish interest, and ignobly hires a vulgar murderer to get rid of the King. The poet is true to history: he does not, like Daniel or Drayton, Tend his genius to make unlawful love into an attractive story of a hero and heroine. Yet Mortimer is just saved from meanness by the high spirit that, to the last, scorns the 'paltry boy,' and spurns 'base Fortune' who has deceived him, and readily
i Stubbs, Constitutional History, ii. 314.
as a traveller, Goes to discover countries yet unknown.' There is much skill in the presentation of Prince Edward. He is the boy too young to be responsible for the doings of father or mother. If it is his duty, he is ready to go to France, ready to return trustfully to his father. No word of scorn for his father passes his lips; no suspicion of his mother is welcome; he is unwilling to believe his uncle al traitor-not willing to take his father's place as king ; yet he behaves with firmness and decision. His affection seems) to give a naturalness to our pity for the murdered king. Yet his vigorous action hints that a hero king has come to take the place of the weakness which has so naturally worked out its tragical ending.
On the character of the Queen as drawn by the poet, Professor Ward, History of Dramatic Literature, i: p. 197, makes this criticism : 'in the character of the Queen alone I miss any indication of the transition from her faithful but despairing attachment to the king to a guilty love for Mortimer. But the poet's treatment of the character has grown naturally out of the history, and especially out of the mode in which Holinshed has dealt with the Queen. She is at first much attached to the King, i. 4. 161-187, 332–335; ii. 4. 15-21; but is alienated from him by his love of Gaveston, his fondness for the Spensers, and his insulting treatment of herself, 1. 4. 146 ; ii. 4. 24–30, 62. The historians are reticent as to her familiarity with Mortimer, and say nothing of the growth of her love for him. The poet then dwells on the care with which the Queen hides her guilty love and dissembles to the last. The King in his rough ill-temper hints at intimacy with Mortimer very early, i. 4. 155, 323, and Gaveston ventures to do so, i. 4. 148, but it is rather a political intimacy, a friendship directed against Gaveston. It is a hint to the spectators of the play, but no more. The poet lets us see the Queen work on Mortimer, but the Barons find nothing suspicious in their conference, or in the yielding
of Mortimer. They recall Gaveston, but they do not doubt her love for the King. Sir John of Hainault, the Barons, and the young Prince, have no suspicion of her even after the change in her affections, noted in ii. 4. 61. She is a ' fine dissembler,' and does not allow the transition to be clearly seen. She keeps up her “fine dissembling' before them all, iv. 5. 73 ; v. 2. 27, 68–72, 89; v. 5.47 ; v. 6. 86; and the calm cautiousness of her character in its deceit is in contrast to the outspoken love of the earlier portions of the play, when she needed no concealment.
The poet follows Holinshed in this : Kent alone, the creation of his own imagination, discovers her guilty love, as he detects Mortimer's ambition, iv. 5. 22, 23; but she keeps up appearances to the end, v. 6. 86. The lapse of time and the position of Mortimer as champion of the Queen against Gaveston and the Spensers are enough to account for the change. To her he seems at first the noble protector of 'a miserable and distressed queen.'
The transition from the assertion of love to the King to the acknowledgement of love for Mortimer is abrupt in ii. 4. 15, and ii. 4. 60, but it is gentle and natural compared with the scene in Shakespeare's Richard III, Act i. sc. 2, in which the wild hatred of a woman mourning over the dead body of her murdered husband is changed into acceptance of the love of the murderer.
§ 8. The view of the history of the reign given by Marlowe is generally correct. But he omits and condenses freely, so as to make the action more continuous and dramatic. Thus "he omits the King's voyage to France and his marriage, the second banishment of Gaveston to Flanders, and the banishment and recall of the Spensers. He transposes the battle of Bannockburn from the seventh year of Edward II to the lifetime of Gaveston, not later than the fifth year of the reign ; and thus can present it effectively as a disaster occasioned by the favourite's idle wanton administration, ii. 2. 180–194. The whole story of the Spensers with supreme skill and judgment is connected with that of Gaveston by making the younger Spenser a page, or esquire, in attendance on the Earl of Gloucester's daughter, who is to marry Gaveston, and by representing the elder Spenser as a stranger introduced to the king by his son. The attack of the Barons on the Spensers, which belonged to the twelfth year of the reign, is brought into close connexion with the death of Gaveston in the fifth. The principal movements of the Baronial War-which really consisted of (1) the surrender of the two Mortimers to the King's grace at or near Shrewsbury; (2) operations against Thomas of Lancaster and the Earl of Hereford about Burton-on-Trent and Pomfret ; and (3) the signal defeat of those noblemen at Boroughbridgeare easily and naturally related as a single victory gained by the King over their combined forces. Warwick is introduced after the battle of Boroughbridge to meet the punishment due to his murder of Gaveston, whereas in fact his death took place before that battle. In Act v. the whole action is so condensed as to omit the long period of Mortimer's usurpation of power, and swift punishment is made to overtake those who have sinned. Mortimer himself is executed by order of the young King before the body of the murdered Edward has been buried.
§ 9. The character of Edmund Earl of Kent is the poet's own creation. The Kent of his authorities was a wholly unimportant person, who indeed was but six years old when he is introduced by Marlowe as supporting the King in the Council (Act i. sc. 4). Taking a hint perhaps from the indecision of the Duke of York, uncle of Richard II, and more probably from a study of the fickleness of the ill-fated Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, the poet has modelled an effective character (cf. The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, sc. 19. 54-67). Feeble and yet impulsive, as becomes a brother of the King Edward II, he is never'in one stay. Hurt and irritated at his brother's infatuation for Gaveston, and feeling with the Barons when touched by the