John Dryden (1631–1700). All for Love.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
The precise date of “Edward II” has not been determined, but it is generally and plausibly assigned to 1590–91. The historical basis for the plot Marlowe found in the Chronicles of Fabyan, Stow, and Holinshed, especially the last. In its treatment of the facts of history, this play is a typical example of the class of drama known as the “chronicle history,” which flourished in the last two decades of the sixteenth century, and culminated in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” and “Henry V.” While the order of events in history determines for the most part the succession of scenes, the author condenses, omits, elaborates, and re-arranges in order to gain dramatic effectiveness, and to bring out the character of Edward and the results of his weakness. Thus the action covers a historical period of some twenty-two years, though no such stretch of time is suggested by the play; the military operations in Ireland and Scotland, and especially the battle of Bannockburn, are antedated in order to connect them with Gaveston, who was, in fact, dead before any of them occurred; and the adherence of Spencer to the king is made to follow immediately, instead of several years, after the death of the earlier favorite.
Yet, with all this freedom in the handling of details, Marlowe succeeds in giving a substantially true, as well as a powerfully affecting, picture of the character and fate of Edward II. The play is the ripest and most masterly of Marlowe’s productions, showing in the delineation of character, the construction of the plot and the freedom and variety of the verse, a striking advance over his earlier work. Nowhere else does he rival so closely his great successor, Shakespeare.