Significance of Abdication or Deposition Scene in Edward II
The Abdication or Deposition Scene is considered the most admirable piece of Marlowe’s dramatic art in his historical tragedy of Edward II. The scene appears almost as a long soliloquy of the fallen weak king. Yet, in dramatic action and suspense, in dramatic poetry and pathos, it has but a few peers in the dramatic literature of England.
The scene (Act V. Sc. l) is set in the castle of Killingworth (Kenilworth), where the king is kept imprisoned under the custody of the Duke of Leicester.
The scene opens with the pleading of Leicester with the king to have repose and security in mind. This is followed by a long soliloquy of the king in which he dwells on his fallen state and on the deep pathos of his royal fall. The king, enraged by the secret working of Mortimer and Isabella, expresses his determination to cling to his crown. He will not yield his crown to make Mortimer the king of England.
The Bishop of Winchester who has come from Mortimer and Isabella to take the crown, along with the Duke of Leicester, entreats the king to yield his crown. But the king, still flaming with his passion and rage, is most unwilling and holds the crown dearly. He gives vent, in impulsive and imaginative poetry, to his profound eagerness for retaining the crown, and fondly puts on the same.
The followers of Mortimer who are extremely anxious to carry the crown safely away, are sparing of words, but they threaten that the prince may lose his right because of the obstinacy of the king to yield his crown. Now the king agrees to give the crown, but his passion and resentment remain unabated. He makes over the crown most unwillingly, as he feels that his abdication is an inescapable doom.
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As the Bishop of Winchester and others are about to leave, the king gives them a handkerchief, soaked with his tears and dried by his sighs, for presenting to Isabella.
The Abdication Scene concludes with the arrival of Lord of Berkeley who com with an order from the queen. The king, under this order, is placed under his custody and goes with him.
Dramatic Significance of Abdication Scene
The Abdication Scene is truly a masterpiece of Marlowe’s dramatic genius. From the structural standpoint, the action reaches here the climax, no doubt. The king is pressed for abdication in favour of his son. With a severe mental pang, the unfortunate sovereign is compelled to give up that which he considers more precious than his life even. The Abdication Scene completes the fall of the king, and the retribution against Mortimer starts hereafter.
The scene well represents Edward’s nature in which much of Marlovian poetry is conspicuously evident. The king speaks here, like a poet, and here, his parallelism with Shakespeare’s Richard II is distinct. The king dwells, with a remarkable poetic passion, on his acute suffering and torment. He reflects on the greatness of his rank which sets him always much above average men, in adversity as well as in prosperity
“The griefs of private men are soon allayed,
But not of kings.”
He muses, with no less poetic vigour, on the irony of his lot, as a helpless captive at the hands of his powerful nobles. –
“My nobles rule, I bear the name of king:
I wear the crown, but am controlled by them.”
The scene brings out clearly Edward’s passionate nature in which his violent and ineffectual fits of anger are particularly noticeable. His soliloquy, rich in his poetic vigour, records his vehement passion. The very thought of the younger Mortimer irritates him and makes him reiterate his resolve to keep the crown at all costs. As the crown is made over to Mortimer’s followers, the king gives way to another passionate outburst-
“But stay a while, let me be king till night.
That I may gaze upon this glittering crown.”
The scene is well employed to win for the king sympathy and compassion. Marlowe’s hero in this play has nothing of the grandeur of a typical tragic hero, and is found too weak to be the hero of a high tragedy. The dramatist’s conception of the character of Edward is much controlled by his historical materials, and consequently his weak king never mounts to heroism. Yet, Marlowe has the craft of a born dramatist to derive pity even for his weak king. One of the effective means by which this is achieved is this Abdication Scene.
The pang of the fallen sovereign, compelled to give up his cherished crown, touches everyone with compassion. The king now appears no more a foolish or inactive man, but a pitiful victim of a tyrannical ambition. His faults and follies are now the matters of the past. In his poetry and passion, he is not simply pathetic, but tragic, too. He does not win here the pity that, a tragic hero deserves, but a feeling of sympathy and a sense of awe dominate this scene of abdication, and are found to be an effective measure to change the attitude of the audience to one whose doom is implied in his weak character.
This grand and moving scene has, however, one discordant note, and this is the incident of the handkerchief. It offends the cult of refinement and proves a ridiculous element in the otherwise brilliant scene. It also degenerates the tragic grandeur to which the character of Edward II partly reaches in this scene.
In conclusion, it need be noted that the scene is a necessary prelude to the tragic end of the king. The custody of the king is taken away from Liecester and given to Berkeley by Mortimer. Mortimer’s purpose is to accomplish the execution of the king smoothly and secretly. This is his preparation to fulfill his tyrannical design.