UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Edward II and the English morality play Overton, David Roy


This thesis is divided into four main sections as outlined in the following paragraphs. After a brief introduction setting out the purposes and limitations of the thesis, we examine Marlowe’s critical reputation from his own time to the present. We find that he was largely ignored as a playwright until he was "rediscovered" by the Romantic critics at the beginning of the nineteenth century. These critics created the myth of Marlowe as a passionate young rebel against an orthodox world, a myth that persisted well into the twentieth century. When we come to the twentieth century, we divide Marlowe critics into the Romantic (those who maintain the image of Marlowe as a rebel against orthodoxy) and the anti-Romantic (those who view him as a traditionalist). Representative works from each group are examined. It is then decided that this thesis, while it does not deny the validity of the Romantic approach, is anti-Romantic since it seeks to emphasize the traditional side of Marlowe’s writing. We then proceed to a discussion of the morality play in order to set out a working definition of the genre. This is done by an examination of the sources and the history and development of the morality and by a more extensive examination of its outstanding characteristics. We find that there is present at least one of three basic themes: the conflict of good and evil for the soul of man, contempt of the world, and the debate of the Heavenly Virtues for the soul of man after death. Certain stock characters constantly reappear, the most important of which are the Everyman type, the Vice, the Devil, the Worldly Man, the Good and Evil Angels, and Death. Two basic structural types are used, the first showing a central character who is influenced by alternating groups of good and evil figures, and the second making use of a comic subplot, alternating scenes of moral didacticism with scenes of comic relief. Other characteristics of moralities are found to be the extensive use of debate and the lack of a realistic space-time concept. We then define the morality as a didactic play using one or more of the characteristic themes, stock characters, and one of the structural patterns outlined above. We then proceed to compare Edward II with this definition. Thematically, we find that the conflict between good and evil for control of man’s soul is present in the conflict between the nobles and Gaveston for control over the king. This is developed in the morality fashion, showing the central figure succumbing to vice, repenting, and ultimately gaining salvation. The theme of contempt of the world is also present particularly in the story of Mortimer and Isabella, whose rise and fall is found to follow the pattern of the "Worldly Man" morality. We then proceed to show that thematically Edward II is a combination of two morality play types, the "good and evil conflict" type and the "Worldly Man" type, and that the conflicting roles that characters are required to play in these two structures sometimes gives rise to character ambiguity. An examination of the character types present in the play shows that Edward plays the Everyman role in the "good and evil" structure and the Heavenly Man in the "Worldly Man" structure, Mortimer’s character is found to be ambiguous because he is forced to play a virtuous counsellor within one structure and the Worldly Man in the other. The same applies to Isabella. Less important characters lack this ambiguity and function in a more straightforward manner. Kent represents Moderation, Gaveston is the Vice, Spencer and Baldock are assistant Vices, Lightborn is Death, and Prince Edward is Justice. Structurally, Edward II follows the pattern of a central character coming under the influence of good and evil characters alternately. Debate is of limited importance in the play and the concept of time is loose, as is the concept of space. The thesis concludes that although there are a number of morality play elements in Edward II, the play cannot be regarded as a morality because it does not teach an overt lesson. Although certain precepts are embodied in the text of the play, Marlowe himself seems to withold moral judgment on the action.

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