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Rediscovering Marlowe's Edward II

"New" first edition has implications for English literature and sexuality studies

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December 21, 2012

This article originally appared in The Times of London Literary Supplement on December 21, 2012.

By Jeffrey Masten

For half of the twentieth century, there were only two known copies of the first edition (1594) of Edward II by Christopher Marlowe – his most tightly designed play, a strong influence on Shakespeare’s Richard II, and recently a central text for the history of sexuality. Following the Second World War, there was one. Now there are two again.

Justin Avoth as Lord Maltravers, Liam Brennan as Edward II and Albie Woodington as Gurney in Edward II, directed by Timothy Walker, Shakespeare’s Globe, London, 2003

The Zentral bibliothek in Zurich has held the (apparently) single surviving copy, now widely available through Early English Books Online. As a shelf-mark on its title page indicates but as has not been widely noted, this copy came from the library of Johann Jakob Bodmer (1698–1793), the Swiss philosopher, literary critic and proselytizer for English literature through his early translation of Paradise Lost into German prose. As the painting of the two men together in conversation memorializes, Bodmer was the mentor of Johann Heinrich Füssli, later Fuseli – his teaching apparently an enduring source of Fuseli’s interest in Shakespeare and Milton.

The new copy of The troublesome raigne and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England: with the tragicall fall of proud Mortimer (London: for William Iones, 1594) is not the only other previously known example, once held at the Landesbibliothek in Kassel. That copy was either destroyed by bombing in the war or looted shortly thereafter, during the Allied occupation. Its whereabouts, if any, are now unknown. (If you have it, I wish you’d give it back.) The Zurich copy became known, at least to English-speaking readers, in the early twentieth century; the Kassel copy had come to light in 1876.

No extraordinary act of bibliographical sleuthing – no combing through old auction catalogues, visiting obscure and decrepit libraries, or climbing through the attics of old country houses – was involved in finding this previously unreported copy of Edward II. It was merely waiting for someone with an internet connection to notice its existence in a well-established university library, also in Germany, near Nuremberg. I found the book in the WorldCat online system. But what this account lacks in bibliographical adventure, it makes up for in its implications for the circulation, reception and interpretation of Marlowe’s play.

No doubt modern misperceptions of what we are looking for when we search for the text of a Renaissance English drama have played a part in the volume’s obscurity. This “new” copy is still in a seventeenth-century binding, where it is listed in a seventeenthcentury hand on the spine, together with two much longer Latin texts with which it was bound in 1612. (The volume’s owner wrote this date into a space designed for that purpose in the book’s printed ex libris plate.) This three-text Sammelband – a gathered volume, or “collective binding” – is part of an extensive collection of books owned in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a prominent Nuremberg legal counsellor, scholar and imperial court figure. It resides in the rare collections of the Universität sbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg, where I examined it in June, in preparation for a new Arden Early Modern Drama edition of the play. Since the mid-seventeenth century, the volume has been part of this welldocumented collection, which came to Erlangen following the closure of the University of Altdorf in 1809.

Does this copy clear up some of the textual mysteries that have bothered readers and editors of Edward II? Does it, for example, fix the confusion of the characters Matrevis and Arundel in several of the play’s scenes, repair the metre of a once-mighty Marlovian line, or produce a new and unexpected reading? Does it, perhaps, finally supply us with a stage direction for Edward’s death – an event completely unmarked in all of the play’s early editions but gruesomely reported in Holinshed and a subject of controversy in the recent criticism?

Like the Kassel copy, which the bibliographer W. W. Greg collated in the 1920s, the Erlangen copy differs from the Zurich copy (though it differs differently), showing evidence of correction – or at least change – as the play was going through the press. Because sixteenth-century printers routinely bound up the corrected and uncorrected sheets in different combinations in their editions, this copy reminds us that there may be further variants out there in the world, in yet unrediscovered copies.

But the stop-press changes in the Erlangen copy are unlikely to alter the received text of this play significantly. It’s hard to know, for example, why a printer would have stopped the press to move a mere catchword in one direction or the other, or, in another gathering, alter one letter in one word, changing “enflict” to “inflict” (or possibly vice versa), since both spellings are attested in the period. In this very local sense, at the level of the word or line, the Erlangen text will not change our reading of Marlowe’s play.

The larger impact of this copy, however, and an altered sense of the play’s possible meanings in sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury Europe, emerge from an understanding of the contexts in which the play was read when it arrived in Germany. The volume’s owner – perhaps its first – Johann Christoph Ölhafen von Schöllenbach, was born into a patrician family in Nuremberg in 1574. From the age of twelve to seventeen, Ölhafen studied at the academy in nearby Altdorf, taking prizes in Latin and Greek oration at a young age, and at seventeen he began his legal studies in Strasbourg and later Marburg. In 1599, he was named a legal counsellor for the imperial city of Nuremberg and undertook additional study, earning his doctorate in Basel before returning to Nuremberg to take up his appointment in the municipal and marriage courts. Described as “knowledgeable in multiple languages and the laws” and “especially qualified for political missions”, he travelled widely on imperial business to and for other cities. He was invested as an imperial count palatine by Emperor Matthias and was named a privy councillor to Ferdinand II. The father of thirteen children with his first wife and a deeply religious Lutheran, Ölhafen composed, on the death of his wife, an extensive, unpublished manuscript compendium of devotional materials (the subject of a remarkable study by Ronald K. Rittgers, published earlier this year in the journal Church History).

Ölhafen died in 1631, leaving behind the surviving children, a second wife, and, at the best estimates, at least 1,900 texts in 1,400 volumes. Some of these volumes were bought by the University of Altdorf – where

Ölhafen, clearly a star alumnus, gave the oration when the academy became a university in 1622, and had been named Pro-Chancellor in 1626. The rest were given by his son and heir Wolfgang Hieronymus Ölhafen. The books were in Altdorf’s collection in 1660.

Between his initial legal training and his doctorate, Ölhafen travelled extensively throughout Europe. Beginning in 1593, he visited Leiden, the University of Franeker in Friesland (known for its strong Calvinism), and Leuven, and visited The Hague to attain academic credentials. Late in 1595 he visited Venice, Padua, Bologna (where he received several honorary offices), southern Italy, Switzerland, Alsace and Lorraine, and stopped longer in Paris and Orléans. Invited by the law faculty at Anjou, he received his juridical licentiate there.

And, between these trips, sometime between May 1594 and August 1595, he made an excursion to England. We don’t yet know what he did there – his other travels suggest his visits were often motivated by advanced legal study and disputation – but one thing he might have done was stop by the Sign of the Gun near Holborn Conduit, and pick up a freshly printed copy of the first edition of The troublesome raigne and lamenta

ble death of Edward in William Jones’s shop. But we are only speculating when we imagine this short walk from the Inns of Court; there were many ways to obtain a book in early modern Europe, and we cannot be certain how he came by his copy.

With or without Edward, Ölhafen returned to Nuremberg via the Spanish Netherlands in late summer 1595. By the date of the ex libris plate in 1612, inscribed and signed in his hand, he had certainly acquired, by whatever means, a copy of the Marlowe, which he bound at the back of two other, much longer texts in one of the many Sammelbände that mark his collection. Recent scholarship has begun to think seriously about the juxtapositions and meanings generated by such volumes, and the effects of the widespread, later practice of libraries and collectors of unbinding and separating them into individual texts. As Jeffrey Todd Knight has shown in a series of articles and a forthcoming book on early modern “compilation culture”, many of Shakespeare’s plays that survive in quarto, for example, have been separated out from any Sammelbände in which they may earlier have been bound – with an ensuing loss of information, some of which Knight has been able to reconstruct skilfully from library records and other clues. Ölhafen’s Edward is one such text still existing in its original habitat, and the implications for understanding how at least one early modern reader may have read his Marlowe are surprising, and transformative.

Bound in the pigskin typical of German bindings in this era and resembling the other volumes of its size in Ölhafen’s collection, which carry similar bookplates, Edward

II appears not with other plays, or tragedies (of which there are some few classical examples in the collection), or among histories, or English books, or other texts published in 1594, or other plays or poems written by “Chri. Marlow Gent.”. Instead, Edward is bound with a long theological tract that marches squarely into the raging intra-Protestant controversy over whether it is permissible to execute heretics, and a text on the “reign of the Turks” and other “oriental” religions.

The first text details the exiled Italian Protestant Mino Celsi’s arguments in favour of religious toleration (1577), in a modified 1584 reissue here titled De haereticis capitali supplicio non afficiendis. Celsi had himself fled the Inquisition in Italy; his treatise has its roots in the extraordinary controversy generated by the execution of the Spanish physician and radical theologian Michael Servetus (Miguel Serveto) for heresy in Geneva in 1553. Calvin participated energetically in Servetus’s arrest, arraignment and prosecution. Having previously fallen foul of the Inquisition, Servetus had the distinction of being incinerated twice – once in effigy and once in Geneva, both times accompanied by his books. The pyre in Geneva ignited a major controversy over religious toleration and revived doctrinal questions over the proper role of civil magistrates in theological disputes – the relation of civil obedience, secular authority and heresy.

Celsi’s book is a 500-page sustained engagement with Theodore Beza’s treatise justifying the persecution and sometimes execution of heretics – itself a response to Sebastian Castellio’s pro-toleration anthology, “Concerning heretics: whether they are to be persecuted”. Both followed closely on Calvin’s defence of the execution of Servetus, in 1554. Should heretics be executed? Did not the Magistrate have a duty to abjure force in opposing error? Should not the Reformed church be appalled to be applying the methods of the Roman church against fellow reformers? “Here were Protestants on the run from the Inquisition”, Celsi’s editor Peter Bietenholz summarizes, “repressed by their fellow Protestants.” Was not the heretic always theoretically curable, teachable, redeemable – unless and until, of course, he was put to death? Were heretics distinct from blasphemers and idolaters? In Celsi’s view, Bietenholz observes, every heretic was “misguided . . . by his impaired intellect which in turn impeded his will and rendered his action unintentional and involuntary. In short, the heretic must be spared on grounds of insanity”.

Though more historical in its focus, the other text bound with Marlowe and Celsi is, in its own (comparative religious) way, also concerned with heretics and “infidels”: Anatolius Horothetes Sive De Regni Turcici Periodo Diascepsis. Cum Prolegomenis De Religionum, Inprimis Orientalium, Varietate – that is, “The Turkish Observer, or An Examination of the Period of Turkish Rule; with preliminary remarks on the variety of religions, especially Eastern ones”, by Joachim Vaget (Hamburg, 1611). Vaget (or Vagetus, Vagetius) seems largely forgotten, but he is cited in several early modern English books as an authority on Turkey and Islam. Indeed, an English text of 1663 in which he appears may point out for us one reason his book is bound with Celsi: in Foelix consortium, or, A fit conjuncture of religion and learning in one entire volume, Edward Leigh observes, near a citation of Vaget, that “That complicate errour of the Socinians sprung from Mahometism”.

Socinianism was a precursor of Unitarianism; its “errors” included a rejection of the Trinity, support for religious toleration and opposition to capital punishment. Michael Servetus’s views, closely aligned, were likewise said at his trial to consort too closely with Islam. Celsi’s defence of heretics, too, is closely related to Socinianism; indeed, though Bietenholz has conclusively argued that the text we find bound with Marlowe is Celsi’s, it has also been attributed to Lelio Sozzini – uncle to the better-known Fausto Sozzini/Socinus, a founder of Socinianism and short-lived Polish Protestantism.

Socinian beliefs were no idle curiosity in Nuremberg and Altdorf at this moment. Johannes Saubert, the influential Nuremberg clergyman and professor of theology at Altdorf, whom Ölhafen knew, was in the early seventeenth century seeking to purge the region of Socinianism. Indeed, in the first decade of the century, Altdorf had become, in the words of Earl Morse Wilbur’s standard history of Unitarianism, one of the “notorious” “academic hot-beds of Socinianism”, home of “what was in effect a secret religious fraternity” under the tutelage of Ernst Soner, a professor of medicine there. Soon after Soner’s death, the authorities of the Academy instituted a thorough investigation. Students under suspicion were examined, whereupon all but one denied any guilt. Two of the group, who had gone to spread their views at other universities, were brought back under guard, imprisoned, and labored with, until in view of what they might otherwise have to suffer, their resistance was finally broken down, and they made a solemn public recantation. Soner, who had earlier been a student at Altdorf with Ölhafen, died in 1612, the year the Marlowe Sammelband was bound. Several of his students apparently fled to Poland.

Why is Edward II bound up with heretics and infidels, execution and toleration? Had Ölhafen, travelling in England just after Marlowe’s death, heard something of the heretical allegations made against him to the Privy Council by his sometime roommate and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, or the more lurid testimony of Richard Baines? Kyd’s confiscated papers included extracts, copied from a proto-Unitarian tract, that he said were Marlowe’s. Baines’s comment that Marlowe thought “all they that loue not Tobacco & Boies were fooles” is his best-known allegation, but his charges about atheism and heresy – closely intertwined with sodomy, as Jonathan Goldberg and Alan Bray have demonstrated – are equally memorable: That all protestantes are Hypocriticall asses. That if he were put to write a new Religion, he would vndertake both a more Exellent and Admirable methode and that all the new testament is filthily written. Moreover, Baines attests, “this Marlow doth not only hould [these opinions] himself, but almost into every Company he Cometh he perswades men to Atheism”. “I think all men in Cristianity ought to indevor”, Baines concludes, “that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped.” Would it be right for civil authorities to execute so dangerous and outspoken a heretic as Marlowe is alleged to be? Would such a heretic be curable, persuadable, redeemable – even for Mino Celsi? Notoriously, that theological question in Marlowe’s case was never resolved – the issue being settled instead in Deptford, at knifepoint.

Ölhafen left no reader’s marks in the gathered texts themselves to guide us, but the mere act of thus binding these three texts in 1612 produces an extraordinary new context for reading Edward II – well beyond its association with “this Marlow”, about whom Ölhafen may or may not have known anything controversial. Seeing it in the context of Servetus’s death, the suppression and persecution of other alleged heretics by fellow Swiss and German Protestants in the ensuing decades, and the schismatic treatise wars among humanists and theologians that followed, it seems more than possible that Edward II was thus bound by Ölhafen not as a play, but as a theological-juridical text – a treatise (if you will) that explores the rightness of Edward’s torture and horrific death, the rebellion and regicide that might well have aroused the interest of this widely read lawyer, and a varied catalogue of executions.

As many readers and audiences of the play have observed, Edward II sets up a complex set of tensions and sympathies, seeming first to elicit condemnation of Edward for his devotion to his lover Piers Gaveston above all else, and then relentlessly creating empathy for Edward in his deposition, torture and death. The play, in other words, might be understood to have produced a shifting or ambivalent response in its early audience to an arraignment and particularly graphic punishment: Is it right to kill this deposed king, whatever his perceived offences against God and realm? Marlowe emphasizes this question and the ambiguity of its resolution in Mortimer’s death sentence ordering Edward’s murder, a literal “sentence” left “unpointed” in his Latin message ( Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est), which Mortimer doubly translates in the play: “Fear not to kill the king, ’tis good he die.” But read it thus, and that’s another sense: [. . . .] “Kill not the king, ’tis good to fear the worst.” Edward’s miseries and, as it were, passion in the dungeon preceding his death may even take on, in such a context, a resonance of Christ-like suffering: “They wash him with puddle water, and shave his beard away”, reads the stage direction. A moment later, Edward voices a remarkably Christological version of the sacrificial miseries he says he suffers for his favourites, given a samesexual twist: O Gaveston, it is for thee that I am wronged; For me, both thou and both the Spencers died, And for your sakes a thousand wrongs I’ll take. In the end, at the far edge of sanity (or is it heresy?), this sometime king of men is executed by a man whose English name, Lightborn, translates as Lucifer.

The play is at the same time remarkably attentive to modes of execution, even before its most famous death, and, in the context of Ölhafen’s volume, it is hard not to hear the resonance of controversy around Servetus’s fate. Was Servetus to be spared, or burned as a heretic (the eventual sentence), or was he to be beheaded as if a traitor, as Calvin advocated? Early on in Edward II, there is a brief dispute about whether Gaveston is to be beheaded or hanged, and later, Lightborn provides an extensive catalogue of ways to murder (learned in Naples), concluding “But yet I have a braver way than these”. Is Edward’s death by sodomization a talion punishment, befitting his alleged sins? Or does it arouse empathy (or activism) for the victim? “I fear me that this cry will raise the town”, says one of Lightborn’s accomplices in the murder. Is there significance in the fact that, as Holinshed and the preparations for Edward’s death in the play alike emphasize, he is burned from the inside by the red-hot spit – a heretic’s execution turned outside-in? Could an extensively trained lawyer and legal scholar have read Edward II as a treatise on execution, Celsi’s “capitali supplicio”? In the last scene of the play, the traitor Mortimer’s severed head is displayed on stage, and the new King, Edward III, speaks directly to it:

Accursèd head! Could I have ruled thee then, as I do now, Thou hadst not hatched this monstrous treachery. Was the play, in 1594 or 1612, readable as a meditation on civil correction versus execution?

Why, though, this English text, this king, bound up with heresy and “the Turks”? Though it’s impossible to know, the answer may well lie in the legal vocabulary of heresy in German-speaking lands in Ölhafen’s era. If early modern “sodomy” is, as Michel Foucault famously commented, an “utterly confused category” – at least from our modern perspective – then sixteenthcentury German “heresy” is as well. “The vernacular term most frequently used with regard to same-sex eroticism”, writes Helmut Puff in his study Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland 1400–1600, is “ketzerie or ‘heresy’.” It is, he adds, “also used as a verb, ketzern, mostly for anal intercourse or in phrases such as ‘to commit heresy’ for a same-sex sexual act or a sexual act between a human and an animal”. There were accusations of the “ketzery der Sodomy”, and ketzer could mean both “heretic” and “sodomite”.

Prosecutions and executions for sexual “heresy” appear to have been much more widespread in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Germany and Switzerland than in England – though we should not forget that two men were burned for sodomy in Scotland in 1570. Beginning with a death sentence for sodomy in 1555 (two years after Servetus’s execution), over the next 125 years there were more than sixty people tried on this charge in Geneva alone, with thirty executions, as William Monter shows. Servetus himself had been questioned at trial about “dissolute”, “wanton” living and his failure to marry. In 1610, two years before the Marlowe Sammelband was bound, Geneva saw twelve trials and four executions. Puff lists about seventy additional trials and investigations of men and women for sodomy between 1500 and 1609 in Germany and Switzerland; at least twenty-three resulted in burnings, and thirteen in other executions (drownings, beheadings and, less frequently, hangings). In fact, two men were executed for sodomy in Nuremberg in the summer of 1594 (apparently while Ölhafen was in England); a systematic study of sodomy prosecutions there may turn up additional instances. The death penalty for such sodomy/ Ketzerei was formally instituted in the legal code of 1532, the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, which Ölhafen as legal counsellor to the imperial city of Nuremberg surely knew well; other provisions were revised prior to adoption, Puff notes, but the sodomy provision was drawn verbatim from the 1507 legal code of nearby Bamberg.

And “the Turks”? We have already seen Servetus questioned about Islam at his heresy trial, but two pieces of additional context, drawn from the manifold associations made in the period between “the Turks” and the sin or crime “not to be named among Christians” may suffice: Luther cited both the papacy and “the Turks” as “commit[ting] the mute sin shamelessly as an honorable, praiseworthy affair” as early as 1529 (Puff’s translation). And, as Monter notes, when Geneva captured a number of Turkish galley slaves in 1590, three confessed to and were burned for sodomy. As Puff summarizes, Luther’s “‘we’, properly understood as Reformed Germany, is constructed as a bulwark . . . in the defense of matrimony against those who defile [it]: heretics, Italians, Turks, and heathens”. Ölhafen’s 1612 volume covers the full range.

As I have noted, no reader’s marks inside Ölhafen’s Edward provide a clue as to his perspective on these associations. We do, however, have an epigraph inscribed by Ölhafen inside the front cover of the three-text volume, at the top of his printed bookplate. It is a slightly abbreviated line from Tacitus’ description of the Emperor Galba: “Minantibus intrepidus, adversus blandientes incorruptus” (“he was not afraid of threats, nor corrupted by flattery”, in the translation by W. H. Fyfe). Though attached to the full volume, this line might at first seem a particularly apt lesson for Marlowe’s Edward – corrupted, in his nobles’ view, by flattery.

The line’s significance grows more complicated, however, when read in the context of Tacitus’s narrative – especially in relation to arguments about the execution of “heretic” adversaries in an era of Protestant reform and factional argument. At this point in Book 1 of the Histories, the Emperor Galba is fighting the uprising of his former ally Otho. There is a rumour among Galba’s supporters that Otho has been killed, and Julius Atticus rushes in with a blood-drenched sword to claim that he has killed him. And, in a line that is utterly pertinent to both the Celsi and the Marlowe texts, Galba asks: “Comrade, who ordered you?”. The epigraph or motto (“he was not afraid . . .”) inscribed in Ölhafen’s volume, which is Tacitus’s summarizing characterization of Galba, immediately follows Galba’s question. Is this a question for sixteenth-century German comrades in reformation? For the executioners of Servetus, acting under pressure from Calvin? For the killers of Edward II and other sexual “heretics”? Who ordered you? Do not be afraid of threats or corrupted by flattery. These questions greet the reader who opens the cover of Ölhafen’s book.

In this binding of Edward II, we have clearly not “discovered” a new copy of the 1594 edition – for it has been there to be read all along. But we have discovered – we can continue to discover – a new Marlowe play:

Edward II as a theological-juridical text, tied in some or all senses to “heresy”, and potentially read that way by Ölhafen, his son Wolfgang (whose name is also written into the ex libris plate in a different early hand), and eventually the scholars and students at postSocinian Altdorf, where the volume continued to be catalogued under Theology in the nineteenth century.

I hope that knowledge of this Edward and its context opens the door for yet more interpretations, but this “new” play – enmeshed in the lethal controversies of early modern Protestantism – does not write out of existence other perspectives. Indeed, it underlines that, in Germany as well as in England, what we have come to call “homosexuality” exists in a complex network of legal, religious, ethnic and national discourses. (As Puff emphasizes, one of the common German terms for sodomy in early “heresy” prosecutions is “to florence” – sodomy, like Lightborn’s Neapolitan practices or Gaveston himself, is said to come from elsewhere.) Further, Ölhafen’s copy, with its potent mix of heretics, Ketzerei and “the Turks” – whatever his own perspective on proper civil authority and execution – may alert us to other early readers of the play who were differently attuned to sexuality and eroticism. Though critics and editors have concentrated on the 1594 edition since its first rediscovery in the late nineteenth century, the subsequent editions of 1598, 1612 and 1622, now largely ignored, contain valuable information about how a “queer” readership may have read this play in the first decades of its existence – in England.

Distinctive reader’s marks in a copy of the 1598 Edward II now at the Huntington Library certainly suggest this. There, in the margins of the play, a reader has left strings of commonplacing marks. (Such markings look like double quotation marks to us, but they precede this modern usage and indeed, as Margreta de Grazia has argued, signify the opposite of modern proprietary quotation, marking instead lines to be copied out in a reader's commonplace book for later reuse.) He, or possibly she, has marked many passages in the play, several of them apparently aphoristic in quality. Two of the most extensive, however, are among those that have become central to modern analyses of samesex love and pleasure in the play. The reader has also marked Mortimer Senior’s long catalogue of same-sex classical lovers: “The mightiest kings have had their minions: / Great Alexander loved Hephestion . . .” and so forth, through Patroclus and Achilles, Socrates and Alcibiades – the text’s and perhaps the period’s most extensive moment of what we would call gay history, with its justification of same-sex love through canon and precedent.

Earlier, this reader also marked Gaveston’s famous first-scene speech describing the kinds of erotic theatrical shows that will delight the King, including pages clad as sylvan nymphs, men as satyrs, and, famously, “a lovely boy in Dian’s shape”, bathing, with an olive branch “to hide those parts which men delight to see”. This reader, at any rate, wants those parts for later use in his or her commonplace book. On the 1598 title page – the first edition to advertise the name of Edward’s lover – this reader copies out the name “Gaveston” in a large italic hand. In a copy of a 1622 quarto at the Folger Library, an early reader possibly named Peter Broughton has left a mark beside Edward’s line to Gaveston, “I’ll come to thee; my love shall ne’er decline”.

What do we find when we rediscover these multiple Edward IIs, even if they have been there all along? Does the play support or oppose toleration of “heretics”, of whatever kind? Or is it a treasury of passionate same-sex commonplaces? Ölhafen’s copy of

Edward suggests that the theological, juridical, and sexual meanings around this text may be more complexly interleaved for Marlowe’s readers in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century northern Europe than we have yet imagined. In a word, they are Sammel-bound. But the “new” 1594 Edward may also alert us to a more “heretical” Reformation, readable all along in Marlowe’s play. Marlowe would allege, claimed Baines, “That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned alwaies in his bosome, that he vsed him as the sinners of Sodoma”.

Can Edward II be read as “a new Religion”, by the “more Exellent and Admirable methode” Baines alleges and deplores? Is King Edward in the opening scene of the play, with his arrest of a bishop, whose “house and goods” he gives to Gaveston, founding an alternative church? “He’ll complain unto the see of Rome”, says Edward’s brother, Kent. “Let him complain unto the see of hell”, replies Gaveston. “For your sakes, a thousand wrongs I’ll take”, Edward apostrophizes to his favourites (disciples?) shortly before his death. Theology, law, heresy, sex, treason, reformation, or tragedy? Where now to place Edward II in your library?

- Jeffrey Masten is an associate professor of Englisn and gender and sexuality studies at Northwestern University.