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Surgal, J. (2004). The Rebel and the Red-Hot Spit: Marlowe's Edward II as Anal-Sadistic Prototype. Am. Imago, 61(2):165-200.

(2004). American Imago, 61(2):165-200

The Rebel and the Red-Hot Spit: Marlowe's Edward II as Anal-Sadistic Prototype

Jon Surgal

Writing in a land where trespass against the society was (as it still is) considered an offense against the Crown, Christopher Marlowe employed a singular irony by choosing in Edward II (1592) a hero who both wears the crown of England and rebels throughout the play against English society and its dictates. The irony is compounded by Marlowe's depiction of Edward's antagonist Mortimer as a rebel against the Crown who becomes over the course of the play the principal authority figure of the society. So neatly do these ironic juxtapositions coincide that Edward and Mortimer may be seen to represent alternative phases of psychological development contending for center stage of the psyche, with Mortimer's transition from adolescent rebellion to parental authority taking for its inception the point at which Edward's development is arrested. Edward's dramatic development is very much a matter of his earning, through escalating adversity, our perhaps reluctant admiration for his consistency, but his psychological development is fixed from start to finish at a stage corresponding so remarkably to Freud's description of the anal-sadistic phase of childhood that Marlowe's hero may be offered as a prototype of that phase.

I mean to suggest, then, that Marlowe anticipated Freud with the symptomatological insight of a Dostoevsky and the symbological flair of a Sophocles and gave us in his Edward II a definitive portrait of anal rebellion. I mean to illustrate this thesis by reference to the Marlovian Edward's willfulness, to his excesses, to his egocentricity, and to the literally anal nature (as well as the literally anal consequences) of his sexual behavior.


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