Quote of the Week: 02 October

BH john julius norwichJohn Julius Norwich, Shakespeare’s Kings (Penguin:  London, 2000)

I like this book very much, and as I’m currently teaching Edward II to two separate groups of sixth-formers, I thought I’d look out a quotation for them regarding our hapless king.  Despite Edward not being one of Shakespeare‘s kings, Norwich doesn’t disappoint …

 

Edward had been deposed eight months before his murder …

‘but not before he and his infamous lover, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, had reduced the prestige of the English Crown to the lowest point in all its history. Edward was weak and impressionable, totally unable to assert himself against the ambition and greed of his favourite, who shamelessly used his hold over the King to advance his own fortunes.  Had he shown the faintest degree of moderation, had he treated the great barons of the land with even a suggestion of deference and respect, they would probably have accepted the situation philosophically; instead he rode roughshod over them all, infuriating them with his greed, ostentation and arrogance.’

[erm, spoiler alert.  Although we DO know by now how tragedies end, right?]

Not only do I love the idea that Edward might have been a worse king than Richard III (regular readers will know why), but Norwich succinctly states the contributary factors. In this, it seems, Marlowe was quite accurate, historically, although for personal reasons he would have enjoyed shocking people with the homosexual angle, I think.  My classes are probably getting heartily fed up with me talking about the fact that this is NOT primarily about homosexuality:  class, over-promotion and the personalities of the principle players in the drama are key – and this is going to become more apparent when we have to compare the text to Tennyson‘s Maud later in the year, people …

Contextually, we might want to think about why this historical story, why now?  Perhaps it’s worth thinking about Elizabeth I and any favourites she may have had – Earl of Essex, anyone?

 

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