Edward III lacks lines in the play and that makes critics feel he lacks importance in the plot of Edward II by Christopher Marlowe, for it is traditional that readers pay attention to the characters in their face. However, it is the silent ones one must pay attention to. Though he seems like a voiceless child unimportant to the plot, the prince is one of the major characters in the play. By his father’s side, then by his mother’s side, he was unraveling a plot of his own. Edward III is perceived as a fragile lamb throughout the play, yet he somehow ends up gaining the throne. He lets others perceive him as weak and innocent, but what Edward truly is, is a great Machiavellian. Because of his strong Machiavellian characteristics, he is able to eliminate everyone who can get their hands on the crown, and keeps it for himself. His strongest Machiavellian trait in the play is his use of agents. An agent, according to Machiavelli’s The Prince, is a critical possession as ruler. Agents are used to do all of the dirty work and take the blame for someone in power to protect their reign. Agents are also smart and cunning, but not smarter than who they are working for. The prince’s mother Isabella and Mortimer Jr are subconsciously his agents. They are fighting for the throne but didn’t realize they are the reason Edward III wins it in the end.
His manipulative plot begins with his parents. His parents are the foundation of his knowledge. From Edward II and Isabella, he assimilates what to be and what not to be if he wants to become king. He sees his father’s destructive reign. His father is too in love with the young man Gaveston to care about his people. He is a very vulnerable ruler. He does not invoke fear and he has no control over his court. When his lover Gaveston, a young man from a poor background, is sent away he begs for him to be returned. A king should not have to beg for something. A king orders people to do what he says, no matter what he says. But, Edward II is not like this, and the prince sees it and knows not to become his father when his reign comes. His mother is someone he learns how to be like. He won’t let his personal life, especially love, wreak havoc on his reign. From his mother he learns how to dissemble and also how to be great at rhetoric. His mother is a great dissembler. Edward II’s brother Kent was even fooled by her dissembling.
Once Kent realizes her disguise, he says “Dissemble or thou diest, for Mortimer and Isabel do kiss while they conspire; And yet she bears a face of love, forsooth. Fie on that love that hatchet death and hate!” (4.6. 12-15). Dissembling is the greatest trait the prince absorbs from his mother. He sees what she is able to get away with by owning many faces, so he picks up on this to complete his plot to become king. Isabella is a great dissembler. She was behind Gaveston’s murder, she used young Mortimer, then was behind her own husband’s murder. But, from watching her, the prince is able to become an even better dissembler than her. The whole time everyone thought he was kidnapped by his mother and Mortimer, but he was actually learning from his mother and becoming a stronger Machiavellian than his mom. The student became smarter than the teacher, and the dissembling he assimilates becomes the key to his plot, and to using Isabella and Mortimer Jr. as his agents for his plot. He is such a good dissembler that his agents don’t even realize they’re agents. The queen and young Mortimer thought they were working on their own plot, yet they did not realize they were the puppets for the prince’s plot.
Dissembling, which the prince learned by mimicking his mother, is the reason Edward III is able to use the queen and Mortimer Jr. as his agents. He acts innocent and preys on everyone’s belief that he is just some naïve child. A naïve child becomes his disguise, and everyone believes it because it is already how they treat him. They believe he is only a young teen, so he doesn’t know anything or isn’t strong enough or smart enough to do anything. He even goes so far as to say “commit not to my youth things of more weight than fits a prince so young as I to bear” (3.2.74-75). This dialogue Edward III has in act three convinces everyone that they were right about him being too young to be useful. He purposely says this so everyone will let their guards down around him. They do not believe he can turn on them because he is too young to know how. His mother even comments that it scares her that she says this because she is thinking because he is showing weakness and a lack of intelligence.
He is next in line after his father, so his mother does not want him to be a ruler like his father. If he becomes ruler talking like that, then he will fail miserably. His mother is not fearful though, her son’s two lines bring great exuberance to her. She perceives him as a fool who she can manipulate and control to gain power once he is crowned king. His fake foolishness ignites the plan of regicide. She believes once her husband is out, she throws her son in as king and she becomes as powerful as ever, as powerful as her foolish son. The entire play everyone disregards him and calls him some unimportant child, but he is very cunning and intelligent. He even fools his own mother and father. This allows him to secretly be seeking the throne without anyone coming after him.
Isabella and Mortimer Jr. also can be depicted as his agents because they do all of the dirty work and risk the blame. They have the king murdered, and they had it done in a way that one could not determine his death as a homicide. If someone would have found his body who was unaware of the situation, they would have assumed he died of natural causes. The hot poker that destroyed his internal organs would not be able to show murder. Plus, there was no intellectual forensic science during this time. They also communicated about the murder in letters with another person’s penmanship. So, even though murder is undetectable and the letters cannot be traced back to them, they are still suspected of regicide. That is because someone who knew of the plans all along ratted them out. Young Edward accurately accuses his mother and Mortimer of the murder. There is no way he could have been able to figure out it was him if he didn’t know about the plans all along. He knew about the plot the whole time, before it happens, and he does not try to stop it because he is in favor of it.
No one suspects Edward III is part of the plans though, because he lets the queen and Mortimer Jr. do all of the dirty work. He could have stopped the murder of his father, but he knows his father is a terrible ruler and needs to be removed from the throne. He has someone murdered at the end of the play, beheaded them. That strength did not come out of nowhere. It was in him all along, hidden under his disguise. He had the strength to stop them from harming his father. Even if he did not kill anyone to save his father, if he would have reported them, they would be defeated. But, he doesn’t stop them because it is his plan too. He is in on the plot, but the scheme never touched his lips or his hands, so he got away the cleanest of all. Allowing their plans to unravel, but not stopping them even though he is capable allows him to keep his name clean so there is no catastrophe or murder imposed on him when he gets the throne.
The prince also uses his agents to murder another member of the royal family, his uncle Kent. Even though it was not his agents’ plan, they are persuaded into wanting to kill Edward III’s uncle Kent. He uses his rhetoric to provoke his agents into wanting to kill the Earl of Kent. His mother is convinced, and Mortimer is happy he gets to murder someone who has potential power. After instigating things, he puts the life of his uncle into young Mortimer and the queen’s hands. He acts torn, confused, innocent, and incapable of making a decision. He says “Mother, persuade me not to wear the crown. Let him be king; I am too young to reign.” (5.2. 92-93). He acts like he is too young and incapable of being king.
He tells them to let Kent be the king. This means Kent will have power and the agents will not after everything they have done to obtain it, so of course they are going to choose to execute him. He is a person who can accumulate power, so it would be in their best interest to kill him. The prince knows this when he lets them decide which is why he gives them the decision. It is also why he talks like he will let him be king, knowing it will trigger the greed in his mother and Mortimer. Without even directly saying kill Kent, just saying he will make him king is enough to invoke action from the agents to get rid of him for him. They don’t want someone else to have the power, and they figure if the young king is ready to give up the throne he can give it to them. They will be the only other protectors left to pass the crown to if Edward III does not want to rule.
Because he has wrapped them around his finger with his rhetoric, he does not even have to make a decision or have Kent killed on his own, he has his agents do it so they can seem like the inhumane ones. He knows they would choose to have Kent executed because he has painted Kent negatively for them. This makes it easy for him to let them decide, because he knows the outcome. It also prevents him from looking evil to his Uncle. He wanted to still appear innocent and confused to his uncle, so he acts like he loves his uncle and does not know what to do about his life. But, he knows what he wants to do with Kent, and that is to have him killed just like his father. Kent comes from Edward II’s royal family, so if he would have lived, he would have been able to have access to the throne. The prince does not want this, so he finds a way to get rid of him without it tracing back to him, and without appearing villainous to his uncle. By giving them the choice to kill Kent, he is able to maintain innocence and naivety with his uncle. This choice also allows Edward III to manipulate his own agents. They believe he is some innocent child incapable of making large or difficult decisions and they believe they have power, more power than the king himself, but this episode was all for the young king to trick his agents so they don’t know he’s coming for them next.
After his agents have subconsciously completed the prince’s plan, staining their hands with the king’s blood, Edward III turns against them. He rips off his innocent façade and rapidly transforms from an innocent lamb into a lion. He “finds out” that his own mother and young Mortimer were the two who committed regicide and punishes them. In the last scene the young king gains speech, emotions, and strength. He decides young Mortimer must lose his head, so he tells him “Ah, Mortimer, thou knowest that he is slain; And so shalt thou be too. Why stays he here Bring him unto a hurdle, drag him forth; Hang him, I say, and set his quarters up; But bring his head back presently to me.” (5.6.50-54). Now that his agents have completed his plan for him, he has no use for them now. The smartest thing for him to do to stay king, and to stay alive, is to kill them. He uses Mortimer Jr. then disposes of him, and Mortimer is full of pride so he does not beg for his life he just accepts it. Edward III allowed young Mortimer to let his guard down by pretending to give him power, then once Mortimer is comfortable and feels like he’s in the court, he has him hanged. Mortimer is his biggest threat because he murders for fun, and he plans the murder of the king. He uses the letter written that reveals the plans to give him reason to murder him. The court sees him as this villain who has the king killed and has an affair with his wife, so it is easy for the new king to have him killed.
Now, the only person left that stands in the way of his reign is his own mother. But, like young Mortimer, he has evidence against her. He is still new to ruling, and does not want to seem brutal yet. Murdering Mortimer Jr. is easy because he is not of importance to the court. However, his mother is the queen, and it is his mother. He does not want to seem like the boy who murdered his mother, so he punishes her instead. He tells her “If you be guilty, though I be your son, think not to find me slack or pitiful… Away with her, her words enforce these tears, And I shall pity her if she speaks again.” (5.6.80-85). He puts on a show for everyone. He is forcing out tears and he is ashamed of his mother. He says he will pity her if she speaks again, but what he is trying to do is gain pity for himself. He wants everyone to feel sorry for him.
His mother played a part in his father’s death and now he is forced to rule after his slain father, poor him. He is unraveling the Machiavellian in him, but he is still dissembling to protect his new reign. So, instead of showing no mercy on his mother, he acts hurt. He is playing the role of the son who is devastated about his father’s murder and cannot believe it was his mother’s hand who played a part in it. He is acting so surprised, yet he knew all along. But, no one knows and no one will suspect if he plays innocent and heartbroken. His mother is sent away to the tower to await trial. Her fate is not revealed in the end of the play, but one can assume she was left in prison to die. The citizens wouldn’t blame him for imprisoning his mother for regicide, but if he would have murdered her they would think he is heartless and not welcome him in as king well.
He does this because the reason his agents got the king murdered was so they could have the power. Since young Edward is king now, he wants no one around who can take the throne from him. His agents were never going to be a part of his reign, they just did not know. He planned to execute them and punish them all along, he just wanted them to complete the treachery first. They got rid of the king and his uncle, now he is getting rid of them. This eliminates everyone who could be a protector for his ruling. He knows if his agents are bold enough to think about, and go through with, the murder of a king then they will stop at nothing to take the crown from him as well. His mother would have become his protector, and she would have pulled Mortimer Jr. in as another protector, and they just would have plotted to kill him so they can gain the throne. Or, if they would not have killed him, they would have filled his ears with a plethora of persuasion, trying to control his reign.
In the end, Edward III becomes king, and he expunges everyone from the court who could possibly take the throne for him, for he does not want to end up a slain ruler like his father. After everyone from the previous reign is deceased, he can form a new identity that won’t be devoured by judgment. He can rip off his false identity and become a Machiavellian ruler he learned to be in the play. The play ends with a small solo speech by him, the character who barely had lines or appearances. He went from barely having any lines or appearances to dominating the last act of the play. This shows he was dire to the plot all along, he just worked through agents which is latently Isabella and young Mortimer. He was perceived by everyone in the court as a lamb, but this lamb identity turns out to be a disguise, merely a role in his plans. He ends up not being a lamb, but the greatest politician and strongest character in the play. He is also the smartest in the play. He outsmarts his mother and Mortimer Jr. at their own game. He got rid of all of the other possible people who could have taken the throne. Mortimer Jr. is decapitated, his mother is imprisoned, Kent is dead, and his father is dead. A whole generation is killed off in the play, and all the only person that is left in the end is Edward to be a new king. This means Edward III has the throne all to himself. The dissembling, the rhetoric, the intelligence, and the assimilation allowed him to successfully execute his plan. And, because he uses his mother and her lover as agents, none of it traces back to him and harms his reputation as king. Now, he must use his other Machiavellian knowledge to keep the throne. Though he has been crowned king, the hardest part is staying king, for they say to watch out for your servants…