Renaissance element in Edward II
Edward’s approach to life is that of an imaginative dreamer. His life of self-indulgence. He loves pleasures, plays, masques, and revelries. Like Hercules doting on his favorite Hylas, like Achilles having his favorite friend Patroclus, the king must have his Gaveston, and after Gaveston is taken away from him, he must have Spencer Junior to take his place. One of the pleasures that the Renaissance held up before the romantic enthusiasts of the age was the classical conception of friendship and love between man and man. This is a sincere love the marriage of true minds’ there is nothing homosexual in it.
The personality of Gaveston exemplifies the luxurious way of life brought in by the Renaissance. It was the Renaissance that taught men to enjoy the merrier aspects of life. Images of richness and private pleasure the Edward longs for the first elements established in the play. Gaveston is himself an emblem of its richness and pleasure’, writes Zucker. His appearance has an outward polish, suavity of manners, and foreign fashions and airs. He hates dirt, poverty, and ugliness from the core of his heart.
The Renaissance gave birth to unbound ambition in human minds. Liberated from the shackles of medieval mortality, man aspired to mount up the scale of his dreams. From a dedicated patriot, highly concerned for the welfare of the state, the younger Mortimer gets transformed into a perfect schemer to reach the summit of power. He wins the confidence and love of queen Isabella in his path to power and successfully removes the weak king from the throne. This Renaissance ambition is found in some other characters also. Young Spencer and Baldock, attendants in the house of Edward’s niece, are eager to improve their fortunes, Spencer relies on Gaveston’s affection to rise in social status.
Both king and his favorite are fond of the pomp and glitter of life. “Music and poetry is his delight”, says Gaveston about the king. Gaveston’s (rather Marlowe’s) imagination runs riot in describing the sensuous pleasures of the Renaissance when the plans to set up the lovely boy in Diana’s shape, “in his select the porting hands an olive tree to hide those parts which men delight to see”. Edward proves himself to be more a reveler in the sensuous joys of life than a responsible ruler of the realm. Both Gaveston and Edward reflect the glamour of the Renaissance fondness for splendor in their dress and wear Mortimer complain that Gaveston and king “flout the train and jest at our attire.” Gaveston wears a lord’s revenue on his back and Midas-like he jests it the court.
The play reveals the Renaissance pride of aristocracy and noble blood among the ladies and gentlemen of a high order. One of the causes of the Baront’s hatred for Gaveston is that he is the son of a peasant. Warwick calls Gaveston ‘Ignoble vassal’. The Younger Mortimer attacks Gaveston with: ‘Thou…. hardly art a gentleman by birth’. The barons resent King Edward’s excessive attachment with his ‘base minion’ Gaveston because of the difference in their ranks.
The Renaissance opened the human eye to the glory of human flesh. This resulted in the generation of self-love in post-Renaissance human minds. King Edward’s love for Gaveston is just an expansion of this self-love. Thus we can conclude with the view that Marlowe provided ample evidence of the influence of the Renaissance upon him in all his plays including Edward the Second. Summing up his contribution Douglas Cole rightly remarks. “Doomed in a sense never to escape the shadow of Shakespeare, Marlowe nonetheless stands as a figure whose achievements and sensibility have come to be perceived as centrally important, not only to the development of dramatic art in one of its greatest eras but also to the expression of the Renaissance spirit in all its various and contradictory dimensions.”