Edward II is an Elizabethan play written by Christopher Marlowe. It is one of the earliest English history plays.
The play telescopes practically the whole of Edward II's reign into a single narrative. Beginning with the recall of his lover, Piers Gaveston, from exile; and ending with his son Edward III's execution of Mortimer the younger for the king's murder.
Although the play's opening speech is heavily homoerotic in its language, the nature of Gaveston's relationship with the king is never explicitly spelled out, which is not surprising given the strict censorship of plays at the time. Indeed, the barons who oppose Gaveston do so because he is low-born, not because of his sexuality. Edward and his favourite are portrayed in an unflattering light throughout much of the play, as they overspend and neglect their duties. However, after Gaveston is killed at the beginning of act three, Edward becomes an increasingly tragic figure as he is captured and imprisoned. He mourns his loss in a dungeon, before being murdered in an extremely hideous manner.
Edward II may have been the only one of Marlowe's plays not written for the greatest actor of the time, Edward Alleyn. It has been suggested that this is the reason the play lacks a dominating protagonist and the grand speeches usually associated with the playwright. It is also one of the best preserved texts of any Marlovian play and indicates that the quality of his writing was much greater than is suggested by the corrupt or extensively rewritten texts of plays like Doctor Faustus or The Jew of Malta.
Edward the Second may have been Marlowe's last play, and gives a sense of his progress as a dramatist just as his life was cut short. It contains his most mature characterisation, and some fine speeches, such as the final words of the queen's lover, Mortimer:
In the modern era, the play has been revived several times, usually in such a way as to make explicit Edward's homosexuality. The Prospect Theatre Company's production of the play, starring Ian McKellen and James Laurenson, caused a sensation when it was broadcast by the BBC during the 1970s. Numerous other productions followed, starring actors such as Simon Russell Beale and Joseph Fiennes. In 1991, the play was heavily adapted into a film by Derek Jarman which used modern costumes and made overt reference to the gay rights movement and the Stonewall riots. There has even been a ballet created for the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
The play was adapted by Bertolt Brecht in 1923 as Leben Eduard des Zweitens. The Brecht version, while acknowledging Marlowe's play as its source, uses Brecht's own words, ideas, and structure, and is regarded as a separate work in its own right.