is an early Jacobean era stage play, a satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...
and city comedy
City comedy, also called Citizen Comedy, is a common genre of Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline comedy on the London stage from the last years of the 16th century to the closing of the theaters in 1642...
by Thomas Dekker and John Webster
John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.- Biography :Webster's life is obscure, and the dates...
that was first published in 1607
The year 1607 in literature involved some significant events.-Events:*February 2 - The King's Men perform Barnes's The Devil's Charter at Court.*June 5 - John Hall marries Susanna, daughter of William Shakespeare....
. It had an unusual impact in that it inspired Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...
, George Chapman
George Chapman was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets...
, and John Marston
John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...
to respond to it by writing Eastward Ho
Eastward Hoe or Eastward Ho, is an early Jacobean era stage play, a satire and city comedy written by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, printed in 1605. The play was written in response to Westward Ho, an earlier satire by Thomas Dekker and John Webster...
the famously controversial 1605 play that landed Jonson and Chapman in jail.
The consensus of scholarly opinion recognizes that Dekker's and Webster's play must have been on the stage before the end of 1604 to have inspired the reaction of Eastward Ho
early the following year; a few have argued for a date as early as 1603. Westward Ho
was entered into the Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...
on March 2, 1605
The year 1605 in literature involved some significant events.-Events:*January 1 - The Queen's Revels Children perform George Chapman's All Fools at Court....
, though the entry in the Register is crossed out and marked "vacat."
Performance and publication
The play was published in quarto
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...
in 1607 by the bookseller John Hodgets; the title page of the quarto states that the play was acted by the Children of Paul's
The Children of Paul's was the name of a troupe of boy actors in Elizabethan and Jacobean London. Along with the Children of the Chapel, the Children of Paul's were the most important of the companies of boy players that constituted a distinctive feature of English Renaissance theatre.St...
, one of the companies of boy actors
Boy player is a common term for the adolescent males employed by Medieval and English Renaissance playing companies. Some boy players worked for the mainstream companies and performed the female roles, as women did not perform on the English stage in this period...
that constituted a distinctive feature of that era. Eastward Ho
was acted by the other troupe of boy actors, then called the Children of the Queen's Revels
The Children of the Chapel were the boys with unbroken voices, choristers, who formed part of the Chapel Royal, the body of singers and priests serving the spiritual needs of their sovereign wherever they were called upon to do so....
, generating a kind of theatrical debate between two sets of dramatists and two acting companies. And Dekker and Webster would in turn answer Eastward Ho
with their Northward Ho
Northward Ho is an early Jacobean era stage play, a satire and city comedy written by Thomas Dekker and John Webster, and first published in 1607. Northward Ho was a response to Eastward Ho by Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston, which in its turn was a response to Westward Ho Northward...
later in 1605 — completing a trilogy of "directional plays."
Critics generally agree that Dekker's hand is dominant in Westward Ho,
while Webster's is the minority contribution; but they have disagreed on particulars. Peter Murray estimated Webster's share at roughly 40% of the whole. Scholars have tended to see Webster's hand most clearly in Act I (especially scene i) and Act III (especially scene iii).
is a satire that provoked a counter-satire in response. Throughout the Tudor
The Tudor dynasty or House of Tudor was a European royal house of Welsh origin that ruled the Kingdom of England and its realms, including the Lordship of Ireland, later the Kingdom of Ireland, from 1485 until 1603. Its first monarch was Henry Tudor, a descendant through his mother of a legitimised...
and early Stuart
The House of Stuart is a European royal house. Founded by Robert II of Scotland, the Stewarts first became monarchs of the Kingdom of Scotland during the late 14th century, and subsequently held the position of the Kings of Great Britain and Ireland...
periods, the city of London endured a radical expansion and transformation, from the Medieval walled city it had been, toward the modern city it would become. Much of its physical expansion took place on the westward side of the city. (The phrases "westward ho!" and "eastward ho!" were the cries of the watermen who provided taxi service by boat on the River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...
.) In their original play, Dekker and Webster took a broad-scale satirical view of contemporary events and developments in London, as it evolved "westward" into new, more egalitarian, more capitalistic and competitive forms.
In his dramatic output overall, Dekker does not show a strong preoccupation with ethics; one 19th-century critic called him a "moral sloven." Webster was capable of expressing a dark anarchic cynicism — found most blatantly in his two great tragedies, The White Devil
The White Devil is a revenge tragedy from 1612 by English playwright John Webster . A notorious failure when it premiered, Webster complained the play was acted in the dead of winter before an unreceptive audience. The play's complexity, sophistication and satire made it a poor fit with the...
and The Duchess of Malfi
The Duchess of Malfi is a macabre, tragic play written by the English dramatist John Webster in 1612–13. It was first performed privately at the Blackfriars Theatre, then before a more general audience at The Globe, in 1613-14...
In contrast, the trio of Jonson, Chapman, and Marston generally used satire to uphold traditional morality. To some degree, the difference between the two sets of dramatists can be conceptualized as the traditional philosophical contrast between is
Dekker and Webster depicted their society as they saw it, while Jonson and his collaborators had a greater interest in directing society toward what it should be. The trio had a more overtly didactic and pedagogic side to their moral and artistic outlook than did the duo. (Jonson and Dekker had been on opposite sides of an earlier controversy, the so-called Poetomachia
or War of the Theatres
The War of the Theatres is the name commonly applied to a controversy from the later Elizabethan theatre; Thomas Dekker termed it the Poetomachia....
; and the directional plays can be, and have been, seen as a continuation of that earlier contest.)
The play opens with Mistress Birdlime, a London bawd and procuress, bringing gifts from an Earl to Mistress Justiniano, the wife of an Italian/English merchant. The Earl has been pursuing Justiniano's wife for some time, though so far without success. Justiniano is having business difficulties, which only exacerbate his domestic problems. Justiniano tells his wife that he intends to travel to Stade
Stade is a city in Lower Saxony, Germany and part of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region . It is the seat of the district named after it...
in Germany; actually, he adopts a disguise and remains in London to observe and manipulate his wife and their circle of friends and associates.
That circle includes three other citizens, Tenterhook, Honeysuckle, and Wafer, and their wives. The three wives are all pursued by a set of gallants that includes Sir Gosling Glowworm, Captain Whirlpool, Masters Linstock and Monopoly. Monopoly is a special friend of Mrs. Tenterhook; when he doesn't pay her enough attention, she convinces Tenterhook to have Monopoly arrested for the debts he owes. Then she arranges for the arresting officer, Sergeant Ambush, to keep Monopoly at his house rather than taking him to prison, so that Mrs. Tenterhook can meet him there in private.
Justiniano is disguised as a tutor called Parenthesis who is teaching the wives their letters; in fact he facilitates contact between the wives and the gallants. The group forms a plan to evade the three husbands for an outing to Brentford (in the play it is called "Brainford"), west of London, upstream on the Thames. Their excuse is that the Tenterhooks' child, staying with his wetnurse in Brentford, is ill, and the women are rushing off to tend him. Justiniano, disguised this time as a collier, brings this message to the citizens.
With Justiniano (apparently) absent, Birdlime succeeds in bringing Mrs. Justiniano to the Earl; he is ardent for her, but she puts him off. She condemns Birdlime as a panderess, but Birdlime dismisses the accusation. In fact it is entirely true: Birdlime runs a bawdy house that features a woman named Luce as its prime attraction. The citizens Tenterhook, Honeysuckle and Wafer all show up there; Birdlime tries to conceal their identities from each other, though the men recognize each others' voices. (At one point, Tenterhook covers Luce's eyes with his hands from behind, and asks her to guess who he is; Luce names a long list of her customers in response, a list that includes most of the male characters in the play.)
In the course of his masquerade Justiniano exposes hidden truths about himself: he is actually solvent and not bankrupt, and his activities are motivated by his own personal obsessions — he was so possessive and jealous over his wife that he'd stay awake nights to listen to her talk in her sleep, hoping that she'd let slip the names of lovers. The Earl has a second meeting with Mrs. Justiniano — or so he thinks; when "she" unveils, she turns out to be Justiniano himself rather than his wife. (The women often go veiled and masked in the play, which lubricates the plot's action.) Justiniano makes the Earl think that he has poisoned his wife, to give the elderly man a good scare; when the Earl is repentant, Justiniano reveals that she is still alive. Justiniano, in his true persona, then informs the other three citizens about the journey of their wives and the gallants; Justiniano, his wife, and the three men set off to Brentford in pursuit.
The wives and gallants reach their destination and lodge at an inn — but the gallants are disappointed with the end result. The wives are exploiting the gallants for their own amusement, but have no intention of sleeping with them; as Mistress Tenterhook puts it, "citizens' wives have wit enough to outstrip twenty such gulls." Mrs. Tenterhook feigns illness, spoiling the trip's romantic possibilities. When the three husbands and the Justinianos arrive, they see that the wives have passed the night locked away together, without male companionship. The husbands are somewhat chastened to find that their self-righteous suspicions were unfounded; and the couples return to London, none the worse for wear.
It can be noted that the play formally maintains conventional morality; none of the married women is actually guilty of adultery, and nobody has sex in the course of the action. The play's risque aspect is more in its tone; in its freewheeling style more than in substance, Westward Ho
casts a stark light on the society of its day.
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...
borrowed a plot element from Westward Ho
in his later city comedy The Roaring Girl
The Roaring Girl is a Jacobean stage play, a comedy written by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker ca. 1607-10.The play was first published in quarto in 1611, printed by Nicholas Okes for the bookseller Thomas Archer...
The year 1611 in literature involved some significant events.-Events:*January 1 - Oberon, the Faery Prince, a masque written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones, is performed at Whitehall Palace....
), where he sends his characters on a trip to Brentford
Brentford is a suburban town in west London, England, and part of the London Borough of Hounslow. It is located at the confluence of the River Thames and the River Brent, west-southwest of Charing Cross. Its former ceremonial county was Middlesex.-Toponymy:...
just as Dekker and Webster do in their play. Middleton likely expected his audience to recognize the allusion, since he mentions Westward Ho
by name in his text (IV,ii,137).
Traditional critics who took an interest in the controversy tended to side with Jonson and company more than with Dekker and Webster. Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...
, in an essay on Webster, termed Westward Ho
a "hybrid amalgam of prosaic and romantic elements" and an "amorphous and incongruous product of inventive impatience and impetuous idleness...." Adolphus William Ward
Sir Adolphus William Ward was an English historian and man of letters.He was born at Hampstead, London, and was educated in Germany and at Peterhouse, Cambridge....
, however, called Westward
and Northward Ho
"two rollicking comedies." Modern critics have sometimes praised the realism of Dekker's and Webster's view of their society.