A Level pre-Easter mock assessments next week, and it struck me that amongst all the resources I had curated or created for my students, we didn’t have a decent synopsis of Edward II, for those who can never quite remember the story, or what happens when.
I had a train journey in front of me. What else could/would I do?
So here it is. For the meaty scenes I tried to limit myself to 50-words per scene, and as you can see from the graph above, I had some fun looking at the number of lines per scene (according to my New Mermaid Second Edition) and mapping the play’s major events.
Was it useful for me? You can never go over these plays enough times; something new always springs out at you. Today it was that only two people person were killed on stage: Edward and his assassin, Lightborne. That diminishes the deaths of some of the others – especially Gaveston, I’d suggest?
Question is, is anything important missing?
So, spoilers ahead: let’s go!
Sc 1 (206 lines): Gaveston’s banishment is revoked by his lover on Edward I’s death; gloating, he soliloquises on his fortune and future. Edward II enters, squabbling ineffectively with his nobles over Gaveston’s recall. The lovers, joyously reunited, exact revenge on the Bishop of Coventry for his part in the banishment, ignoring Kent’s warnings.
Sc 2 (83 lines): Dismayed by Gaveston’s immediate promotions, fearful of his new influence, the nobles and church co-operate, opposing his return via a written legal instrument and laying the foundations for future civil disobedience. Queen Isabella enters, protesting her love for Edward, mourning her treatment, and exciting sympathy, especially from Mortimer Junior.
Sc 3 (5 lines): Gaveston scorns the plans made by his opponents in an over-familiar exchange with Kent (Edmund).
Sc 4 (425 lines): Threatened with excommunication, and Gaveston captured by the nobles, a weeping Edward reluctantly signs a fresh banishment. Under duress, Isabella argues privately with Mortimer Jr. for his return (to facilitate his assassination). A delighted Edward is generally reconciled. Departing for Scotland, Mortimer Sr advises patience to his hot-blooded nephew.
Sc 5 (82 lines): Baldock and Spenser Jr discuss the avenues for advancement available to them on their master’s death. Lady Margaret de Clare, Edward’s niece and Gaveston’s betrothed, rejoices at receiving a letter from him and the prospect of his return.
Sc 6 (262 lines): Bickering between Edward, Lancaster and Mortimer Jr mars Gaveston’s return. Mortimer Jr stabs Gaveston when he arrives, to Isabella’s dismay. With tensions escalating, Edward provocatively refuses to pay a Scottish ransom for the captured Mortimer Sr. Edward banishes outspoken Kent; Isabella is rebuffed; but Spenser Jr and Baldock are welcomed.
Sc 7 (27 lines): Kent is accepted by the initially suspicious rebel lords, who plot to capture and kill Gaveston.
Sc 8 (70 lines): The plot fails – in panic, Edward and Gaveston split up to confuse the pursuers. Left behind, Isabella betrays their plan to Mortimer Jr. Finally alone, she confesses her attraction to him and resolves to go to France with Prince Edward to complain about her treatment to her brother, the king.
Sc 9 (111 lines): Having captured a defiant Gaveston. the nobles quarrel about whether to allow Edward a final farewell meeting before they execute the minion. Amid resentment and mistrust of the King it is reluctantly agreed. Pembroke, entrusted with Gaveston’s safety, leaves him undefended with a servant whilst detouring to visit his wife.
Sc 10 (19 lines): Gaveston is intercepted by the Earl of Warwick, and is executed off-stage.
Sc 11 (184 lines): Pre-occupied by Gaveston’s capture, and neglecting foreign policy, Edward delegates diplomacy with a resurgent France to his wife and reluctant but respectful son. Passionately responding to Gaveston’s death, he ennobles his new favourites, only to have Spenser Jr demanded from him by the nobles as the price of peace.
Sc 12 (36 lines): The inexperienced Edward mistakes a lull in battle for a retreat, and urges his forces on. Both sides taunt each other with angry accusations of unpatriotic disloyalty.
Sc 13 (61 lines): Edward triumphs, but whilst he executes some of the rebels, he has Mortimer Jr imprisoned in the Tower. Kent is rebuffed again, and Spenser Jr uses Edward’s money to ensure Isabella is ignored in France.
Sc 14 (18 lines): Kent resolves to join Isabella, but not before facilitating Mortimer Jr’s escape from The Tower.
Sc 15 (82 lines): Isabella’s mission has failed, but she is cheered as allies began to gather about her. Prince Edward rebukes Mortimer Jr and refuses to be a figurehead against his father.
Sc 16 (53 lines): Edward has arranged a widespread cull of his enemies, but learns that Mortimer has escaped him. Flushed with his recent success, he defies his overseas enemies.
Sc 17 (29 lines): The opposition forces land in England. Isabella tries to take charge of the rebellion, but Mortimer Jr interrupts her. He encourages the group with talk of the wrongs done to the country and the Queen.
Sc 18 (88 lines): Whilst they have won a battle, capturing Spenser Sr, cracks appear in the coalition: Prince Edward and Kent are concerned at the relationship between The Queen and Mortimer Jr, and their plans for Edward.
Sc 19 (117 lines): Edward’s party seeks refuge at an Abbey, where Edward reflects on his cares. They are betrayed and captured. Edward is to be dragged to London, whilst Spenser Jr and Baldock are summarily executed off stage on treason charges.
Sc 20 (155 lines): Edward emotionally reflects on the journey that has led him here. He is eventually forced to surrender his crown, and on Mortimer Jr’s authority is despatched to Berkeley Castle.
Sc 21 (120 lines): Mortimer Jr begins to consolidate his power, making arrangements for Edward’s mistreatment as a prisoner. Isabella begins to fear for her son, and Kent resolves to try and rescue Edward.
Sc 22 (67 lines): Kent’s plan is thwarted and he is captured. Edward’s thoughts turn to the deaths of his favourites.
Sc 23 (112 lines): Mortimer Jr decides that Edward must die, and recruits the assassin, Lightborne, who boasts of the subtlety of his methods. The execution order is ambiguously worded to allow for plausible deniability, and Mortimer Jr enjoys his supremacy in soliloquy. Disturbingly, he overrules King Edward III and executes Kent off-stage.
Sc 24 (119 lines): Lightborne violently kills Edward in the dungeon, and is himself slain to cover Mortimer Jr’s tracks.
Sc 25 (103 lines): Edward III uncovers the truth about his father’s death. Dangerously, Isabella pleads for her lover, but Mortimer Jr is too proud to beg. The Protector is beheaded off stage, whilst Isabella is imprisoned under suspicion of colluding with him. Finally, Edward III adorns his father’s hearse with Mortimer Jr’s head.