|Ben Jonson by Abraham Blyenberch (1617).|
Eastward Ho! is a play by George Chapman (best known for Bussy D'Ambois and his translations of Homer), Ben Jonson (Every Man in His Humour, Volpone, or The Fox, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair) and John Marston (poet, playwright and satirist). It was first performed in 1605, though banned until 1614, and its title refers to an earlier play - Westward Ho! by Thomas Dekker and John Webster (1607). Both Eastward Ho! and Westward Ho! (and Northward Ho! also by Dekker and Webster come to that) are set in London and so are called 'City Comedies', other examples being The Shoemaker's Holiday by Dekker or The Old Wives' Tale by Peele. The nearest Shakespeare got to a city comedy was The Merry Wives of Windsor (which was set in the town of Windsor rather than a city), but that is by the by.
Returning to Eastward Ho!: it tells the story of a goldsmith, Touchstone, and his two apprentices Quicksilver and Golding. The two apprentices are very different: Quicksilver, whose name is associated with syphilis, is dishonest and disreputable whereas Golding, as his name suggests, is the golden boy and so will marry Touchstone's virtuous daughter Mildred. Touchstone's other daughter Gertrude is, as with Quicksilver and Golding, very different to her sister. She's engaged to marry the bankrupt Sir Petronel Flash, which will greatly enhance her social status (if nothing else). At the wedding Quicksilver behaves very inappropriately and so is dismissed, defiantly shouting as he leaves that he will go "Eastward ho!"; Golding, meanwhile, is promoted. That is not the end of Quicksilver, however: we follow his story further. He devises a way to get rich fast and with a minimum amount of effort with the help of Security and he is joined by none other than Sir Petronel Flash who has already tired of Gertrude's spendthrift ways. They plan to head for Virginia on the east coast of America to search for gold. Off they go but are hit by a storm on the way and get no further than the Isle of Dogs (East End of London). They come up with another scheme to get rich quick, but it is not to be: Golding, newly appointed to Master Deputy Alderman, discovers them: all the devious characters will get their comeuppance.
It is a fun and humorous play on the dirty goings on in London, then nicknamed by some as Sodom on Thames. We see the criminal underworld in this play, but in the end it is the good and virtuous who are celebrated. I enjoyed it very much indeed: it was the perfect antidote to all the Ibsen I've been reading of late!