Marlowe’s Edward II and ‘The Woful Lamentation of Jane Shore’: Tactical Engagements with Sewers in Late-Elizabethan London

Christopher D Foley


Marlowe’s Edward II (c. 1594) features a conspicuous recurrence of open sewers both on- and off-stage, and its characters repeatedly invoke the image of “channels” glutted with material and bodily waste. Although most critical readings of the play have interpreted this recurrence as a symptom of the trans-historical psychological associability between the homophobic contempt that Mortimer Junior and his co-conspirators demonstrate for Edward’s and Gaveston’s relationship and the scatological punishments to which the deposed king is subjected, I argue in this essay that Marlowe likely had additional motivating factors for increasing the role of open sewers in his dramatic adaptation of his historical sources. These additional factors were directly related to the growing controversy over improper waste disposal in late-Elizabethan London. Ultimately, I argue that in adapting the tragic history of Edward II for the popular stage, Marlowe self-consciously draws on the environmentally hazardous landscape immediately surrounding the site of his play’s earliest London performances in order to call attention to the socio-environmental politics of waste disposal at a unique historical moment when the collective exposure to improperly disposed waste was increasing as a result of the city’s exponential (and arguably unsustainable) population growth.


Marlowe; Edward II; Urban Ecology; Waste; Theatre

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