Recently, I’ve posted a few short papers that I wrote during my PhD coursework. Today, I want to share a piece that I found stuck between the pages of David Bevington’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I wrote this piece, I think, in a research methods course during my MA coursework back in 2004. For the course, we looked at texts by Christopher Marlowe and other British Renaissance writers. The paper below is on Marlowe’s Edward II. It’s interesting for me to revisit these pieces, looking at my academic journey, especially in regard to scholarship.
Edward’s abdication of the crown, in Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, shows that a man may own everything but not have what he really needs in order to survive. The Lord of Montaigne says that a man who is able to have the things of this world can have them, but that man must be able to live and function without them. King Edward II does not know how to survive without his crown. He continually fluctuates between relinquishing it and keeping it to his death.
Edward’s pride and fear keep him from achieving the “solitariness” that, according to the Lord of Montaigne, everyman should possess. Montaigne says, “A man that is able may have wives, children, goods, and chiefly health, but not so time himself unto them that his felicity depend on them.” He goes on to say that while a man, that is able, may have these things, the man “should reserve a storehouse for” himself. This is what Edward II cannot do. Edward possesses a kingdom, nobility, land, lovers, and everything else a man of his day could dream of. However, he does not have that “storehouse” for himself. When all of his worldly goods are gone he says, in Act V, scene i, “But what are kings, when regiment is gone,/ But perfect shadows in a sunshine day?” He still holds the crown, but his loyal friends have left him, and he does not have the ability to survive in this state. Edward goes on to say, “My nobles rule; I bear the name of king;/ I wear the crown, but am controlled by them.” He cannot control the solitary state that he resides in at this point.
Montaigne mentions that the storehouse should be the place of solitary meditation between the man and himself. When there he says,
. . .there to discourse, to meditate and laugh, as without wife, without children and goods, without train or servants, that if by any occasion they be lost, it seem not strange to us to pass it over; we have a mind moving and turning itself; it may keep itself company.
Edward cannot do this on his own though because he has become too dependent on the things in his life that keep him occupied. He must remain the king in order to hold on to the things that he has lost. By continuously relinquishing his crown then retaining it, he proves that he cannot survive within his mind itself. He must have tangible pleasures that he can use to occupy his time and life, or at least symbols that remind him of them. His whole existence has focused around the things on the outside and not on the inside.
When Edward first removes his crown he appears to have the ability to relinquish it. However, he says, “To lose my crown and kingdom without cause,/ To give ambitious Mortimer my right,/ That like a mountain overwhelms my bliss.” He hesitates at the thought of giving his material things away for no reason whatsoever. Instead of accepting this fact and using his mind to figure a way out of it he sulks by saying that his bliss has been overwhelmed. Even when he removes the crown, he says to Leicester, “But stay awhile; let me be king till night,/ That I may gaze upon this glittering crown.” He cannot let go of these things and let his mind free. He then, in another act of dependence, places the crown back on his head saying, “See, monsters, see, I’ll wear my crown again.” He goes on to say, “I’ll not resign.” Edward struggles with the idea of losing his power and surviving on his own. His abilities and tendencies do not allow him to overcome this obstacle so he remains dependent on the things outside of himself.
Edward’s focus changes throughout the course of Act V scene i. He begins to look within himself. He states, “Come death, and with thy fingers close my eyes,/ Or if I live, let me forget myself.” Edward, after he relinquishes his crown for good, decides that if he shall live he will forget the past (myself). This leads the reader to believe that he has reached a point where he can focus on the solitary workings of his mind rather than the external workings of the world. Before this can happen though, he reminds himself of his past position by sending his handkerchief to Isabel and having her bid Edward III to rule. This ends the process of his relinquishing the crown and the external workings of the world. In the end he states, “That even then when I shall lose my life,/ My mind may be more steadfast on my God.” His mind has completely turned within himself to focus on the things that control the rest of his existence after death. He has found a place “to meditate and laugh, without wife,” and “without children and goods.”
Edward II’s transformation to a solitary focus on life took much longer than the portrayal here. His workings from material things to solitary meditation occurred with the help of various events in his life. If he had not been dethroned, he may have never known the feeling of being able to live a solitary existence within his mind, even though it was not lived for long. Montaigne’s advice sheds new light on the psychological workings of a man when he focuses on life outside of himself rather than spending quality time within himself.