Edward II Handout
Note: I have given act.scene.line numbers as well as scene.line numbers. No matter which edition you use, you should be able to find your way around in the play.
Note: Any of the following questions could lead to an excellent response paper; questions 2-4 would also work as a long paper, as would using England's "sumptuary laws" (dress codes) to examine Gaveston (see especially 1.4.411-18/3.411-18).
The following questions will guide our discussion of Edward II. Each group will be responsible for preparing one question for presentation to the class.
1. Consider the following question regarding 1.1.1-72/1.1-72: Does the passage set off any alarms in your mind? Thinking of Gaveston's first passage in terms of its allusiveness may help you get started (see the bullet points). What do you make of the poor men's intrusion in lines 25-37? What do you make of the references to Satyrs, Diana, and Acteon in lines 49-72? Does the word "Italian" set off any alarms? (Think Ovid but also Machiavelli and contemporary Italian looseness--the English view of Italy would be a great response paper if you did some research.) Can you make anything of the following allusions?
2. Question 1 notes allusions to Leander, Satyrs, Diana, and Actaeon, but Edward II gives us other mythological references (see the bullet points). What is the significance of these allusions? Do they contribute to any kind of unified point? (Preparing a one-page handout would be an excellent way to help the class learn the mythical material.)
3. The first two questions suggest troubling matters in the realm, but exactly what are the barons' beefs with the king? See if you can catalog them. At the same time, try to come up with distinctions among the barons and other characters (see the bullet points). They are not all alike, and it is fruitful to be able to pinpoint those differences. If you know Shakespeare's Richard II, it would be appropriate to make analogies to Richard, Gaunt, and Bolingbroke (see especially Edward II 1.4.16/4.16, 3.1.170-71/11.170-71, and 5.1.27/20.27).
4. As the historical persons in question 3 suggest, Edward II is a chronicle play based on Holinshed. (The passages on the linked page are the most relevant for our play, but you may want to "read around" to see if you can find anything else that would enhance your presentation and our discussion.) The passages relate to the following subquestions:
5. The phrases "as some write" and "as others have" in Holinshed's description of Edward II's death suggest that we know history according to texts that tell us about past events. As Clare Harraway observes in Re-citing Marlowe: Approaches to Drama (hint: read her chapter), history is textual. The bullet points below are drawn largely from her list of texts within Marlowe's play. Leaning to some degree on Harraway's work, prepare to share with the class a theory about the nature of history in Edward II, the role of texts in portraying history, and the role the dead may play in the present.