Edward II and the Ends of Dynastic Monarchy
Most readers of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II locate the play’s radicalism in the sexualized challenge that Edward’s homoerotic relations with Gaveston and the Spensers pose to dynastic monarchy and aristocratic governance. This chapter replaces erotics with necrotics to argue that royal sodomy and homoerotic friendship can be accommodated by the play’s political order with relative ease; royal death, by contrast, exposes fundamental weaknesses within dominant conceptions of sovereignty. While recent queer theory has aligned queerness with mortality, Edward II pointedly detaches sexuality from death, offering Edward political opportunities in dying that are unavailable through queer eroticism. In prison, Edward subsumes regimes of dynastic sovereignty within the biological existence of the body. Even once dead, Edward is not superseded because the theater suggests he may still be minimally present, in the slippage between bodies and in props, in the presence of an actor offstage, and in the violence carried out in his name. Rather than supporting a particular structure of power, Edward’s death indicates the range of political potentialities inherent in exposure to mortality, which might alternatively support republican, absolutist, bureaucratic, or tyrannical regimes.
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