Westward Ho – Introduction

The city comedy, popularized by Thomas Middleton and others, had been on the rise during the first decade of the seventeenth century. Dekker’s own The Shoemaker’s Holdiday (1599) had been an early sample of the style, but it was through Thomas Middleton’s early comedies that the genre hit its high mark. In Westward Ho, Dekker and John Webster try their hands.

The title is a boatman’s cry commonly heard on the Thames, and is referenced in the play as the three wives set off to Brainford in their plot to fool their would-be seducers. That the play was popular in its day is evidenced by the fact that a short time later, Ben Jonson, John Marston, and George Chapman wrote their own play, entitled Eastward Ho—clearly in an attempt to capitalize on the names chosen by Dekker and Webster. Undeterred, Dekker and Webster later responded with Northward Ho—a nonsensical title, as there is no northward direction on the Thames. My own theory is that Northward Ho was originally intended to be Eastward Ho until the rival playwrights pinched the title. The three plays have no relation to one another beyond their titles and genre.

The play has not fared well under the criticism of later centuries, but it deserves a fresh assessment.  It is basically a sex farce, and can also be construed as a satire of marriage.  Some recent critics have praised it for its reality in dealing with the subject.

My source in preparing the text is, as usual the Fredson Bowers edition.  I also consulted The Works of John Webster edited by Rev. Alexander Dyce in 1830.

Dramatis Personæ
Act One, Scene One
Act One, Scene Two
Act Two, Scene One
Act Two, Scene Two
Act Two, Scene Three
Act Three, Scene One
Act Three, Scene Two
Act Three, Scene Three
Act Three, Scene Four
Act Four, Scene One
Act Four, Scene Two
Act Five, Scene One
Act Five, Scene Two
Act Five, Scene Three
Act Five, Scene Four

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