· Edward II: dramatic documentary
The lines are often quoted as a political maxim, but the second contains a familiar Elizabethan playhouse pun. 'Shadows' are actors: Marlowe, therefore, as Shakespeare often did, is presenting us with an emblem of the player king on an open stage, a mere 'shadow' of the real monarch who, conversely, on the stage of the world, might be only as powerful as an actor. Such a king's strength would derive merely from the shows he could muster, and he might well, despite the finery of his appearance, be reduced to directing four or five vile and ragged foils in brawl ridiculous. In Tamburlaine Marlowe had shown a dream of power, how a great and violent man might become his own myth, draw to himself a regiment of glamour, so long as his physical mastery remained to him. Edward II, however, is not a powerful figure and does not surpass his adversaries in cunning or might. He may have affected the gawdy brilliance of Tamburlaine in his campaigns at Court and in the battlefield:
thy soldiers marched like players, With garish robes, not armour; and thyself, Bedaubed with gold, rode laughing at the rest, Nodding and shaking of thy spangled crest, Where women's favours hung like labels down ... (1I.ii.182-6)
but we may presume that his antagonists wore drab and workaday costumes to show up the vanity of this show and thereby point to the insubstantiality of his power. Edward II in other words is a demythologizing work, uncompromisingly realist. It is therefore not surprising that this play calls for the use of only one stage level: no ghost need appear from below, no character, devil or god, appears above to submit the actions the political antagonists to moral scrutiny.