Character Analysis of Queen Isabella in Marlowe’s Edward II

Character Analysis of Queen Isabella in Marlowe's Edward II

Character of Queen Isabella


There are two colours in which the character of Queen Isabella has been painted by Marlowe. In the beginning we find her a loving wife though much spurned by her husband, Edward II, and in the later life she turns a rebel and even suggests that if the king lives there would be trouble for them. In the beginning we pity her, and in her later career we hate her. She generates contempt in us because of her siding with the rebels, and getting tainted with blood of her own husband. Though it is done through the machinations of Mortimer, yet she has her wish too to that nefarious end.

We find her to be a woman of tired emotions. She pleads for the love which is denied to her by Edward II. She tries it again, but fails to evoke any response. Ultimately she diverts her affection towards Younger Mortimer. There she refreshes her soul. She turns dead against her own husband. Her character has been drawn with a probing into her feminine nature.

Queen Isabella’s Hatred towards the king

In the beginning we find Isabella loving the king with great devotion, and hatred for Gaveston, his minion. She is a Machiavellian as he is Perhaps, Gradually she foresees clearly that her husband is weak and would soon be overpowered by the rebels and this irresistible motive to be with Mortimer makes her turn towards him. Marlowe, the creator of the Queen is different from the other female characters.

“She is more alive, at any rate, than the crops of Zenocrate of the wraith of Helen.”

Her Notable Trait

The most notable trait in the Queen is her androgynous (both masculine and feminine in one) attitude towards life. In the expression of her grief as a wife she is feminine. In her expression of love for Mortimer (“As Isabel could live with thee forever,”) she is feminine. But not as a fellow conspirator; here she betrays the masculine ruthlessness and cruel touch, which would shame even some sentimental men. This androgynous trait has not been presented in the way Virginia Woolf does it. Marlowe has drawn a line between the two. Her masculine and feminine traits are sharply divided. Isabella enacts both type with maniac depressive inconsistency.

Scheming Adulteress

At first she appears to be a forlorn wife, but later on she becomes a “scheming adulteress”. In the first phase she is hungry for the love of her husband and in the second she silently thirsts for his blood. It is just possible that the king might have noticed her ugly trait earlier and come to harbour hatred for for, which is compensated in his unnatural affection for Gaveston and later for Young Spenser.

Queen Isabella’s Feminine Psychology

The feminine psychology of the queen is rather frightening. She is a woman of extreme emotions where love and hate are concerned. When she loses the love of the king, her husband, she turns towards Mortimer with no compunctions of soul. In her the natural urge for the satisfaction of the sexual appetite is seen throughout in very subtly by the artist. For this we cannot only blame the queen socially, nor naturally.

Queen Isabella’s Self-Aggrandizement

Along with sensuality there is a tendency of self-aggrandizement in her. This she shares with Mortimer, her paramour. Essentially both are of same cast of mind. Both are aggressive- Mortimer effusively and she silently. Her ire for Gaveston is just a ruse. Her soul remains a bed of undercurrents. On finding the suitable opportunity the inner demon rises up in her. The king is apprehended by the opposition on the Queen’s commission. There is no point in seeing the king murdered, for she could have cried quittance and lived with Mortimer. She urges Mortimer to remove this stumbling block under the pretense that she feared their life and the life of the prince. In fact it is the tendency of self aggrandizement which leads her to commit such heinous offence.

Queen Isabella’s Relation with the King

Right from the beginning we find a rupture in the conjugal relations between the king and the queen. Gaveston is the main source of the rift between the two. Yet, we find other forces along with the line. The suspicion of the king, accusing the infidelity of the spouse, rests on Isabella. The queen has other sinister motives, the background of which remains latent till proper opportunities arise. She dissembles at the later stage, but at first, she remains as honest as she could be.

Queen Isabella’s Melancholy

Queen Isabella professes to endure a melancholy life than to see the civil mutinies in the realm. But this is not the fact, for she soon drifts towards the faction formed by Mortimer and other barons. It is not melancholy under which she would take cover, but material prosperity, position and the satisfaction of her appetite, which one may understand better than told. This character is not of the surface but has layers one after another like some stout onion. The King understands her much better. He does not say a nice word to her, and always spurns at her as a foul disease.

“Fawn not on me, French Strumpet”.

Queen Isabella: A Frantic Juno

The queen being, apparently, melancholy soliloquises- ‘Like frantic Juno will I fill the earth’. Juno (Hera) as we know was worshipped as the goddess representative of women, especially of wives, and protectress of marriage. She blames the day of her marriage, and considers it to be a miserable affair. Her frantic cry springs from the passion of which she is galvanized. There cannot be any effect without cause. There must be some cause for the rupture in the relations between her and her husband.

Queen Isabella: A Saint

Pembroke speaks highly of her. “Hard is the heart that injures such a saint”, says he paying a sort of tribute to the queen. But she hardly deserves this kind of compliment. She is judged from the surface by him and not from within. Her acts prove her just different from the observation of Pembroke, a sinner, a foul adultress, and that too craftily scheming. She appears to be a saint while saying to Mortimer,

‘No, rather will I die a thousand deaths. And yet I love in vain.’

She wouldn’t cry quittance, though after a passage of time would tarnish the nuptial bed of her husband. Who would call her a saint? She is, obviously, a sinner. She exercises her smile on Mortimer, which is noticed by Warwick, when she goes to plead for repealing the order issued against Gaveston.

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Evolution of Her Character

At first the queen stirs our sense of compassion, but after a while she runs a course which is paved with base motives. The evolution of to character follows the changing facets of conditions and events:

(i)Her going to the forest as she is tired of the aversion or the husband

(ii) She takes-active part in the parleys, directed towards the rebellion against the King.

(iii) Her affectionate attitude towards Mortimer, which soon develops into lust for him.

(iv) The change wrought in her which leads her to confess love to Mortimer openly and unabashedly.

(v) She comes into power along with Mortimer’s rise. The king is arrested on the Queen’s commission.

(vi) She becomes a despicable figure from the moral point of view.

(vii) She advises the change in the arrangement which might have set the king free. Nay, she suggests that he must not survive for their safety and that of the prince. “Speak, shall he presently be dispatch’d and die ?” asks Mortimer. She replies “I would he were, so it were not by my means.” She comes to bob upon the surface of her intention which she had been hiding till now.

(viii) She does not pay any heed to the request of Edward III when he pleads for the life of Kent, his uncle. The hatred against her reached the fully mature evolution of fact when the king says: ‘If mine will serve, unbowel straight this breast, and give my heart to Isabel and him.’

Thus the evolution of her character is complete.


To sum up, the character of Queen Isabella as painted by Marlowe is not simple but complex. She has been painted both in white and black. Her feminine psychology is the notorious psychology with which women are generally gauged. She is no soft, she is just formidable, too frightening to think of. She could ask for the blood of the king while conspiring with Mortimer, and wants that her paramour be spared. ‘Spill not the blood of gentle Mortimer’. This is the type of woman who is before us. On the whole she comes to be established as a woman of guilty passions and wicked motives. Marlowe has painted her with great design and dramatic exquisiteness.

4 thoughts on “Character Analysis of Queen Isabella in Marlowe’s Edward II”

  1. Hello Sir,
    Your analysis of the character of Isabella is excellent. In the beginning it appeared that Isabella was a loving and caring wife who turned away from her husband because of his indifferce. But after finishing the whole essay it appears that Isabella is basically a negative character with many layers of different personalities. Thank you for such an excellent essay. I really liked the way the topic is presented. The language is wonderful. The textual references add credibility to the understanding of the context.

    Thank you again,



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