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Winter 1998-1999, pp. 465-495

By permission of the editors of COMPARATIVE DRAMA and Medieval Institute Publications.


by Patrick Ryan

University of Iowa

Christopher Marlowe's EDWARD II is distinguished by a grim naturalism extraordinary among

Elizabethan chronicle plays. To dramatize the collapse of Edward's monarchy, Marlowe opens the
historical drama with frank depiction of the young king's passionate love for his favorite, Piers Gaveston.
After Edward makes Gaveston "Lord High Chamberlain, Earl of Cornwall, King and Lord of Man," jealous
lords, pre-empted by the "base-born" royal minion, defy Edward in a series of outbursts and petty
quarrels, which culminate in armed revolt, the murder of Gaveston, civil war, and decimation of the
nobility before rebel barons defeat the royal army and capture Edward. Climaxing in the torture and
covert assassination of the king, EDWARD II traces the disintegration of civil order in entirely natural
causes--human weakness, cruelty, and lust for power. Marlowe's noble and royal characters, embroiled
in their bloody contest of will, make no creditable appeals to divine providence. Further, the play lacks
any type of supernatural manifestation characteristic of contemporaneous historical dramas such as
Shakespeare's plays of HENRY VI, which stage witches, devils, and cosmological portents. Accordingly,
literary historians conclude that Marlowe, in his naturalistic chronicle play, emphasizes the individual
will to power as the primary cause of historical process in a world without divine providence and
supernatural influence. Such readings characterize EDWARD II as a secular history play without
significant religious dimension.(1) However, with this characterization of the drama, critics overlook the
complex panoply of Christian images that Marlowe deploys during the climactic scenes of the tragedy.
As I show in this article, to dramatize the arrest, imprisonment, degradation, torture, and murder of King
Edward, Marlowe embellishes these dramatic actions with verbal and visual images derived from
conventional medieval and early Renaissance descriptions of Christ's Passion. Marlowe's suffering king--
like Christ, according to medieval exegesis largely suppressed by the Reformation--is covered with
excrement, forced to drink from a channel, shaved, enclosed in a cesspool, and trodden underfoot.

Many of the torments and degradations staged in EDWARD II are not part of the historical record, but
Elizabethan chronicles do imply that King Edward's keepers subjected him to such abuses derived from
Passion lore. The chroniclers give only brief report of Edward's sufferings in captivity, of his humiliations,
torments, and agonizing death on the point of a red-hot spit; however, in his CHRONICLES OF ENGLAND
the Elizabethan John Stowe, one of Marlowe's principal sources; translates excerpts from a medieval
biography of Edward that describes his afflictions like those that Jesus suffered. As I show, Marlowe
recognizes, in Stowe's and Raphael Holinshed's accounts of Edward's mistreatment, signal torments
drawn from Passion narrative.(2) In climactic scenes of EDWARD II, the playwright elaborates the
chroniclers' cryptic accounts by adding physical and psychological assaults modeled on some that Jesus
supposedly endured. Specifically, Marlowe rehearses symbolic degradations adapted from traditional
lore of Christ's "secret Passion," a series of bizarre torments not recorded in the Gospels but which Jesus
suffered after his arrest, according to medieval and Tudor exegesis of Hebrew prophecy.(3) Throughout
the climax of his tragedy, Marlowe deploys Christological imagery so deftly as to heighten and
consummate the powerful naturalism that animates his earlier scenes. Indeed, in staging the torture and
death of Edward, Marlowe probes aesthetic limits of emergent early modern drama with a theatrical
style rooted in a late medieval realism developed by dramatists who historicized Christ's Passion and
reenacted it in excruciating detail. In this article, I show how Marlowe, dramatizing the sufferings of
Edward, forges a powerful theatrical naturalism from interrelated conventions of Tudor piety and
religious drama.(4)

After the tragic peripety, Edward's defeat and deposition, the focus of Marlowe's historical drama
shifts from the king's struggles with his rebellious lords to his sufferings in captivity. During a transitional
scene, Marlowe introduces Christian imagery with an emblematic stage picture.(5) Hiding from
victorious rebels, Edward and his loyal favorites, Spencer and Baldock, seek refuge from the monks of
Neath Abbey. "Have you no doubt, my lord, have you no fear," the Abbot reassures Edward with a
promise to keep his "royal person safe...from suspect and fell invasion" [4.7.1-4].(6) The king voices his
desire to withdraw from the world and to meet ill fortune with Boethian resignation. "Father, this life
contemplative is heaven," he tells the abbot after requesting philosophical consolation from his
university-educated minion: "come Baldock, come sit down by me;/Make trial now of that
philosophy/That in our famous nurseries of arts/Thou sucked'st from Plato and from Aristotle" [4.7.16-
20]. But Edward's dream of contemplative retirement shatters when Baldock names Mortimer.
"Mortimer! Who talks of Mortimer?/Who wounds me with the name of Mortimer?" Edward asks as he
collapses into the Abbot's lap: "Good father, on thy lap/Lay I this head, laden with mickle care." Then,
the abject king wishes for death: "O might I never open these eyes again,/Never again lift up this
drooping head,/O never more lift up this dying heart!" [4.7.37-43]. Earlier in the drama, Roger Mortimer
had threatened Edward with reference to the family name MORTIMER and its supposed etymological
root, "de Mortuo Mari," suggesting death [2.3.21-26]. With Edward's histrionic reaction to the name,
Marlowe begins to engage allegorical conventions of Tudor religious drama. Edward, having lost the
battle to maintain worldly power, will soon confront Death.(7)
In a stage ensemble, monks and the royal favorites stand silent about the abbot and Edward as the
scene of his collapse transforms into an emblematic tableau that initially characterizes the king's fall in
terms of the "de casibus" tradition and then--with stage properties signifying death, Christ's Passion, and
the apocalypse--alerts the audience to a complex of symbolic acts and images that will link Edward's
ritualized torture to Jesus' sacrificial death. "ENTER, WITH WELSH HOOKS, Rice ap Howell [AND Soldiers],
A Mower, AND THE EARL OF Leicester" to arrest Edward [47.46 s.d.]. These victorious rebels, their
weapons raised, stand apart as the mower, who has watched the king steal into the abbey, points
toward him among his favorites: "Upon my life, those be the men ye seek." Then the Earl of Leicester
moralizes on Edward's plight: "Alas, see where he sits and hopes unseen/T'escape their hands that seek
to reave his life." With a Latin aphorism from Seneca's THYESTES, Leicester interprets this stage picture
by reading Edward's abjection as fitting consequence to his fall through pride: "Too true it is: 'quem dies
vidit veniens superbum,/Hunc dies fugiens iacentem'" [4.7.46, 51-54]--that is, "whom the dawn of a new
day saw high and mighty, the dusk of fleeting day sees cast down." Marlowe thus exploits conventions
of English Renaissance emblem books that use such Latin mottoes as inscriptions over woodcut scenes
with verse commentary.(8)

Clifford Leech, reading the visual imagery in this stage emblem, describes the mower with his scythe,
symbolizing death, as "effective but unobtrusive" reference to "cosmic powers."(9) The mower's scythe
appears alongside an equally important stage property that has not been fully understood by critics--the
soldier's Welsh hook, a bill with a cross-piece and a blade shaped like a pruning hook. Weapons named
for an agricultural implement of similar design, the Welsh hooks displayed in this emblematic scene
introduce biblical imagery of Christ's Passion while recalling an earlier reference to "pruning," or
"purging," as a metaphor for political violence. Through their herald, rebellious nobles have warned
Edward that England's royal vine must be pruned of a "flatterer": "from your princely person you
remove/This Spencer [i.e., Spencer Junior], a putrifying branch/That deeds the royal vine." In an
anachronism, the herald describes "the royal vine, whose golden leaves/Empale your princely head,
your diadem" [3.1.161-65]. Marlowe's herald, superimposing the vine upon the crown as a symbol of
state, invokes the biblical allegory of the vineyard as a kingdom, an allegory used by Tudor Catholics in
the Adoration of the Cross during of [sic] the liturgy of Good Friday.(10) Isaiah extends the allegory to
warn about God's wrath against a wayward nation, God the almighty husbandman who "shal cut downe
the branches" of the vine "with hookes...& cut of the boughs" [Isaiah 18:5].(11) During the deposition
scene, as Edward takes the golden vine from his head, he will use this biblical image to foreshadow his
assassination and the accession of his son: "So shall not England's vine be perished,/But Edward's name
survives though Edward dies" [5.1.47-48].

In the emblematic scene of Edward's arrest, the mower's scythe may be seen as a symbol of death
and the Welsh hooks as symbolic of political violence. Together these stage properties may be read to
signify the apocalyptic harvest of God's wrath, a recurring event, according to Anglican exegesis of the
Book of Revelation:
"And I loked, & beholde, a white cloude, and vpon the cloude one sitting like vnto the Sone of
man...and in his hand a sharpe sickle....And he...thrust in his sickle on the earth, & the earth was
reaped....And another Angel...thrust in his sharpe sickle on the earthe, & cutte downe the vines of the
vineyarde of the earth, and cast them into the great wine presse of the wrath of God....And the wine
presse was troden...and blood came out of the wine presse...."[Rev. 14:14, 16, 18-20]

The scythe and pruning hook are paired symbols of apocalyptic catastrophe in iconographic
representations of the Harvest of the Earth and Vintage of the Wrath of God, a "scene" disseminated
widely among Marlowe's audience by Bible illustrations and other graphic depictions of this passage
from St. John's prophecy. In late medieval iconography, the sickles that harvest the world are sometimes
represented as a scythe and pruning hook. For example, the Great East Window of York Minster (1405-
08), in its depiction of St. John's Apocalypse, shows the Son of Man, or Christ, overlooking the harvest
with a scythe in one hand and a pruning hook in the other. More than the harvest of grain, the pruning
of God's vineyard signifies tribulations visited upon his "true" Church or "chosen" nation. In the first
edition of CHRISTUS TRIUMPHANS (1556), John Foxe's "'comoedia apocalyptica'" based upon the Book
of Revelation, various dedicatory passages combine symbolic images from St. John's prophecy with
Isaiah's metaphor of the vineyard to condemn Mary Tudor and to place her reign within the Protestant
apocalyptic scheme of history: "England, once a blessed vine, which the father of fathers planted with
his right hand and which sweet Jesus watered with his holy hands, is now, alas, a cursed vine...the
unholy Antichrist plunders our holy grapes." Foxe warns his audience "that the grapes of the earth are
everywhere ripe and that it is time for the gathering angel to put his pruning hook to work."(12)

In the scene of Edward's arrest, the Welsh hooks, displayed alongside the mower's scythe, suggest
divine retribution in the vintage of God's wrath; however, in a primary signification among Elizabethans,
the weapons symbolize Jesus' Crucifixion, the collective act that provokes God's vengeance against
humankind. The Welsh hook, with its characteristic cross-piece, is seen as an inverted sign of the cross.
Shakespeare's Falstaff claims that the Welshman Glendower "swore the devil his true liegeman upon
the cross of a Welsh hook."(13) Over the cross-piece, the curved blade like a pruning hook recalls a
biblical metaphor of Christ's Crucifixion, his pressing beneath the cross as a bunch of grapes in the
winepress. Medieval and Tudor exegetes derive this complex of Christological symbols from Isaiah 63, a
passage specified by the Elizabethan BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER to be read during Holy Week to
commemorate the Passion of Jesus. Isaiah, having seen that the "Sauiour cometh," has a vision and
hears a heavenly messenger say, "I speake in righteousnes, & am mightie to saue." Isaiah asks the
apparition, "Wherefore is thine apparel red, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine
presse?" The heavenly messenger, Christ, according to Christian exegesis, answers with metaphoric
reference to his Crucifixion: "I have troden the wine presse alone....And I loked, & there was none to
helpe" [62:11, 63:1-5].
In the Chester mystery cycle, the play of Christ's ASCENSION exploits some of the dramatic
possibilities in Isaiah's vision. In their spectacular production, Chester's tailors clothe the risen Christ in
his blood-stained robes of Bozrah. Thus bedizened as a sacrifice ascending to the throne of God and
standing center stage with angels upon the clouds, the Tailors' Christ chants Isaiah's prophecy: "'Torcular
calcavi solus, et de gentibus non est vir mecum.'"(14) Decades after the Chester cycle ceased production
in 1575, writers and preachers continue to exploit the powerful imagery of Isaiah's bloody specter. In an
Easter sermon, Lancelot Andrewes explicates the extended metaphor. Christ "was himself trodden and
pressed; He was the grapes and clusters Himself," Andrewes says. "The press He was trodden in, was His
Cross and Passion....His clusters were to be cut; cut, and cast in; cast in, and trodden on" so hard "that
they pressed the very soul out of His body, and out ran blood and water both."(15) In EDWARD II, to
dramatize the king's murder, Marlowe recasts this scriptural figure. On a darkened stage, Edward will be
pressed beneath a table and trodden upon as grapes in a winepress, the drama thus completing a
sequence of Passion imagery that Marlowe sets up when the rebels with Welsh hooks come to arrest
their king.

During the climactic death scene, the assassin Lightborn orchestrates Edward's murder. Named for a
devil who appears in the Chester mystery cycle, Lightborn approaches Edward in an underground
dungeon, the castle cesspool where he has stood for ten days "in mire and puddle." With a table and
red-hot spit ready, Lightborn coaxes Edward to lie down; the jailers "lay the table" on the king and
"stamp upon it" as Lightborn delivers the death-stroke with the glowing spit [5.5.111]. Elizabethan
chroniclers report that Edward might have been pressed beneath a table, but only in Marlowe's drama
do assassins tread upon Edward, who seems to predict his pressing and intimates its figurative meanings
when, emerging from the dungeon, he prays, "O, would my blood dropped out from every vein"
[5.5.65]--recalling Elizabethan belief that when Jesus was pressed by the cross, he shed his blood "most
plentifully, as out of grapes pressed at the as there remained not one drop more in [his]

Through ironic foreshadowing, Marlowe suggests that Edward's pressing to death will be retribution
for his slaughter of English nobles and that their slaughter will be retribution for rebellion. Isaiah's
heavenly messenger, after complaining that he has "troden the wine presse alone," threatens
vengeance because his "people" "rebelled and vexed his holie Spirit: therefore was he turned to be their
enemie & he foght against them" [63:10]. This spectral figure of Christ prophesies bloody slaughter: "I
wil tread them in mine angre, & tread them vnder fote in my wrath, and their blood shalbe sprincled
vpon my garmentes, and I wil staine all my raiment. For the daie of vengeance is in mine heart..." [Isa.
63:3-4]. Called "England's scourge," Marlowe's King Edward borrows Isaian rhetoric to threaten
vengeance upon his nobles: "I'll tread upon their heads/That think with high looks thus to tread me
down" [2.2.96-97], and, after barons murder his favorite,
If I be England's king, in lakes of gore

Your headless trunks, your bodies will I trail,

That you may drink your fill and quaff in blood,

And stain my royal standard with the same,

That so my bloody colors may suggest

Remembrance of revenge immortally

On your accursed traitorous progeny--

You villains that have slain my Gaveston.--[3.1.135-42]

With this rhetorical bravura, Marlowe's king rouses himself to fleeting victory at Boroughbridge and the
subsequent mass execution of captured English knights. Edward's assassination will be staged as a
degrading parody of his apocalyptic revenge, his "treading" his enemies underfoot to stain himself with
their blood. Released from a castle cesspool, pressed and trodden beneath a table, Edward drips not
blood but sewer water: "O, would my blood dropped out from every vein,/As doth this water from my
tattered robes" [5.5.65-66].


Between complementary stage pictures--Edward's arrest by soldiers with Welsh hooks and his
treading to death--Marlowe frames the sufferings of the captive king to recall the pressing of Christ, a
Passion metaphor often invoked by Tudor divines and frequently depicted in religious art. Thus, like the
medieval Passion play, EDWARD II translates conventional Christian iconography into realistic dramatic
detail.(17) In rehearsing the degradations of Edward after his arrest, Marlowe deploys further symbolic
imagery and action derived from traditional narrative of Christ's secret Passion. As F.P. Pickering
explains in LITERATURE AND ART IN THE MIDDLE AGES, medieval exegetes elaborate the Gospel story of
the Passion and Crucifixion with incidents supposedly prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures. In the
Gospel according to Luke, Christ says of his Passion, death, and Resurrection that "all must be fulfilled
which are written of me in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophetes, and in the Psalmes" [24:44], thus
directing Christian theologians to search those scriptures for messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus'
Passion but not recorded in the New Testament.(18)
For Elizabeth's Protestant church, Lancelot Andrewes, a primary architect of the Anglican "via media,"
recapitulates notions of the secret Passion with a mix of figurative and literal interpretations of
prophetic texts read during English liturgy and devotions. In his sermon preached on Good Friday of
1597, Andrewesoutlines scriptural bases for traditional beliefs that Jesus suffered a secret Passion
foretold by Hebrew prophets. Citing the Acts of the Apostles [8:30-35], Andrewes praises "That great
and honorable person the Eunuch, sitting in his chariot" [2:119] and reading from Isaiah: "he is broght as
a shepe to the slaughter, and as a shepe before her shearer" [53:7]. The eunuch asks St. Philip, "I pray
thee of whome speaketh the Prophet this?" The apostle identifies Jesus as the subject of Isaiah's
messianic prophecies, including this line comparing him to the sacrificial lamb. Among Christians,
Isaiah's prophecy about a "shepe before her shearer" gives rise to apparently widespread belief that,
after his arrest, Jesus' beard was shaved or plucked. To warrant belief that Christ's beard was shaved,
Robert Manning of Brunne cites an additional passage from the prophet Isaiah, the "Fifth Evangelist."

Whan Iewes had dampned hym [Christ] deth for to haue,

Shamely berde and hede gun they shaue.

The euangelystys telle nat of thys doyng,

For they myghte nat wryte alle thyng.

Of hys berde y fynde a resun,

The whyche seyd Isaye yn goddys persone:

"My body y ghaue to men smytyng,

And also my chekes to men grubbyng."(19)

Manning quotes from Isaiah 50. Similarly, in Elizabeth's churches on Tuesday of Holy Week, before
reading the Passion according to Mark, worshippers read this same Isaian prophecy: "can I not say nay,
neither withdraw myself, but I offer my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to the nippers," with
NIPPERS glossed "those who pull out the beard."(20) Marlowe gives this bit of Passion lore prominence

To dramatize the shaving of the king's beard, Marlowe elaborates the account found in Stowe's
CHRONICLES, which describes Edward's humiliations in custody of a "rabble of Helhoundes" who make
"a crown of Hey, put it on hys heade" and mock him with the words "Tprut, avaunt sir King, making a
kinde of noise with theyr mouthes, as though they had farted." Edward's mock crowning recalls Christ's
humiliation by soldiers who "platted a crown of thorns, and crowned him withal, and began to salute
him, Hail, King of the Jews...and did spit upon him...and mocked him."(21) In Stowe's report, the
mocking and crowning of Edward seems to be straightforward use of a Christological motif compatible
with medieval doctrines that the king in his sufferings becomes a "christomimetes," in the words of
Ernst Kantorowicz, an "'actor' or 'impersonator' of Christ...on the terrestrial stage...."(22) Shakespeare
uses this motif in 3 HENRY VI when Lancastrians seat Richard, Duke of York, on a molehill, mock him
with the blood of his youngest son, and crown him with paper before stabbing him to death [1.4].

Marlowe, however, eschewing the pietism of his sources, omits Edward's mock crowning but
dramatizes his shaving. Stowe reports that, after humiliating the deposed king with their anti-ritual
coronation, his jailers, "diuising by all meanes to disfigure him that hee mighte not be
knowen,...determined to shave as well the heare off hys heade as also off his bearde":

"wherefore comming by a little Water whiche ranne in a ditche, they commaunded him to alighte
from his horse to be shauen: to whome being set on a Molehill, a Barbour came with a Bason of colde
Water taken out of the ditch, to whom Edwarde sayd, shall I have no warme water? the Barber
answered, this wyll serve: quoth Edward, will ye or nil yee I will have warme water: and that he might
keepe his promise he beganne to weepe and to shed teares plentifullye (as it was reported by William
Byshop, to sir Thomas de la More knight)."(23)

Marlowe modifies the central action of Stowe's spare account and adds further non-historical
degradations drawn from traditional lore about Jesus' secret Passion. As jailers convey Edward from
castle to castle, they stop to shave him. "O water, gentle friends, to cool my thirst/And clear my body
from foul excrements," Edward pleads. The jailers give him water from an open sewer: "Here's channel
water, as our charge is given;/Sit down, for we'll be barbers to your grace." Immediately thereafter, they
douse the king's face. "Traitors, away!" Edward shouts. "What, will you murther me,/Or choke your
sovereign with puddle water?" he asks his keepers as he struggles. "No, but wash your face and shave
away your beard,/Lest you be known and so be rescued" [5.3.25-32].

To reinforce Christological signification in Edward's shaving, Marlowe embellishes the scene with
non-historical scatological degradations. Edward begs for water to wash "foul excrements" from his
body--a detail which recalls the non-Gospel tradition that Jesus' captors "cover and torment Him with
mire and scum" and with "indecencies and filth," as the MEDITATIONS ON THE LIFE OF CHRIST formerly
attributed to St. Bonaventura puts it, or, in Manning's translation, that "With wete and eke dung they
hym defoule."(24) Further, only in Marlowe's drama is Edward forced to drink from a channel before he
is shaven, a torment like one that Jesus suffers, according to traditional interpretation of Psalm 110:7--
"He shal drinke of the brooke in ye waie: therefore shal he lift vp HIS head"--as prophecy that Christ,
after his arrest, is forced to drink from Cedron, a brook outside Gethsemane. Martin Luther, in his
commentary on the psalm, reiterates almost word for word Ludolph of Saxony's interpretation of the
verse: "He will 'drink from the brook'; that is, He will suffer and die. By 'drink'...Scripture means any sort
of torture, misery, and suffering." In the Towneley COLIPHIZACIO (BUFFETING), a "tortor" threatens, "He
[Jesus] has done vs greuance;/Therfor shall he drynk" [21.57-58]. In Marlowe's scene, Edward's
tormentors douse him while grasping his hair and beard, and he gags, further reinforcing reference to
Christ's secret Passion: "Saue me, o God: for the waters are entred euen to MY soule," the incipit of
Psalm 69, a prophecy, according to Luther, about the "suffering of the Lord in His own person."(25)

After Edward's degradation and shaving, the audience next find him enclosed within the cesspool of
Berkeley Castle, where he has stood in darkness for ten days "up to the knees in water," in the
"sink/Wherein the filth of all the castle falls" [5.5.2, 55-56]. Some critics read this stage picture,
alongside Marlowe's other non-historical scatological torments, as especially symptomatic of the
playwright's presumed psychological aberration,(26) but Marlowe constructs these scenes, too, from
culturally shared images of Jesus' secret Passion. Psalm 69, glossed in the Geneva Bible as the
"complaints, prayers,...& great anguish of Dauid...set forthe as a figure of Christ," laments: "I sticke fast
in the depe myre...I am come into depe waters, and the streames runne ouer me" [2]; and Psalm 88,
read by Tudor Christians on Easter at Evensong to remember Jesus' Passion, proclaims: "Thou hast layed
me in the lowest pytte, in a place of darcknes; and in the depe. Thyne indignacion lieth harde upon me:
and thou hast vexed me with all thy stormes....I am so fast in pryson: that I cannot get forth" [6-8]. King
David's metaphors of the pit, the mire, the waves of indignation have been interpreted in light of
narrative about Jeremiah as a type of Christ: "Then toke they Ieremiah, and cast him into the
dongeon...and in the dongeon there was no water but myre: so Ieremiah stacke fast in the myre" [Jer.
38:6]. Reading these and other Old Testament texts as prophecy about Jesus' Passion, some medieval
exegetes hold that Caiaphas's household guards forced Jesus into an underground chamber "to a
stinking place with two privies, and there they plunged our beloved Lord in, and maltreated Him so with
the filth that His heart might have broken from the pain and agony He suffered from the stench."(27)

With Edward's confinement in the castle cesspool, Marlowe adds a further degradation to enlarge the
historical record and develop the Elizabethan chroniclers' strong implication that the king is afflicted
with a series of torments modeled on Passion lore. As preamble to his shaving, Edward charges that
Matrevis and Gurney have tried to kill him with "stench": "Within a dungeon England's king is kept,...But
can my air of life continue long/When all my senses are annoyed with stench?" [5.3.17-19]. According to
the chronicles of Stowe and Holinshed, Edward is confined, not within a dungeon, but within a chamber
OVER "a foule filthie dungeon, full of dead carrion," this manner of torture recalling belief that, as part
of his sufferings on the cross, Jesus endured the stench of Calvary. According to Caxton's version of THE
GOLDEN LEGEND, Christ's "sorrow was in smelling of ordure and filth...[the] great stench of Calvary
whereas were the bodies of dead men stinking."(28) As does Jesus on his cross, Edward in his dungeon
breathes in human corruptions and death.
Their symbolic meanings aside, the scatological degradations in EDWARD II, Marlowe's interpolations,
are consistent in their dehumanizing cruelty with the historical record of Edward's treatment, especially
during his murder. Holinshed describes the king's assassination as follows:

"they came suddenlie one night into the chamber where he laie in bed fast asleepe, and with heauie
featherbeds or a table (as some write) being cast vpon him, they kept him down and withall put into his
fundament an horne, and through the same they thrust vp into his bodie an hot spit, or (as other haue)
through the pipe of a trumpet a plumbers instrument of iron made verie hot, the which passing vp into
his intrailes, and being rolled to and fro, burnt the same, but so as no appearance of any wound or hurt
outwardlie might be once perceived. His crie did mooue manie within the castell and towne of Berkley
to compassion...."(29)

To culminate his naturalistic dramatization of Edward's tragedy, Marlowe stages this singularly hideous
regicide in full detail and does not omit the death-stroke, which has been interpreted as talionic
punishment for the king's presumably sexual love of Gaveston. "See that in the next room I have a
fire,/And get me a spit, and let it be red hot," Lightborn tells Matrevis and Gurney. They prepare to
murder the helpless Edward, who will die screaming loudly enough to "raise the town" as he lies
trodden beneath a table and skewered with the searing spit [5.5.29-30, 113]. Along with the scatological
degradations, the sexualized violence of the king's assassination, amplified in Marlowe's death-scene,
has led some critics to conclude that EDWARD II achieves sensational iconoclasm at the expense of
other important aesthetic response.(30) However, again, such readings do not recognize Marlowe's
development of Christological imagery latent in historical sources.

King Edward's captors have shaved his beard, or, in terms of Isaiah's metaphor, "sheared" him as a
sheep for slaughter. In the death-scene, Marlowe constructs a stage picture that may be seen to
complete this biblical figure: skewered on a red-hot spit, pressed beneath an overturned table, Edward
dies in an inverted image of the Pascal lamb on a spit, a figure that translates Old Testament ritual into
an image of the Christian Eucharist. In 1 Corinthians, Paul identifies Christ as the Passover sacrifice and
thus authorizes exegetical description of him as the Paschal lamb, a metaphor prominent in Tudor
liturgy, devotional literature, and mystery plays. Traditional representations of the Last Supper include
descriptions of the Paschal lamb, a Jewish sacrifice prefiguring Jesus' death. "What tyme the paske
lambe was brouht to the borde rosted after the lawe; oure lorde Jesus that was sothfast lambe of god,
without wemme of synne...serueth & ministreth"; thus Nicolas Love describes Jesus at the Passover
table, "square as men supposen, made of diuerse bordes ioynet to gedir."(31) From such traditional
exposition of Eucharistic iconography, dramatists constructed a common stage picture in plays of the
Last Supper. At the same time, Henrician and Marian liturgy celebrates Easter with repeated reference
to the "Paschal sacrifice," "the Paschal sacrament," "the Paschal feast, in which the true Lamb is slain."
Although Elizabeth's Reformation of Tudor liturgy removes such frequent reference to the Paschal lamb,
this metaphor for Christ the sacrificial victim persists. In an Easter sermon on Christ "our Passover,"
Andrewes describes the Paschal lamb as biblical metaphor for "Christ's body...offered, rent, and slain,
and sacrificed for us."(32)

Old Testament law prescribes how the Passover lamb must be prepared: "roste with fyre, both his
head, his fete, and his purtenance" [Exodus 12:9]. Roasting requires a spit, and, as James Marrow shows,
references "to the roasting of the lamb (Christ) are not uncommon," but poetic references to the Lamb
exhibit the Christian exegete's penchant for mixing Passion metaphors, with the spit submerged
beneath the cross or the altar as primary symbols of Christ's sacrificial death. Marrow cites Continental
references to "the innocent lamb which is killed and roasted on the altar of the cross," and elsewhere to
Christ "hung on the spit of the cross and roasted by the fire of love and sorrow," an image especially
apropos of Marlowe's death-scene, which also mixes metaphors by simultaneously skewering and
treading Edward beneath a table, inverting metaphoric representations of Christ's execution: the red-
hot spit "roasts" Edward internally as his treading makes him bleed also internally. In the churches of
Henry VIII and Mary, on Good Friday during the Adoration of the Cross English Catholics sang the
traditional hymn CRUX FIDELIS, which refers, albeit obliquely, to the Paschal lamb as Christ crucified:
"On the cross the Lamb is lifted,/There the sacrifice to be."(33)

In Marlowe's tragedy, a redundancy of religious imagery preceding and surrounding Edward's death
prepares the audience to see Christological meaning in Lightborn's glowing spit; however, whereas the
Paschal lamb and the winepress are commonplace Passion metaphors, the image of the skewered
Paschal lamb, though "not uncommon" in the early Renaissance, is invoked very rarely, if ever, by
Elizabethan divines. But after six years' study at Cambridge ostensibly for holy orders, Marlowe the
playwright, recognizing the more obvious allusions to Passion narrative in historical reports of King
Edward's death, probably read his skewering in light of Renaissance biblical scholarship that scrutinizes
the traditional hieratic image of "Christus crucifixus." At least since publication of Erasmus's "Novum
Instrumentum" in 1516, his edition of the Greek New Testament parallel with his Latin translation,
Renaissance scholars were aware that in St. Jerome's Vulgate the Latin "crux," meaning any gibbet of
execution, masks the grisly implications of the original Greek meaning "a post or stake," and that
Jerome's "crucifixerunt eum" blunts the literal meaning of, "they put him on the stake" or "they impaled
him."(34) Perhaps wary of the "scandalum crucis," a "stomblingblock" to faith, as St. Paul warns [1 Cor.
1:23], Protestant divines repress these literal meanings in the Greek accounts of Jesus' execution, but
Marlowe does not scruple to dramatize the skewering of King Edward as climax to his sufferings
modeled on traditional belief about Christ's Passion.

Response to EDWARD II has been shaped largely by Marlowe's death-scene. Most critics concede its
powerful effect but without recognizing that it culminates a series of actions adapted from symbolic
representations of Christ's Passion. Literary historians, emphasizing the bodily symbolism in the scene,
view it as iconoclastic or as a symptom of psycho-sexual disorder in the playwright.(35) But the murder
in EDWARD II must be understood as rehearsal of ritualized violence clearly implied in Marlowe's
sources. The raw realism of these stage pictures is tempered by their meanings as a cohesive, albeit
unsettling complex of images derived from conventional Christian symbolism. Marlowe thus adapts a
dramatic principle of English Passion plays and Elizabethan devotional texts that depict in highly realistic
detail the Crucifixion as both historical event and hieratic image.

Dramatizing the king's degradation and murder in EDWARD II, Marlowe adapts a controlling purpose
of the Passion play, to reenact Christ's torture and death as the "ne plus ultra" of human suffering. In
the Corpus Christi cycles, extreme violence predominates among stage images, thus manifesting a
radical shift in late medieval religious culture toward veneration of Christ's violated body.(36) With ritual
and devotional practice, the faithful are enjoined to SEE Christ's sacrifice, to witness the cruelties of his
arrest and brief captivity, to visualize fully his broken body on the "via dolorosa" and on Calvary and on
the cross--a religious practice observed by English Protestants as well as their medieval ancestors. Even
as Elizabeth's government is repressing the Corpus Christi plays, her Church has "ordered to be read"
"The Second Homilie Concerning the Death and Passion of our Saviour Christ":

"Call to mind, O sinfull creature, and set before thine eyes Christ crucified. Thinke thou seest his Body
stretched out in length upon the Crosse, his head crowned with sharpe thornes, and his handes and his
feete pearced with nayles, his heart opened with a long speare, his flesh rent and torne with whippes,
his browes sweating water and blood. Thinke thou hearest him now crying in an intolerable agony to his
Father....[L]et this Image of Christ crucified, bee alwayes printed in our heartes...."(37)

Protestant exegesis warrants such devotion--a hallmark of religious culture during the later Middle
Ages--to Christ's tortured body. Like their medieval predecessors, Elizabethans read a passage from the
Book of Lamentations as Christ's command to rehearse his Passion and Crucifixion if not on the stage at
least in liturgy and devotions. "Haue ye no regarde, all ye that passe by THIS way?" the prophet asks
before inviting passersby to witness his suffering: "beholde, & se, if there be any sorowe like vnto my
sorowe, whiche is done vnto me, wherewith the Lord hathe afflicted ME in the day of his fierce wrath"
[1:12]. The text is one which, along with others, had been paraphrased and elaborated in the York and
Towneley Passions by the character Jesus speaking from his cross.(38) This and other verses invite
visualization, graphic depiction, and dramatization of Jesus' torture. Reasserting tenets of late medieval
Christianity, Andrewes, in a sermon on Lamentations 1:12, emphasizes that Jesus' Passion is superlative,
that God the Father's incarnate Son suffers all that human flesh can bear, more than mere humans could
endure. Andrewes tells his flock to "consider" Jesus' "sufferings": "Our very eye will soon tell us no place
was left in His body, where he might be smitten and was not."(39)

Striving to be comprehensive spectacles of sacrificial violence, English Passion plays include elaborate
scenes of torture. Jesus' binding, buffeting, scourging, crowning with thorns, mocking, and finally his
ritualistic nailing to the cross are performed in painstaking detail amid a stream of verbal abuse by
Caiaphas, Annas, and their henchmen the "tortores." In the York cycle, immediately following the
Pinners' CRUCIFIXIO, the Butchers' play of the MORTIFICACIO CRISTI has Jesus again addressing the
members of the audience from his cross. He commands them to view his tortured body: "On me for to
looke lette thou noght,/Howe baynly my body I bende" [185-86]. After a "planctus Mariae" in which his
mother laments her "sorowe and sighte," Jesus dies. To close the play, Joseph of Arimathea, before
taking down Jesus' mutilated corpse, turns to the audience and remarks, "Alle mankynde may marke in
his mynde/To see here this sorowfull sighte" [365-66]--thus recommending to memory the central visual
image of the mystery plays and of Tudor religious culture. Applying these aesthetics of medieval drama
to historical tragedy, Marlowe stages the degradations and death of Edward against the cultural
archetype of Jesus' Passion. "Weepst thou already?" Edward asks his assassin before recapitulating his
torments: "List awhile to me,/And then thy heart, were it...hewn from the Caucasus,/Yet will it melt ere I
have done my tale" [5.5.51-54]. These lines echo a cliche of medieval and Elizabethan Passion texts:
Christ's agonies "will make our bowels melt with compassion...if our hearts be not 'flint,' as Job

Medieval dramatists achieve chilling success in perhaps their greatest artistic challenge, to represent
the Passion as supreme cruelty and transcendent human suffering. Similarly in EDWARD II, Marlowe
dramatizes "the ultimate physical cruelty...the furthest reaches...of human suffering and humiliation," as
Leech concludes after viewing a successful modern performance.(41) Capitalizing on Christian scenes of
supra-natural violence, Marlowe explores tragic sensibilities embedded deeply in Tudor religious
culture. As an aesthetic imperative of this complicated artistic project, Marlowe, informed by medieval
dramaturgy, reconfigures sacred images elaborated in medieval religion and reemphasized by English
Reformation. He thus rehearses the sufferings of Edward as a royal "christomimetes." When Marlowe,
borrowing a strategy from medieval dramatists, orchestrates a complex of extreme torments drawn
from Passion narrative, he aims at affective response grounded in the liturgy and devotions of Tudor
religious practice.

Moreover, dramatizing the torture and murder of Edward as utmost human cruelty, Marlowe exploits
an irony of medieval Passion plays that, in turn, reproduces and emphasizes an irony of the Gospels: to
cancel Jesus' claims to royalty, his tormentors subject him to a criminal's death which, in the manner of
its execution, fulfills Old Testament prophecy and reveals that he is the Messiah, "King of the Iewes," as
Pilate writes over Jesus' cross [John 19:19]. And with deeper religious, psychological, and dramatic
implications, the "tortores" pummel his face so savagely as to destroy his personal appearance and thus
fulfill Isaiah's prophecy that the Messiah will undergo complete disfigurement: "his visage was so
deformed of men, and his forme of the sonnes of men"; "he hathe nether forme nor beautie: when we
shal se him, there shalbe no forme that we shulde desire him" [Isa. 52:14, 53:2]. Similarly, Marlowe's
Edward, having been deposed and divested of his royal dignities, suffers under complete control of
Roger Mortimer, a Machiavellian leader among the rebel barons who orchestrates a battery of
degradations designed to torment Edward beyond resistance and to efface his personal identity. But in
this final contest of wills, Edward, though powerless and knowing that he must be murdered, still
refuses to die as he stands awake for ten days in the darkened cesspool, only to be assassinated after
reasserting his kingship. Testing aesthetic limits of emergent Elizabethan tragedy, Marlowe thus adapts
the dynamic of the Passion plays: suffering transforms King Edward, whose identity as a man and king
emerges more fully under cruelties meant to degrade him utterly, to expunge his human being.(42)

But unlike Jesus, who is repeatedly buffeted, scourged, beaten with rods, Edward, who suffers no
such direct physical assault, is disfigured only when shaved and covered with "excrements." Biblical
exegetes not uncommonly viewed Jesus' befouling as fulfillment of Isaian prophecy that Messiah's
"visage" is "so deformed of men" that he has "nether forme nor beautie...that we shulde desire him."
According to a Netherlandish Passion treatise, Jesus' captors befoul "Him anew so that one might not be
able to distinguish His mouth, nose or eyes from the filth they threw in His beloved face."(43) The
Towneley COLIPHIZACIO uses this staple of Passion lore when Caiaphas answers Jesus' claims to divine
kingship with scatological reproofs. "Lad" and "harlott," Caiaphas calls Jesus, "How durst thou the
call/...kyng?" [21.189-90]; "Speke on in a torde,/The dwill [devil] gif the shame" [215-16]; "the dwillys
durt in thi berd,/Vyle false tratur" [170]. Possibly the character Caiaphas's scatological insults are hurled
in concert with like stage business. In his record of King Edward's Christotogical degradations, Stowe
reports that the royal keepers devise "BY ALLE MEANES to disfigure him that he mighte not be knowen"
(emphasis mine). Reading this cryptic reference in his source, Marlowe infers that Edward suffers a full
range of degradations drawn from Passion lore, so in EDWARD II the royal keepers enact scatological
degradations only implied by the English chronicles.

Throughout Marlowe's death-scene, dramatic images from English Passion plays and devotional texts
converge with riveting intensity. For an Elizabethan audience imbued with narrative exposition of the
Gospels and Hebrew prophets, this sequence of symbolic images and actions must heighten the tragic
sense of pity for Edward as he keeps tenuous hold of his identity till Lightborn delivers the searing
death-stroke. Edward has spent his last ten days in a dark dungeon, like those that held Jeremiah and
Jesus, a subterranean cesspool, the "sink/Wherein the filth of all the castle falls" [5.5.55-56]. Mortimer
conjures a human devil to perform the regicide: "Lightborn, come forth" [5.4.21]. Lightborn acts his part
in the tragedy as a Vice, a stock character in medieval drama, a trickster out to snare human souls.
"[N]one shall know my tricks," Lightborn tells Mortimer after boasting "a braver way" to murder Edward
without leaving outward marks of violence [5.4.36-38]. Before calling Edward from the castle cesspool,
Lightborn boasts again, "So now, must I about this gear; ne'er was there any/So finely handled as this
king shall be" [5.5.38-39]. As Douglas Cole shows, when Lightborn, using "the conventional word GEAR,"
invites the audience to admire his grisly art, he rehearses a theatrical strategy of the Vice.(44)

Further, Lightborn's "grim game of deceit and destruction" recalls also the playful sadism of the
"tortores" who, in the Passion plays, execute Jesus with giddy professional pride. In the York CRUCIFIXIO
CHRISTI, after nailing and raising Jesus on the cross, the "milites" taunt him with their boasts.

II MILES. Nowe will this crosse full stabely stande

All-yf he raue thei will noght ryve.

I MILES. Say, sir, howe likis thou nowe,

This werke that we haue wrought?

IV MILES. We praye youe sais vs howe

Ghe fele, or faynte ghe ought?--[35.247-52]

In response, the character Jesus acknowledges their effectiveness by elaborating that famous verse from
the Book of Lamentations: "Al men that walkis by waye or strete...," Jesus tells the audience, "Byholdes
myn heede, myn handis, my feete,/And fully feele nowe, or ghe fyne,/Yf any mournyug may be
meete,/Or myscheue mesured vnto myne" [35.253, 255-58]. Just as the "milites'" professional acumen
implies Jesus' extreme pain, Lightborn's artful cruelty, learned in Naples and variously practiced,
culminates in the "braver way" he tortures Edward to death.

"Who's there?" Edward calls out from his noxious pit toward footsteps approaching in the darkness,
and "Wherefore comes thou?" "To comfort you and bring you joyful news," answers Lightborn, having
just ordered that a spit be fired in the next room. Out from his cesspool-dungeon, Edward, his head
covered with filth and his voice issuing tremulously from the shadowy stage, reads Lightborn's face and
understands: "Small comfort finds poor Edward in thy looks./Villain, I know thou comst to murther me"
[5.5.41-44]. Trying to dupe his royal victim, Lightborn, in a strategy of the Vice, sheds crocodile tears:
"And what eyes can refrain from shedding tears/To see a king in this most piteous state?" [5.5.49-50].
Perhaps reassured momentarily, Edward tells his sufferings: "And there in mire and puddle have I
stood/This ten days' space; and lest that I should sleep,/One plays continually upon a drum" [5.5.58-60].
These plaintive lines refer to a combination of torments drawn from Passion lore. In addition to being
confined in the cesspool and deprived of sleep, as is Jesus during his secret Passion, Edward is
tormented with the beating of a drum, a symbol of the Crucifixion. In his Gospel, St. Matthew identifies
Jesus as Isaiah's Man of Sorrows who "toke our infirmities, and bare OUR sickenesses"; then, the
Evangelist quotes Jesus: "The foxes haue holes, and the birdes of the heauen haue nestes, but the Sonne
of man hathe not whereon to rest his head" [8:17, 20]. This verse, paraphrased and elaborated by Jesus
in the Towneley CRUCIFIXION [23.255-65], is interpreted as prophecy that he would not sleep during his
captivity in Caiaphas's house on the night before his death and that the cross would provide him no
place to rest his head. Marlowe's Edward, with no place to rest in the cesspool, is kept awake by a drum.
In commentary on Psalm 149, St. Augustine identifies the "tympanum" as a metaphor for the body of
Jesus stretched over the tree of the cross and beaten as a drum.(45) In EDWARD II, the drum is made to
symbolize the king's grief as a "Man of Sorrows." After the drumming has stopped, Lightborn invites
Edward to sleep. The king answers, "But that grief keeps me waking, I should sleep" [5.5.92].

As Edward's assassination draws near, the doomed king invokes Passion lore even further to
emphasize loss of his royal and manly identity. Edward, bedraggled in his "tattered robes," recalls his
divestiture before he remembers his appearance as a young knight: "Tell Isabel, the queen, I looked not
thus/When for her sake I ran at tilt in France/And there unhorsed the Duke of Cleremont" [5.5.67-69].
Edward's recollection of victory in a tournament, when read as Christological allusion, provides ironic
foreboding and compares implicitly his loss of manly dignity to Jesus' degradations on Calvary. In a cruel
parody of the medieval images of Jesus as a lover-knight and warrior-king, executioners prepare him for
crucifixion as though they were squires arming a knight for the joust. In the Towneley CRUCIFIXION, the
"tortores" ridicule Jesus while they prepare to nail him to the cross: they tell him that, since he is a king,
they will prepare him to "iust in tornamente" by mounting him on his palfrey. "For we shall sett the in
thy sadyll"; "And we shall se how he can ryde,/And how to weld a shaft," they taunt Jesus [23.92, 102,
111-12].(46) Marlowe's use of this Christological image seems especially ironic in view of Edward's
imminent skewering.

Before remembering that long ago he "unhorsed the Duke of Cleremont" for his bride Isabel of
France, Edward describes his mistreatment within the cesspool of Berkeley Castle: "They give me bread
and water, being a king,/So that for want of sleep and sustenance/My mind's distempered, and my
body's numbed,/And whether I have limbs or no I know not" [5.5.61-64]. Standing before his
executioner, Edward describes the disintegration of his mind and body in a way to recall metaphoric
descriptions of Jesus' Passion. Exhausted by abuse, Edward is "numb," his mind "distempered," like
Jesus, who after the flagellation trembles before Pilate, according to interpretation of a verse from
Jeremiah: "all my bones shake: I am like a drunken man" [23:9]. More important, Edward, covered with
filth, his face unrecognizable, complains that he does not know whether he has arms or legs. The worm,
a limbless denizen of the mire, is a very common figure of the suffering Christ disfigured by torture and
scatological degradations, according to Tudor exegesis of a line in the psalm appointed for Good Friday:
"I am a worme and no man: a very skorne of men, and the outcaste of the people" [22:6]. Andrewes
invokes this figure of Christ in a Good Friday sermon: "'Tamquam agnus,' saith the Prophet of Him, 'as a
lamb', pitifully slaughtered. 'Tamquam vermis,' saith He of Himself, 'as a worm', spitefully trod upon," a
combination of images especially appropriate for Marlowe's Edward, who staggers from the cesspool to
be trodden under a table and skewered with a spit.(47)

In Psalm 69, David speaks "AS A FIGURE OF CHRIST," according to the Geneva Bible: "I am poore..."
[29]. In EDWARD II, the king attempts to dissuade his hired assassin with a bribe, a vestige of his royal
wealth. "One jewel have I left; receive thou this," Edward tells Lightborn; "O, if thou harbour'st murder
in thy heart,/Let this gift change thy mind and save thy soul" [5.5.83, 86-87]. In yielding his last jewel to
Lightborn, Edward gives up that remnant of his kingly substance to pay his executioner. Like King Jesus,
he will face death "poor and sorrowful" [Ps. 69:30]. The translation of Psalm 88 [87] in the Elizabethan
PRIMER reiterates this Passion prophecy in terms especially relevant to Edward's fate: "I am poor, and in
travails ever from my youth; and when I was exalted, I was cast down and troubled," this amidst other
verses applicable to Edward's degradation and sorrows.

"For my soul is full of adversities, and my life draweth nigh unto hell. I am counted as one of them
that go down into the pit,...laid in the lower pit, in dark places, and in the shadow of death....Thou shalt
put away mine acquaintance far from me, they take me as abominable....Thy wrath hath passed over
me, and thy terrors have troubled me sore....My lover and friend hast thou put away far from me...."(48)

Immediately after handing Lightborn the jewel, Edward suffers a somatic premonition: "But every
joint shakes as I give it thee." Edward speaks in terms reminiscent of a line in Psalm 22: "I am powred
like water, and all my bones are out of ioynt" [14]. According to tradition, this verse refers to agonies
suffered by Jesus as he is stretched upon the cross. A Passion tract translated during the reign of Henry
VIII describes how Jesus' executioners "drewe his arme [sic] and his feete, so that all the ioyntes of his
body were his veynes and synewes brast, and all his ioyntes loosed."(49) This scriptural
figure also appears in the English Passion plays. In the Towneley CRUCIFIXION, the "tortores" speak over
120 lines of verse as they stretch Jesus' limbs with ropes and nail his hands and feet to the cross. The
climax of this grisly stage business comes when they raise the cross and drop it into the mortise.

1 TORTOR. Lyft vs this tre emanges vs all.

2 TORTOR. Yee, and let it into the mortasse fall,

And that shall gar hym brest.

3 TORTOR. Yee, and all to-ryfe hym, lym from lym.

4 TORTOR. And it will breke ilk ionte in hym!--[23.305-09]

The full verse 14 of Psalm 22 could be read as vague figurative description of Edward's treading and
simultaneous impaling with a red-hot spit: "all my bones are out of ioynt: my heart also in the middes of
my body is euen like meltyng waxe."

Lightborn's tearful dissembling has failed to trick Edward. "I see my tragedy written in thy brows,"
Edward says before undergoing a kind of Christian "anagnorisis." "Yet stay a while; forbear thy bloody
hand,/And let me see the stroke before it comes,/That even then when I shall lose my life,/My mind
may be more steadfast on my God" [5.5.73-78]. But with the table and spit ready, Lightborn coaxes
Edward to lie before him and sleep. "Know that I am a king" [5.5.88], Edward remonstrates, reasserting
his royal identity. "Something still buzzeth in my ears/And tells me if I sleep I never wake" [5.5.102-03],
he says as he lies down; and then, just before Matrevis and Gurney rush to press and tread him beneath
the table, just before Lightborn raises the glowing spit, Edward prays, "Assist me, sweet God, and
receive my soul" [5.5.108]--a prayer like Jesus' last words, "Father, into thine hands I commend my
spirit" [Luke 23:46].


As I have demonstrated, Marlowe's EDWARD II is deeply embedded in Tudor religious culture, itself
embedded in exegetical traditions of medieval Christianity. Like the medieval Passion plays in their
dramatizations of Jesus' sufferings, the climactic scenes of EDWARD II represent the king's torture and
assassination with a dense amalgam of symbolic actions and visual and verbal images drawn from a
broad range of Passion texts: Tudor liturgy and devotional literature, Old Testament prophecies about
Messiah's sacrificial death, and traditional lore about Jesus' "secret" Passion. And like the late medieval
dramatists who historicize Jesus' Passion with an intense theatrical realism, Marlowe weaves
Christological images so seamlessly into EDWARD II that they intensify the playwright's naturalistic
dramatization of historical events. But my findings have implications for the study of Marlowe beyond
his dramatic style. Without recognizing Marlowe's use of Christian symbolism to dramatize the torture
and death of Edward, modern psychoanalytic critics cite these scenes of brutality as key evidence that
the playwright suffered psychological disease.(50) However, in view of Marlowe's use of conventional
Anglican religious imagery to develop these scenes of extreme violence, critics can no longer view them
simply as symptomatic of the poet's presumed psycho-sexual aberration. On the contrary, the final
scenes of his tragedy culminate Marlowe's scrutiny of the "libido dominandi" that Harry Levin defines as
a primary motivation in EDWARD II, the drive to violent domination exercised covertly in the death of
Edward and publicly in the execution of Jesus.(51)
Recently in "Christopher Marlowe and Atheism," Nicholas Davidson revisits the long-standing
question whether the playwright believed in the Christian God or not.(52) Increasingly, critical
interpretations of EDWARD II tend to support the conclusion that Marlowe, an atheist, or at least a
religious non-conformist, writes to subvert the ideology of the Christian Church. However, critics have
overlooked the medieval and Tudor religious images woven into the play. As I have shown, Marlowe's
Edward dies in the image of Christ crucified, but the use of religious imagery in the death scene does not
necessarily imply Marlowe's Christian faith. It is Edward, Marlowe's royal victim prone to grandiose self-
expression, who invokes much of the Christological imagery during climactic scenes when he bemoans
his sufferings in terms of Passion lore. In this characterization of Edward, Marlowe allows him to voice
commonplaces associated with the medieval belief that an anointed king, or "christus Dei," meets
intense suffering as a "christomimetes." Further, medieval and Elizabethan chronicles imply that
Edward's captors, rather than improvising torments for their royal victim, modeled his torture and
execution--perhaps unwittingly, or in modern terms, subconsciously--upon Christ's Passion as
represented in devotional texts and religious plays. Accordingly, with his dramatization of historical
sources, Marlowe suggests that King Edward II's assassins understood how to execute their king, how to
"perform" extreme cruelties upon his body from having commemorated the Passion and Crucifixion with
religious ritual and devotions and possibly from having participated, as actors or audience, in theatrical
performance of Passion plays. Marlowe's Lightborn, the professional torturer and assassin, has chosen
as his "nom de guerre" the name of a devil in the Chester mystery plays.

Viewing EDWARD II as an incisive Elizabethan interpretation of medieval history, we must recognize a

dramatic probability in most of the afflictions suffered by Marlowe's king. Most of Edward's torments
modeled on Passion lore are consistent with the playwright's purpose of rehearsing a range of abuses
implied by historical sources, mistreatments at the hands of royal keepers who are so imbued with
medieval narrative of Jesus' secret Passion that they reenact parts of it. However, Marlowe uses a few
non-historical details that are not linked to conventional Passion lore. In these details, I read the
playwright's suggestion that Edward's tragedy is shaped by the inscrutable providence of an angry God.
For example, only in Marlowe's drama does Edward languish, imprisoned in darkness, for "ten days"
before he is murdered, and pray, "sweet God,...receive my soul" [5.5.108]. The Book of Revelation tells
faithful Christians: "the deuil shal cast some of you into prison, that you may be tryed, and ye shal have
tribulation ten dayes: be thou faithful vnto the death, and I wil give thee the crowne of life" [2:10]. With
a complex of Christological imagery in EDWARD II, Marlowe invokes, as the widest frame of reference
for witnessing this king's tragedy, the providential design of Anglican historiography with "Christus
crucifixus" its center. In the Christian schema of history, the Cross of Christ casts its shadow over
dynasties and monarchies. In that shadow, Marlowe's King Edward suffers and dies.


During the early stages of my research I presented portions of this study to the Marlowe Society of
America and the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society. I thank members of these organizations for
their interest and comments, with special gratitude to Sarah Munson Deats and Gerard NeCastro.

1. T. McAlindon, RENAISSANCE ENGLISH TRAGEDY (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1986), gives

the prevalent view that without "the mysterious operations of divine providence" influencing Edward's
fate, "violent change" and "total confusion are the essential conditions" of the "intense playworld" in
POWER (Salzburg: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universitat Salzburg, 1974), 155-62;
Lawrence Normand, "'What passions call you these?' Edward II and James VI," in CHRISTOPHER
MARLOWE AND RENAISSANCE ENGLISH CULTURE, ed. Darryll Grantley and Peter Roberts (Aldershot,
Hants, England: Scolar Press, 1996), 172-97; Judith Haber, "Submitting to History: Marlowe's EDWARD
Richard Burt and John Michael Archer (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 170-84; Mitali R. Pati,
"The Deranged Metaphor of the King's Body Politic in Marlowe's EDWARD II," EXPLORATIONS IN
RENAISSANCE CULTURE 20 (1994): 157-73; Karen Cunningham, "Renaissance Execution and Marlovian
Elocution: The Drama of Death," PMLA 105 (1990): 219; James Voss, "EDWARD II: Marlowe's Historical
Tragedy," ENGLISH STUDIES 63 (1982): 517-30; Stephen Greenblatt, RENAISSANCE SELF-FASHIONING:
FROM MORE TO MARLOWE (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 200-03.

Such recent criticism of EDWARD II as an entirely secular drama rests upon a consensus among an
earlier generation of Marlowe scholars that the play minimizes or excludes altogether any role for divine
providence. See E.M.W. Tillyard, SHAKESPEARE'S HISTORY PLAYS (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1944),
108-09; Irving Ribner, THE ENGLISH HISTORY PLAY IN THE AGE OF SHAKESPEARE, rev. ed. (London:
Methuen, 1965), 128; Frederick Kiefer, FORTUNE AND ELIZABETHAN TRAGEDY (San Marino: Huntington
(1962; reprint New York: Gordian, 1972), 186; David Bevington, FROM "MANKIND" TO MARLOWE
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), 234-36.

In my reading of EDWARD II, I have been guided by central conclusions of Huston Diehl, Claire
Sponsler, Claude J. Summers, Alan Sinfield, and Martha Tuck Rozett. In STAGING REFORM, REFORMING
University Press, 1997), Diehl illustrates that Elizabethan and Stuart drama is embedded in religious
questions central to Reformation culture, while Sponsler, in DRAMA AND RESISTANCE: BODIES, GOODS,
AND THEATRICALITY IN LATE MEDIEVAL ENGLAND (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997),
describes characteristics of medieval religious drama that, as I show, Marlowe invokes in EDWARD II. In
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE AND THE POLITICS OF POWER, Summers illustrates the interrelation of
religious and political thought in Marlowe's cultural milieu, while Sinfeld, in LITERATURE IN PROTESTANT
ENGLAND 1560-1660 (London: Croom Helm, 1983), links Elizabethan tragedy with Anglican religion; and
Princeton University Press, 1984), emphasizes a central Reformation doctrine subtending Renaissance
tragic theory.

(London, 1580). As does Stowe, Marlowe most probably uses as a source Thomas de la Moore, VITA ET
2 vols., Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevii Scriptores 76 (London: Longman, 1882-83), 2 (1883): 297-319.
Whereas Vivien Thomas and William Tydeman, in CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE: THE PLAYS AND THEIR
SOURCES (London: Routledge, 1994), question whether the playwright uses Latin works for EDWARD II.
Josie Slaughter Shumake, in her seemingly exhaustive study of "The Sources of Marlowe's EDWARD II"
(Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1984), argues that the playwright synthesizes a wide variety of
materials. Only Moore's VITA ET MORS includes accounts of Edward's deposition and his lament for his
wife Queen Isabella which are like scenes that Marlowe writes.

MIDDLE AGES AND EARLY RENAISSANCE (Kortrijk: Van Ghemmert, 1979); and F.P. Pickering, LITERATURE
AND ART IN THE MIDDLE AGES (Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami Press, 1970), 223-307. Anna
Brownwell Jameson, in her HISTORY OF OUR LORD AS EXEMPLIFIED IN WORKS OF ART, 2 vols. (London:
Longmans, 1890), ignores works depicting the secret Passion because artistic representation of "the
sacred person of our Lord succumbing beneath degrading treatment," is not "endurable to the reverent
eye" (2:44-45). Such reticence of Jameson and like-minded scholars explains, in part, why Marlowe's use
of the secret Passion has hitherto gone undocumented.

4. From H.B. Charlton and R.D. Waller's Introduction to EDWARD II (1933; reprint New York: Gordian,
1966), 61-64, to Della Hilton, SECOND UNTO NONE: MARLOWE AND EARLY DRAMA (Durham: Durham
Academic Press, 1997), 90-99, twentieth-century critics continue to discuss the exact nature of
Marlowe's theatrical realism. Wilbur Sanders, in THE DRAMATIST AND THE RECEIVED IDEA: STUDIES IN
THE PLAYS OF MARLOWE AND SHAKESPEARE (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), condemns
the amoral "documentary mode" of EDWARD II [121]. More recently, Michael Hattaway, in
141-59, praises the "demystificatory" effect of Marlowe's "documentary" realism. Identifying and
interpreting Marlowe's use of Christological imagery in the climax of EDWARD II, I argue that its realism
is designed like that of the Tudor Passion play as described by Clifford Davidson in FROM CREATION TO
DOOM: THE YORK MYSTERY PLAYS (New York: AMS Press, 1984), 117-29. However, as EDWARD II lacks
supernatural influence and as all of its major characters seem motivated by ignoble self-interest, I find
"naturalism" a useful term to distinguish the stark pessimism of Marlowe's play. See D.J. Palmer,
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, ed. Brian Morris (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), 151-76.

5. For their insights into the visual imagery and dramatic effect of this scene, I am indebted to
Greenwood Press, 1995), 99ff; and David Bevington and James Shapiro, "'What are kings, when
regiment is gone?' The Decay of Ceremony in EDWARD II," in "A POET AND A FILTHY PLAY-MAKER": NEW
ESSAYS ON CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, ed. Kenneth Friedenreich, Roma Gill, and Constance B. Kuriyama
(New York: AMS Press, 1988), 263-78. For valuable discussion of Marlowe's use of stage imagery, see
Glynn Wickham, "'Exeunt to the Cave': Notes on the Staging of Marlowe's Plays," TULANE DRAMA
REVIEW 8, no. 4 (1964): 184-94; Jocelyn Powell, "Marlowe's Spectacle," TULANE DRAMA REVIEW 8, no.
(Salzburg: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universitat Salzburg, 1972); Felix Bosonnet, THE
and Martha Hester Fleischer, THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE ENGLISH HISTORY PLAY (Salzburg: Institut fur
Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universitat Salzburg, 1974).

6. References are by act, scene, and line numbers to the Revels edition of EDWARD THE SECOND, ed.
Charles R. Forker (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994).

7. For general discussion of Marlowe's use of medieval dramatic conventions in EDWARD II, see Cole,

8. For definition of an emblematic scene, see Peter M. Daly, LITERATURE IN THE LIGHT OF THE
EMBLEM (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979). I use the terms "emblematic" and "stage
emblem" only when "the dramatic image may be translated into" a printed emblem [135]. The
translation of the Senecan tag line is mine, but see Bevington and Shapiro for citation of Ben Jonson's
free translation: "For, whom the morning saw so great, and high,/Thus low, and little, 'fore the even
doth lie" ("What are kings," 272).
9. Clifford Leech, "Marlowe's EDWARD II: Power and Suffering," CRITICAL QUARTERLY 1 (1959), 192-
93. See also Michael Warren, "Welsh Hooks in EDWARD II," NOTES AND QUERIES 25 (1978): 109-10. For
description of relevant dramatic conventions, see Huston Diehl, "Iconography and Characterization in
English Tragedy," COMPARATIVE DRAMA 12 (1978): 113-22. Diehl's observation that stage properties in
naturalistic dramatic settings often symbolize abstractions is consistent with Peter M. Daly's general
theoretical assertion in "Trends and Problems in the Study of Emblematic Literature," MOSAIC 5 (1972):
53-67, that emblematic scenes can bear at once historical, moral, and anagogic meanings.

10. See MISSALE AD VSUM ECCLESIE SARISBURIENSIS (London, 1555), fol. lxxxvi(v), where the rubric
for the ritual Adoration of the Cross calls for the recitation of Isaiah 5:4, beginning "'Quid ultra.'" See
also THE SARUM MISSAL IN ENGLISH, trans. Frederick E. Warren, 2 vols. (London: De La Moore Press,
1911), 1:258.

11. I quote from THE GENEVA BIBLE: A FACSIMILE OF THE 1560 EDITION, introduction by Lloyd E.
Berry (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), unless otherwise noted.

12. John Foxe, TWO LATIN COMEDIES, ed. and trans. John Hazel Smith (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 1973), 209, 219. For graphic representations of the Harvest of the Earth, see Kenneth A. Strand,
1969), pls. 31, 32, 48, 96.

13. 1 HENRY IV, 2.5.340-41; this and subsequent citations of Shakespeare refer to his COMPLETE
WORKS, gen. eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

14. THE CHESTER MYSTERY CYCLE, ed. R.M. Lumianski and David Mills, EETS, s.s. 3, 9 (London: Oxford
University Press, 1974-1986), 1:374.

15. Lancelot Andrewes, THE WORKS, 11 vols. (1854; reprint New York: AMS Press, 1967), 3:70-71. For
the last performance of Tudor cycle in Chester, see RECORDS OF EARLY ENGLISH DRAMA: CHESTER, ed.
Lawrence M. Clopper (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), liii-lv.

(1578), in PRIVATE PRAYERS OF THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH, ed. Rev. William Keatinge Claye,
Parker Society Publications 37 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1851), 512. See also Marrow,

17. See Davidson, FROM CREATION TO DOOM, 271.

18. Pickering, LITERATURE AND ART, 245ff. For an Elizabethan reprise of the medieval exegetical
tradition of Jesus' secret Passion, see Andrewes's sermons on the Passion and Resurrection, in his
WORKS, vols. 2-3; and for a medieval compendium of lore about Jesus' secret Passion, see Ludolph the
(London: Burnes and Oates, 1887).

PASSION, ed. J. Meadows Cowper, EETS, o.s. 60 (London: N. Trubner, 1875), 11. 965-72.

(Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Folger Shakespeare Library, 1976), 131.

21. Stowe, THE CHRONICLES OF ENGLAND (1580), as quoted in Forker, ed., EDWARD THE SECOND,
360. For the Passion According to Mark, I quote from the Gospel reading for Tuesday of Holy Week in

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), 47.

23. Stowe, THE CHRONICLES OF ENGLAND, as quoted in Forker, ed., EDWARD THE SECOND, 360.

24. MEDITATIONS ON THE LIFE OF CHRIST, ed. and trans. Isa Ragusa and Rosalie B. Green (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1961), 319, 328; and Manning, MEDITATIONS ON THE SUPPER OF OUR LORD,
25. THE TOWNELEY PLAYS, ed. Martin Stevens and A.C. Cawley, EETS, s.s. 13-14 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1994) (the references in my text here and elsewhere are to play and line numbers in
this edition); Martin Luther, WORKS, 55 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia. 1955-86), 13:345, 10:351; Ludolph,

MARLOWE (New York: Peter Lang, 1995), 191ff, and his "Edward's Perils: Masochism in Marlowe's
Suffering King," LITERATURE AND PSYCHOLOGY 34, no. 1 (1988): 17-25; Constance Brown Kuriyama,
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1980), 176; and Wilbur Sanders, THE DRAMATIST AND THE
University Press, 1968), 141.

27. HEIMELIKE PASSION, as quoted in Marrow, PASSION ICONOGRAPHY, 110. For Tudor use of Psalm
Edgar C.S. Gloucester (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1910), 107-08; my quotations from the Passion
psalms will be from this edition unless specified otherwise.

28. Raphael Holinshed, CHRONICLES OF ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, AND IRELAND, 6 vols. (London:
Woodfall, 1807), 2:586; and Jacobus de Voraigne, THE GOLDEN LEGEND, OR LIVES OF THE SAINTS, trans.
William Caxton, ed. F.S. Ellis, 7 vols. (London: Dent, 1901), 1:71.

29. Holinshed, CHRONICLES, 2:587

30. See, for example, Judith Weil, CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, MERLIN'S PROPHET (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1977), 147; indeed, in Bertolt Brecht's EDWARD II: A CHRONICLE PLAY,
trans. Eric Bentley (New York: Grove Press, 1966), Edward is, contrary to the historical record, strangled
to death, not sodomized with a spit.

31. Nicholas Love, MIRROR OF THE BLESSED LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST, ed. Michael G. Sargeant (New
York: Garland, 1992), 147-48. For the character Jesus' long excursus about the Paschal sacrifice as
prefiguration of his death, see THE LAST SUPPER, in THE N-TOWN PLAY, ed. Stephen Spector, EETS, s.s.
11-12 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). 1:276-77 (11. 349-72).
32. Andrewes, WORKS, 2:300-01; THE SARUM MISSAL IN ENGLISH, 1:271, 300.

33. Marrow, PASSION ICONOGRAPHY, 300 n. 480, 301 n. 483. Regarding use of the hymn CRUX
FIDELIS in Tudor Catholic liturgy for Good Friday, see the rubric for the ritual Adoration of the Cross in
ENGLISH, 1:260.

34. See Pickering, LITERATURE AND ART, 248-53. Also see Desiderius Erasmus von Rotterdam,
NOVUM INSTRUMENTUM (Basel, 1516; facsimile reprint, Stuttgart: Fromman-Holzburg, 1986), 240-43;
BIBLIA LATINA CUM GLOSSA ORDINARIA, 4 vols. (Strassburg: Adolph Rusch, 1480; facsimile reprint, with
preface and introduction in English by Karlfried Froelich and Margaret T. Gibson, Turnhout: Brepolis,
1992), John 19, 4:266-67.

35. See Sanders, THE DRAMATIST AND THE RECEIVED IDEA, 121, 139. "Marlowe appears to have
assimilated the naturalistic trend of Renaissance historiography so thoroughly as to exclude altogether
the providential tradition," Sanders writes, before suggesting that the playwright's "documentary"
realism cloaks the obsession of a "man-degrader" lacking "healthy" poetic imagination. Recently Proser
has countered such exaggerated response with a measured psychoanalytic reading that still describes
Edward's "'poetically' apt homosexual death" as expression of the playwright's masochistic neurosis
(THE GIFT OF FIRE, 182-83).

36. V.A. Kolve, THE PLAY CALLED CORPUS CHRISTI (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), 175-
205, treats this shift toward veneration of Christ's body with reference to the challenges it presented
late medieval dramatists in England. For theoretically distinctive overviews of this shift in religious
Routledge, 1994); Caroline Walker Bynum, "The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages: A Reply to Leo
MEDIEVAL RELIGION (New York: Zone Books, 1992), 79-118; Miri Rubin, CORPUS CHRISTI: THE
EUCHARIST IN LATE MEDIEVAL CULTURE (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Marrow,
QUEEN ELIZABETH I (1547-1571) (1623; facsimile reprint, with an introduction by Mary Ellen Rickey and
Thomas Stroup, Gainesville, Florida: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968), 184.

38. CRUCIFIXIO CHRISTI (Play 35), in THE YORK PLAYS, ed. Richard Beadle (London: Edward Arnold,
1982), 321-22 (11. 253-64) (subsequent references to the York plays in my text are to play and line
numbers in this edition); Towneley CRUCIFIXION, 23.233ff.

39. Andrewes, WORKS, 2:143.

40. Ibid., 2:127.

41. Leech, "Marlowe's EDWARD II: Power and Suffering," 195.

42. In his modern version of Marlowe's EDWARD II, Brecht focuses on the tragic "center," the final
scenes and the struggle between Edward and Mortimer, who tries unsuccessfully to coerce the king to
relinquish his crown and, by implication of Brecht's play, his royal identity.

43. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, MS. 135 C 8, fol. 171(v), as quoted and translated by Marrow

44. Cole, SUFFERING AND EVIL, 181-82.

45. Augustine, ENARRATIONES IN PSALMOS 149.8 (PL 37:1953), as cited in Marrow, PASSION
ICONOGRAPHY, 124, 304 n. 507.

46. See also Rosemary Woolf, "The Theme of Christ the Lover-Knight in Medieval English Literature,"
REVIEW OF ENGLISH STUDIES n.s. 13 (1962): 1-16.
47. Andrewes, WORKS, 2:165-66. Psalm 22 is quoted from THE FIRST AND SECOND PRAYER-BOOKS OF

Keatinge Clay, Parker Society Publications 37 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1851), 78-79.

49. Ulrich Pindar, THE MYRROUR OR GLASSE OF CHRISTES PASSION, trans. J. Fewterer (London: 1534),
fol. lxvii(r).

50. See Brown, HAMMER AND ANVIL, for analysis of EDWARD II as Marlowe's searching his own
"'feminine' weakness, impotence, and castration" [176] with the death-scene as symbolic
representation of "passive homosexuality...made the central concern of the play" [194]. See also Proser,
GIFT OF FIRE, for analysis of the death-scene as inverting Edward's "anal-sadistic impulses to humiliate"
[194]. Against such Freudian interpretations, queer theorists read EDWARD II as the tragedy of a king
and his royal favorites martyred for embracing their homosexual identities. According to this approach,
Marlowe subverts the "normal" by exposing homophobia as violently "perverse." See Derek Jarman,
QUEER EDWARD II (London: British Film Institute, 1991); Thomas Cartelli, "QUEER EDWARD II:
Postmodern Sexualities and the Early Modern Subject," in MARLOWE, HISTORY, AND SEXUALITY: NEW
CRITICAL ESSAYS ON CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, ed. Paul Whitfield White (New York: AMS Press, 1998),
213-23; Mario DiGangi, "Marlowe, Queer Studies, and Renaissance Homoeroticism," in MARLOWE,
HISTORY AND SEXUALITY, 195-212. Like Freudian critics, queer theorists must account for the
Christological imagery in EDWARD II, imagery that Marlowe borrows from the religious culture that he
supposedly aims to subvert.

University Press, 1952), 103, 176-78. Levin's reading anticipates much successive criticism focusing on
Marlowe's scrutiny of power politics in EDWARD II.

52. Nicholas Davidson, "Christopher Marlowe and Atheism," in CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE AND

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