‘In No Respect Can Contraries be True’: Passion and Reason in Marlowe’s Edward II

Christine Edwards

Abstract


In Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II the relationship between passion and reason becomes powerfully relevant to the factional strife between the king and his barons. As the conflict escalates, one character exclaims that ‘in no respect can contraries be true’ (I. 4. 249), yet the play as a whole seems to refute this claim. While Edward has the right to claim the loyalty that his kingship entails and put down the revolt of his barons, the barons express a similar duty to remove the king’s favourite, Gaveston, for the benefit of the state. Both positions are true, and this presents a problem for the audience who seek to comprehend which faction they should support. In Marlowe’s view, contrariety is not so much a theory as an experience: and the audience is led to experience doubt. The play highlights the monstrous excesses of extreme passion and extreme reason as problematic attempts to make sense of the confusion of the play. In this paper, I will argue that Marlowe structures his play to first evoke and then actively question traditional representations of the relationship between passion and reason. 


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