First performed in 1605, Eastward Ho! is one of the most remarkably successful collaborative efforts in English literature. The talents of three considerably different playwrights—Ben Jonson, Thomas Marston, and George Chapman—went into its creation. Although Jonson and Marston had cooperated before (as well as having periods of intense, often bitter, competition), Eastward Ho! is Chapman’s only known collaboration with other dramatists. The almost seamless blend of the three writers’ different styles and concerns into a single, coherent play is an outstanding achievement.
The immediate impulse for the collaboration was to compete with the immense popular success of Westward Ho! (1604), a comedy of contemporary London life by Thomas Dekker and John Webster that was playing at a rival theater. Several commentators have suggested that a primary reason for the triple collaboration of Chapman, Jonson, and Marston was the need to produce a rival script as quickly as possible. It is likely that the three writers worked on different sections of the drama simultaneously, in order to expedite production.
Although it is impossible to assign definitively acts or scenes to any single one, or even a combination, of the three authors, linguistic and stylistic evidence strongly suggests that Jonson and Marston were largely responsible for the opening and closing sections of the play, where the language is sharper and more satirical, and that Chapman was the author of the middle section, including the major subplot involving Sir Petronel Flash’s relationship with Security, the old usurer, and his wife, Winifred. Despite its highly satirical vein, this middle section, critics have noted, has a more genial and accessible humor, characteristic of Chapman’s other dramas.
The play as a whole displays a remarkable unity and cohesion that is rarely found in a work by multiple authors. It has been conjectured that much of this unity is the result of an original plan, or outline, and a final revision, probably done either by Jonson himself or with his close supervision. Whatever the case, the play as finally written combines most of the strengths and few of the weaknesses of its three authors.
Eastward Ho! seeks to be a realistic comedy, with characters involved in entertaining but not totally implausible situations. The play’s setting was...
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