Breeching the boy in Marlowe's Edward II.(essay)(Critical essay) Though Christopher Marlowe's Edward II (c.

1592) has long received copious, imag inative, critical attention, the significance of one aspect of the play has been quite neglected. As if he had been sent to stand in an obscure corner, the boy Prince Edward is rarely mentioned, let alone featured, in Marlovian criticism. ( 1) This paper argues that understanding the boy's role in Edward II is integral to understanding the most troubling features of the play as a whole. Taking part in a recent critical conversation about the sodomitical nature of Edward II, I describe how Marlowe deftly draws the prince, perhaps to our surprise, into the homoerotic and sodomitical dynamics of the play. Prince Edward becomes associate d with the role of the minion, becomes the object of the same narcissistic rheto ric that describes his father's lover, and is threatened with sodomitical violen ce. Let me emphasize that there is an important difference between seeing Prince Edward as sexualized (as he certainly is when the play makes the boy part of it s homoerotic discourse) and seeing him as a sexual object (which I do not believ e he is). This emphasis should prevent my argument from appearing to follow too closely the critical path most prominently marked by the work of Stephen Orgel, who reminds us that boys on the Renaissance stage very often were there to be de sired sexually by the play's characters and audience members alike. (2) Displayi ng a boy on stage to be desired is an end in and of itself. Sexualizing Prince E dward is a means to an end. Essential to understanding Marlowe's end will be und erstanding both why this child promises to resolve a political crisis excited by the homoerotic and rocked by the sodomitical and why he cannot help but suggest the failure of his promise. (3) Prince Edward becomes associated with minions Piers Gaveston and Hugh Spencer Jr . in certain ways; the boy judges his father's love for him in comparison with t hese rivals for his father's affection and seems to capture the king's caring in terest most when the role of the minion has been vacated by Gaveston's and Spenc er Jr.'s deaths. The Renaissance meaning of the word "minion" gestures beyond it s use in Edward II to signify "lover" or "king's favorite," as when Mortimer Jr. sneers, "The King is lovesick for his minion" (I.iv.87). "Minion" also could be used to describe a beloved child. The OED offers as evidence for this meaning a passage from George Pettie's translation of Stefano Guazzo's Civile Conversatio n (1581): "I cannot abide the folly of some fathers who make some one of their c hildren their darling and minion." (4) This particular example stresses an impor tant component to the idea of what "minion" means: a minion is some one, and it is his tenure of a singular position that, by its very singular nature, makes hi m a favorite. The role of a favorite cannot remain such if it is shared. I want to be faithful to the sense of the unique that "minion" conveys as I treat Gaves ton, Spencer Jr., and Prince Edward. Though I call the three characters "minions ," one meaning of the word--lover, political favorite, child--must be stressed w hen considering each character. And while Spencer Jr. and Prince Edward are neve r called "minions" explicitly by the text, each of the three characters can be s een as occupying the position of minion according to one of the early modern mea nings of the word. The single term "minion" will be a useful one to indicate a s tructural analogy of role as Gaveston, Spencer Jr., and Prince Edward occupy in succession, but do not share, the role of the beloved. (5) The three characters can be seen as representing a different, though related thr ough the concept of affection, definition of "minion" as they each fill that rol e. Gaveston, for whom Edward claims he would surrender his kingdom in order to k eep but a "nook or corner" in which the two could "frolic," is clearly a minion as lover and as king's favorite (I.iv.72-3). Spencer Jr. is often called "sweet" by the king: "Spencer, sweet Spencer, I adopt thee here"; "Spencer, ah, sweet S pencer, thus then must we part?"; "Part we must, / Sweet Spencer" (III.i.144, IV .vii.72, IV.vii.94-5). His assumption of Gaveston's place and the clear tenderne

Bartels notices that. is a minion as lover i s not clearly substantiated by the text. mention of his existence. scene i--an entrance that hovers near the center of the play. if not Edward's lover. who speaks before the prince's first e ntrance. as if the boy represents the heart of it--there is only one. Prince Edward's potential to be loved by his father is eclipsed during the first several acts by the play's focus on Gaveston and Spencer Jr. tho ugh Spencer Jr. it also underlines the simultaneous extension and erasure of sodomy itself. increasingly menace the political order with sodomitical sedition. indicate that the young man may be called a minion a t least in the sense of king's favorite. is well on his way to replacing him.64-6) When Prince Edward physically appears on the stage in act III." Edward offers Spencer Jr. it is Spencer Jr. my sweet favorite" and indeed favors Gaveston to the extent that the king denies any distinction between him and his lover (III. at least. The Queen says. Inter preting Prince Edward as yet one more minion for the king and as a replacement f or Spencer Jr. in replacing Gaveston.52. In another sense. Until the prince's first entrance in act III. announcing only the approach of the queen who enters with him. is not depicted as Edward's lover. though wit hout evoking the marked eroticism that characterized Edward and Gaveston's kingminion relationship. "so domy" at once describes the sexual act and presents a metaphor that indicates su bversion. . That Spencer Edward bears Spencer Jr. Prince Edward claims. and that it " remains as 'anti-gay' as it was before." Prince Edward remains almost entirely at his mother's side for the duration of the play until he denounces her as his father's murdere ss. assign Spencer J r. in this case political subversion. even as (and because) it is ignored by the rebels: "That Spenser is made to replace Gaveston does not merely underline the political edge of the revolt." (9) For Bartels and other critics. (who. Marlowe' s Prince Edward seems portrayed as much younger than the true-to-life Prince Edw ard in Raphael Holinshed's account of Edward II's fall and Edward III's coronati on at fourteen years old: like early modern boys before the age of seven who had not yet been "breeched. though his occupa tion of the role of the minion is indicated by the king's paternal affection tow ard his heir. before this point of disillusionment. as it becomes at once much more than it is politi cally and much less than it is sexually. / That. 50-1). Edward calls the f ormer "Good Piers of Gaveston. (6) Several critics have noticed that S pencer Jr. the rebels' antagonism toward the new minion is consistent with their animosity toward the old.i. still evokes shadows of the homoerotic as he wins e ndearments from the king). as the sunshin e..8). Gaveston has been killed and Spencer Jr.'s relationship that existed in the king and Gaveston's.i ii. (7) Emily C. (10) Marlowe erases sodomy in one s ense as he recasts the initially sexual relationship of king and minion as nonse xual in the replacement of Gaveston by Spencer Jr. To "manifest [his] love. sodomy is e xtended as the rebels. or. shall reflect o'er thee" (III. (II. even though its target is not 'gay. a largess of crowns a nd promises. It is also true that Prince Edward. (11) In France. my brother. And to the King.iv. something is missing from Edward and Spencer Jr. does not quite fill the earlier minion's shoe s. the exact role previously occupied by Gaveston and as the rebels led by Morti mer Jr. there complain. In court with the king. in their attitude toward the new minion. cannot quite escape being defined and even defining himself by the category of the minion and all of the problematic sexuality the play associates with it. If [King Edward] be strange and not regard my words. rather colorless. scene i. "daily [we] will enrich thee with our favor. could be seen as extending still farther the erasure of sodomy Ba rtels compellingly argues occurs in the transition from Gaveston to Spencer Jr. My son and I will over into France.'" (8 ) She finds the difference to be crucial.

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