Significance of the Death Scene in Edward II
The Death Scene in Marlowe’s Edward II is the most pathetic and emotionally appealing scene in the play. The last scenes, like the end of Faustus are saturated with deep pathos. But while pathos in Faustus arises from the spectacle of the downfall of great power, in Edward II, it originates from the misery and degradation of one who once was the ruler of a nation.
Though rather short in length, the scene is quite forceful in its presentation of the tragic horror of the scene as a befitting conclusion of the sad deposition of the king. Outdoing Holinshed, his original source, Marlowe presents here a situation that makes one’s hair creep and fills one’s mind with a deep gloom.
The pathos which begins to originate in the hearts of the readers and spectators reaches its height in the scene of murder. Our sympathy is at once alienated from Mortimer and Queen Isabella and goes to the King, who is subjected to abject humiliation and severest possible torture till at last death comes to make an end of his shame and suffering. As soon as Edward is captured, he foresees his death. He knows that his griefs, like the wounds of a lion are not going to heal up.
The king is shown here as a confined in sewer where waters reach up to his knees and send forth an unbearable stench. Edward must keep standing here, and he cannot sleep. His guards, Matrevis and Gurney, are rather eager for his early death and torment him by words in order to accelerate his end.
- Edward II as a Tragedy
- Character of King Edward II
- Edward II as Play of Irony of Kingship
- Edward II Questions and Answers
Lightborn who is the murderer, appointed by Mortimer, arrives with the letter of his master. The letter of Mortimer secretly instructs the murder of the king. The task of murdering the king is with Lightborn who prides on his achievement as a secret and cruel murderer.
Lightborn seizes the helpless king who immediately guesses his foul objective. Of course, the hired murderer pretends sympathy for him and tries to ensure him against all fears. But the king perceives in the sinister look of the visitor his grim end. He tries to move him to pity and to bribe him, but all goes in vain. He struggles against sleep, and is roused by fear. He feels doomed and becomes restless in his sleep, as the cruel murderer stands before him with a devilish design.
At the time of death, Edward becomes stoic in his thinking. He tries his best to take death patiently and happily : ‘To wretched men death is felicity’. When Berkeley assures him that he would not be cruel to him, Edward says:
“I know not, but of this am I assured,
That death ends all, and I can die but once.”
Lightborn, however, becomes active in no time to accomplish his heinous crime. A table is laid down upon the king and Lightborn and others stamp on it. The weak, poor king resists in vain against death and falls at last after commending his soul to God. This is an awful act of murder, hardly, to be matched anywhere in the history of cruelty and horror.
The horrible murder is performed with utmost devilry by Lightborn. But the murderer gets no way out, and he is killed by Gurney, who, along with Matrevis, flees away, with Edward’s body.
Dramatic Significance of the Death Scene
Of the Murder Scene of Edward II, Charles Lamb has his celebrated comment-
“The death scene of Marlowe’s king moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or modern, with which I am acquainted.”
Indeed, the whole murder scene is a marvel of Marlowe’s dramatic imagination. Although his material is historical, he surpasses history in his conception of the whole scene. Edward is shown in an extremely miserable state. Pent up on a sewer, with an unbearable stench all around him, the king stands, without the rest of mind or of body. The entire condition of the king is too pathetic for tears. Again, the very process of the murder is executed with a sort of incredible inhumanity. The unfortunate weak king is done to death by stamping on a table turned down upon him.
The Murder Scene is truly a triumph of Marlowe’s imaginative power and dramatic art. The whole scene is conceived with a penetrative imagination and a superb sense of the theatre. Such a scene at once strikes terror and suspense at the heart of every witness and keeps him spell-bound in awe.
The scene is of an utmost significance to draw sympathy for the king. Along with the Abdication Scene, it is employed by Marlowe to turn the balance of sympathy in favour of the king. In the Deposition Scene, something of the king’s arrogance and unreasonableness still remains. But in the Murder Scene, the king is cleansed of all impurities and all that is found about him is truly pathetic and pitiful. The scene indeed, serves to evoke tragic awe, although the full element of tragic pity cannot be perceived here because of the basic weakness of the kin
The scene has also an importance from the structural stand-point. It ends the tragedy of the king and prepares the ground for the retribution of Mortimer’s tyrannical ambition. It is the gruesome murder of his father that prompts the prince to gather courage to stand against Mortimer and bring about the tyrant’s just doom. The scene is, thus, the end of the hero, Edward, and a prelude to the punishment of the tyrant Mortimer.
Some critics are of the opinion that the Death Scene in Marlowe does not justify history. But it may be noted here that the grotesque and obscene cruelty of the murder is emotionally necessary. From the time of his arrest at the Abbey of Neath Edward has suffered every other kind of torture. Marlowe, the poet of striving and aspiration, becomes the poet of weariness and despondency as Edward yearns for a moment’s ease among friends and sympathizers:
“Good father, on the lap
Lay I this head, laden with mickle care.
O might I never open these eyes again,
Never again lift up this drooping head,
O never more lift up this dying heart.
It is the last comfort he will find.”
The relentless demands for his crown, the bundling from place to place by night, the crude humiliation of the barbering, end in the stinking cell where one plays continually upon a drum. After the anguish of his last speech, a quick and clean death would be dramatically inappropriate-almost disappointing.