Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Eastward Ho!

Title page of Eastward Hoe
Here in Special Collections, Shakespeare gets a lot of attention. In particular, our copy of the First Folio is regularly retrieved from the stacks for visitors and students alike to gaze upon in awe and reverence. We've blogged before about how his later folios often get short shrift in comparison. Today, we want to show some love to a contemporary of Shakespeare's whose poetry actually appears in the First Folio. Ben Jonson was an English playwright who is most well-known for his scathingly satirical plays and the numerous masques that he wrote for the entertainment of the English court. Some have argued that he was the first poet laureate of England because of his receipt of a royal pension beginning in 1616. The period between 1605 and 1620 is often referred to as his most successful, when he enjoyed the patronage of the king and court.

However, before he enjoyed the pleasure of King James I, Jonson initially experienced His Majesty's displeasure. In 1605, Jonson collaborated with fellow playwrights John Marston and George Chapman to create a drama titled Eastward Hoe. The satirical comedy presented the exploits of a London goldsmith named Touchstone and his two apprentices; in the process, Jonson and his collaborators cleverly referenced and sometimes parodied numerous other popular plays of the time, such as Tamburlaine and Hamlet. Unfortunately for the men, though, they were also a bit too edgy for the king's liking. The play contains numerous satirical anti-Scottish comments, which ultimately caused a scandal and led to their arrest for insulting His Majesty. After several months in prison, spent furiously writing letters of supplication to various noble patrons, the men were released from jail.

Here at Rauner, we are fortunate to have an early edition (perhaps a first edition!) of the play that caused such a ruckus. To see it, come to Special Collections and ask to see Hickmott 160.