Edward II, Shakespeare's Globe. Directed by Timothy Walker.

Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University

Hopkins, Lisa. "Review of Edward II." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.2 (September, 2003): #.1-4 <URL:

With Gerald Kyd (Piers Gaveston, a mower), Richard Glaves (first poor man, Lady Margaret and Prince Edward), Peter Shorey (second poor man, clerk to the crown a post from Scotland, James, Levune, a post from France, and the Abbot of Neath), Justin Avoth (third poor man, Arundel, Maltravers), Liam Brennan (Edward II), Patrick Brennan (Earl of Lancaster, Rice ap Howell, first lord), Bill Stewart (elder Mortimer, Sir John of Hainault, and Bishop of Winchester), Justin Shevlin (younger Mortimer), Patrick Toomey (Edmund), Albie Woodington (Earl of Warwick) and Gurney), William Osborne (Bishop of Coventry, Baldock, Berkeley, and second lord), John McEnery (Archbishop of Canterbury, elder Spencer, and Lightborne), Chu Omambala (Isabella), Terry McGinity (Pembroke and Leicester), and Michael Brown (younger Spencer, Champion).

  1. The Globe's second Marlowe production of the season (and indeed of its life so far) is not only much better than its first, but is also virtually its antithesis. Where Dido, Queen of Carthage relied on gimmickry and props, of the type which could never have been seen on an Elizabethan stage, Edward II employs what the Globe terms "original practices," including the casting of men as women, which immediately reveals the utter illogicality of its being acceptable for Edward to kiss the male Isabella but not for him to kiss the equally male Gaveston. Moreover, where Dido seems to be afraid to play the text straight or to allow any of the scenes any emotional weight, Edward II, at three hours and ten minutes including two intervals of fifteen minutes each, pays slow, careful attention to all the major scenes and speeches. Nothing is rushed, and every nuance or development is allowed to register its impact. One rather unexpected result of this was that my son, who at 10 is a veteran of many excellent Shakespeare productions but no other Marlowe except Dido, pronounced this the best play he had ever seen, because it was so exciting and eventful.

  2. At the heart of the production is Liam Brennan's Edward. Sensitive, deeply devoted to his son and his favourites, and not remotely camp, he brings to the part both dignity and pathos, as when he returns from battle and wearily divests himself of boots and hose -- just a man, in private, wanting peace. Brennan's king is not a weak or silly man, but one who helplessly desires something which those around him will not let him have. His performance is the main beneficiary of the unhurried pace, not least because it becomes so clear how unpredictable and contradictory are the actions of those around him, like Kent and Mortimer, who change their minds and their policy from minute to minute and whom Edward therefore has no hope of controlling. Brennan's performance also gains added interest from being paired with his Bolingbroke in Richard II, playing concurrently at the Globe. There, the grim, black-garbed Bolingbroke strongly suggests Puritanism; here, that suggestion has been transferred to the prim, hymn-singing barons (though it is notable that Edward and his followers stage a counter-claim to the moral high ground by also singing hymns). The effect is not dissimilar to the celebrated swapping over of Richard Pascoe and Ian Richardson in John Barton's 1973/4 RSC Richard II.

  3. The emotional weight and gravitas of this production make it much less funny than the 2001 one at the Sheffield Crucible, where Joseph Fiennes, embracing Gaveston, greeted his horrified peers with an insolent "What?" There are one or two laughs here, as when a speculation about whether Edward will continue to support Gaveston cues the entry of the king actually carrying Gaveston, fetchingly clad in a yellow toga, in his arms, but generally the tone is sombre. This production is also less visually spectacular than either the Crucible one or the 1991 Stratford one: it is true that, as at Stratford, Gaveston does have a rather splendid wardrobe, and that there are some dancing satyrs, but in general there are few visual setpieces, making all the more striking John McEnery's sinister Lightborn's request for a feather bed.

  4. The one weak spot is Justin Shevlin's Mortimer. At the Crucible in 2001, Lloyd Owen's Mortimer comprehensively stole the show, thanks to his impressive physique and magnificent voice, which was still filling the theatre long after film-actor Fiennes' had started to weaken; it was no surprise when at an early stage in the run a card appeared on the Crucible's comments board which read simply "Mortimer for king," and the advertising for a forthcoming Crucible show has made much of the fact that Owen will be in it, and that those who enjoyed his Mortimer might therefore wish to come. I'm afraid Justin Shevlin's Mortimer is not likely to receive any such accolades: he is simply an unpleasant megalomaniac, and there is no electricity between him and Chu Omambala's Isabella, even when they are in bed together. This is not without its interesting side-effects, however: removing Mortimer as any kind of effective counterweight to Edward makes it more clearly apparent what a substantial role Edward's is, and makes me much more sympathetic to the argument, recently advanced at the 2003 Marlowe Society of America conference, that Marlowe did in fact write the role of Edward with Edward Alleyn in mind, rather than, as is often suggested, feeling obliged to write two strong lead parts rather than his customary one because his quarrel with Lord Strange had robbed him of Alleyn's services. This was, then, a thought-provoking production as well as an absorbing and engaging one.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).