Edward II was a free CAPITAL Centre production of Christopher Marlowe's play, directed by MA student Julia Ihnatowicz. To tie in with the production, the play was re-introduced as a core text on the English department module Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists, students of which were able to come and see the production as part of their work on the play.
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David Ross (Gaveston) and Matthew Goad (King Edward II)
Programme note by Professor Jonathan Bate
Shakespeare must have had mixed feelings when he heard the news of what had happened at Widow Bull’s house in Deptford at the end of May 1593: Christopher Marlowe, born the same year as Will, dead in his prime, stabbed through the eye with a twelvepenny dagger in an argument ostensibly about the “reckoning” (bill), but perhaps with something more sinister in the background. Marlowe had gone to Deptford to meet men named Frizer, Poley and Skeres. All four were up to their necks in the intrigue of the Elizabethan secret service. Marlowe, the double agent: the man employed on her majesty’s service while also writing the most brilliant but also subversive plays of the age. The story of how all-conquering Tamburlaine is finally destroyed not by the Christian God but by Muslim Allah. The story of how uber-intellectual Dr Faustus makes a contract with the devil. The story of a wicked Jew of Malta and the Christians who are just as bad as he is – narrated by Machiavelli, master-politician who knows that religion is just a device to keep the people in awe. And the story of Edward II, a gay king and his camp followers.
Shakespeare was a safe pair of hands by comparison, and maybe he rested just a little easier in his bed with Marlowe gone. The only man who could match him as a playmaker had been swept from the stage. He could now shine, confident that he would soon become top dog in the cut-throat competitive world of the early London theatre scene. He set about writing replies to Marlowe’s plays, taming and humanising them: Merchant of Venice in response to The Jew of Malta, Richard II as Edward II revisited without the overt homoeroticism and with a sensitised inner life for the king. Shakespeare duly became the National Poet, the Man of the Millennium, Richard II an A-level set text. Marlowe’s Edward was squeezed into the margins.
In modern times, though, it’s become a powerful vehicle of liberation. The role of Edward was irresistible to a still-closeted Ian McKellen in 1970 (“The auditions for Gaveston, Edward’s lover, were conducted at Hampstead Theatre Club in London, where actors were asked to kiss me – I still recall the first softness of James Laurenson’s lips, which was a bonus throughout the run”) and the whole play was a dream for Derek Jarman, who filmed it in 1991 with the provocative title Queer Edward II.
Marlowe supposedly said that Jesus had a homosexual relationship with his disciple John and that all who love not tobacco and boys are fools. Did he really believe such things? Maybe that’s the wrong question: it’s not the belief that counts, he might have said, it’s the stylishness with which you say it. Provocation is all: that’s what makes (a certain kind of) powerful art. I’m not sure that Edward II really is a “queer” play, but I’m convinced it is a work of brilliant high camp, in the sense defined by Susan Sontag, back in the heady 1960s, a decade that Marlowe would have loved:
* Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style - it is the love of the exaggerated, the "off", of things-being-what-they-are-not
* The whole point of camp is to dethrone the seroius ... One is drawn to camp when one realises that "sincerity" is not enough
* Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation - not judgement
* The ultimate Camp statement: it's good because it's awful
Sam Sedgman (Warwick), Simon Nussbaum (Pembroke), Briony Rawle (Edmund), Alex Knight (Young Mortimer), Luisa Dorileo (Lancaster)