Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Edward II

Edward II is one of the most fascinating figures in history, a monarch who caught the popular imagination and who was memorialized in Marlowe's play and Jarman's film. His life was made for a drama, there is intrigue, adultery, murder, exile, passion, terror, political plotting and sex around every corner. His demise is one of the most canonical and iconically horrible of all deaths, the most grotesque of queer bashings.

I remember as a teen discovering Edward II in the library of my claustophobic Catholic school and having a terrifying moment of revelation. I think I recognised myself there, in the encyclopedia of British monarchs, it was both a relief to find for myself the bigger history I was born from, and also a gruesome warning that the road ahead was going to be monstrous.

But, does knowledege ever come without such a qualifier? John the Baptist knew he was blessed with a great message, but he recognised it as his destruction too. It's the breaking of the seventh seal, an intellectual apocalypse, the closing credits from Kiss Me Deadly, can you face your own future?

Knowledge so overwhelming, overpowering, joyous but dark, is perfect expression of the sublime. As Edmund Burke put it, "The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other."

I wonder how Edward felt, faced with his own desire and destiny, apparently opposed as they seemed? Did he imagine that his position as God ordained monarch would protect him from the malice maneuverings of his political opponents? Or did he recognise that his course of action would lead to his destruction, and yet embark upon it anyway?

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