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Patrick Yeboah

Pky217@nyu.edu

March 9, 2017

Lesbian and Gay Performance

Joe Jeffreys

All the Kings Men


(Question 2)

What do you do when your king is incredibly fond of one of his male pupils? What do

you then do when you suspect that this pupil is somehow bad for your king, your well-being, and

the well-being of your entire nation? These are the questions the characters in Christopher

Marlowes Edward II must answer. The play deals with the English King Edward II and his

relationship with Piers Gaveston, a French nobody, who proves to be his inevitable undoing. For

long, Marlowes Edward has been hailed as a tragic gay character in a gay play by many queer

members of the theatre community and often is portrayed as such. But, what makes a play gay

and how can we identify one as such? It is to my understanding that a gay play must focus on

or around a gay character or characters, explore themes that explicitly deal with and pertain to

the LGBTQ community, and it must be written by a gay playwright. In regards to this play, of

course, homosexuality was not something that was recognized officially, so can this play be

considered gay? The answer is, simply, yes. Homosexuality is a term that was coined in 1869.

Before then, people who enjoyed same-sex intimacy were called sodomites, catamites, ingles,

ganymedes, buggers, and pathics. In the 1500s, acts were homosexual but people were not.
There are clear moments in the play when Marlowe reveals through the text that Edward

is in fact a gay character. In the first scene, Gaveston delivers a monologue whilst reading a letter

from Edward that can only be seen as describing their reciprocal relationship. He says:

Ah, words that make me surfeit with delight!

What greater bliss can hap to Gaveston

Than live and be the favourite of a king!

Sweet prince, I come! these, thy amorous lines

Might have enforc'd me to have swum from France,

And, like Leander, gasp'd upon the sand,

So thou wouldst smile, and take me in thine arms. (I,i).

The letter even opens with Edward writing:

My father is deceas'd. Come, Gaveston,

And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend. (I,i).

This moment establishes the relationship of the two to the audience. It displays Edward as a

traditionally feminine role, writing letters and expressing his feelings for Gaveston in an outward

manner and displays Gaveston as a Leander type who comes to the beck and call of his lady,

Hero. And then, later when they finally meet, Edward says to Gaveston:

What, Gaveston! welcome! Kiss not my hand:

Embrace me, Gaveston, as I do thee. Embrace me, Gaveston, as I do thee.

Why shouldst thou kneel? know'st thou not who I am?

Thy friend, thyself, another Gaveston:


Not Hylas was more mourned for of Hercules

Than thou hast been of me since thy exile. (I.i)

Edwards words reflect the same intimacy that Gaveston speaks of and also show that he cares

more about his lover than about his country. The character of Edward is easily read as gay in the

context of twenty-first century reading and contemporary audiences have no trouble in

pinpointing how and why this is so. The play exhibits many examples of desire openly expressed

between men and acknowledged by other characters, whether directly referring to them in terms

that would equate to gay, like unnatural, or not.

Some of the themes that the play deals with are love triangles, desires, and hope for the

future. The obvious triangle exists amongst Edward, Isabella, and Gaveston. Isabella is unable to

accept that the man she loves and is eternally devoted to does not return her affections for a very

obvious reason. Edward's harsh treatment of her makes it so very apparent that she has

absolutely no hope of winning his heart, and also reveals how Edward is unable to dissemble

when it comes to his feelings. He is anything but gentle with her. She becomes hell-bent on

destroying her husband and his dear friend. Her unrequited passion turns into a deadly poison

that destroys Edward and Gaveston before finally consuming her (Ahlgren). Edward has a clear

desire for Gaveston and his friendship and company and Gaveston clearly shares the same

sentiment. Their relationship is the embodiment of a love song, and its poetic nature and how

sometimes you can only really say the right things around the person that you love. And it is

Edward's determination to have Gaveston that ultimately seals their fate. Unfortunately for them,

in the world we live in it is always the will to power, and not to love, that governs man's fate and

their fate is very much so not in their own hands. But Edward III, the new hope, is present at the

end of the play. As Prince, Edward spends the majority of the play as a loving and doting son to
his parents, parting with his father on his futile mission to win the Kings support in France even

though he is quite reluctant to go, and sympathizing with his mother over his fathers treatment

of her. He is always loyal to his father and his king.

Christopher Marlowe, the playwright, is reported to have said All they who love not

tobacco and boys are fools. He lived quite the wild and colorful life. He was a government spy,

who spied on the Catholic Church in Rheims. He was highly educated and attended Kings

School, Canterbury, and Cambridge. Richard Baines claimed that Marlowe declared what

probably would have to have been heresy at the time, that Jesus of Nazareth and St. John the

Baptist were lovers (Hamilton). In 1593 Christopher Marlowe was due to be arrested for treason

charged with sodomy. But, before this could take place, he was killed by stab wounds to the head

in a bar fight.

Although these three points are perfectly legitimate, there are also ways in which Edward

II could not be considered a gay play. The first being that the characters are quite silent about

the relationship between Edward and Gaveston. The only real way we can deduce any kind of

information about the nature of their friendship through the things that other characters say and

the way that they interact with each. Harkening back to the three moments in Act 1 Scene 1 are

the bulk of the relationship as acted out by the two characters. It is never outwardly said that the

characters are gay, only that the king favors his friend to his wife. You can also infer the

homosexuality of the character through which the king is murdered. He is restrained and forcibly

sodomized with a red hot poker.

Another way this plays gayness can be questioned is by putting it in context with the

time period in which it was written. The word homosexual did not even exist yet. People

couldnt be homosexual, only acts could be. It could be argued that Edward IIs death was not
due to his sexuality, but to the way that he governed his kingdom. He was frivolous and favored

a lowly Frenchman, on which he bestowed several honors meant for people in the gentry. The

other characters in his court were disgusted in him, not for his sexual life, but for the way he

ruled and how it directly affected their lives and the lives of the English people.

Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe, is one of the first gay plays and is still performed

around the world to this day, usually through a very contemporary lens. Reading this play and

living in this text, one cannot help but identify moments in modern life or in the recent past

where the themes become all too real and relevant. Even in its historical place, before the terms

necessary to describe it were even coined, this play occupies an important space in the writing

and executing of gay characters in a theatrical context.


Works Cited

Ahlgren, Angela K. "Christopher Marlowes Unholy Fascination: Performing

Queer Edward II in the 1990s." N.p., Spring 2011. Web.

Hamilton, J. S. "Menage a Roi: Edward II and Piers Gaveston." Menage a Roi:

Edward II and Piers Gaveston | History Today. History Today, 6 June 1999. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.

Marlowe, Christopher. Edward Ii. Place of Publication Not Identified:

Bloomsbury Arden, 2017. Print.