William Rowley - Encyclopedia

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WILLIAM ROWLEY (c. 1585-c. 1642), English actor and dramatist, collaborator with several of the dramatists of the Elizabethan period, especially with Thomas Middleton. He is not to be identified with "Master Rowley, once a rare scholar of learned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge," whom Francis Meres described in his Palladis Tamia as one of the "best for comedy." The only Rowley at Pembroke Hall at the period was Ralph Rowley, afterwards rector of Chelmsford. William Rowley is described as the chief comedian in the Prince of Wales's company, and it was doubtless during the two years' union (1614-16) of these players with the Lady Elizabeth's company that he was brought into contact with Middleton. Rowley joined the King's Servants in 1623, and retired from the stage about four years later. The fact of his marriage is recorded in 1637, and he is supposed to have died about 1642. Four plays attributed to his sole authorship are extant: A new Wonder, A Woman never Vext (printed, 1632); A Match at Midnight (1633); A Tragedie called Alls Lost by Lust (1633); and a Shoomaker a Gentleman with the Life and Death of the Cripple that stole the Weathercock at Paules (1638). They are distinguished by effectiveness of situation and ingenuity of plot, so that we may conjecture why he was in such request as an associate in play-making, and he had further an experimental knowledge of the coarse comedy likely to please the pit. It is recorded by Langbaine that he "was beloved of those great men Shakespeare, Fletcher and Jonson." The plays he wrote with Middleton are dealt with under that heading. With George Wilkins and John Day he wrote The Travailes of the Three English Brothers (1607); with Thomas Heywood he produced the romantic comedy of Fortune by Land and Sea (printed, 1655); he was associated with Thomas Dekker and John Ford in The Witch of Edmonton 1 (printed, 1658); A Cure for a Cuckold (printed, 1661) and The Thracian Wonder (printed, 1661) are assigned to the joint authorship of Webster and Rowley; while Shakespeare's name was unjustifiably coupled with his on the title-page of The Birth of Merlin: or, The Childe hath found his Father (1662). Rowley also wrote an elegy on Hugh Attwell, the actor, and a satirical pamphlet describing contemporary London, entitled A Search for Money (1609).

The dramatist Samuel Rowley, described without apparent reason by J. P. Collier as William Rowley's brother, was employed 1 It is usual to minimize Rowley's share in this play. Mr Seccombe (Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v. Rowley) says: "Dekker appears to have had the chief share, but Rowley supplied some acceptable buffoonery." J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps (Dict. of Old English Plays), however, defined it as a tragi-comedy by William Rowley, adding that he had help from the other two.

by Henslowe as a reader of plays. He wrote some scriptural plays now lost, with William Borne (or Bird, or Boyle) 2 and Edward Juby. His only extant pieces are: When you see me, You know me. Or the famous Chronicle Historie of King Henry the eight, with the birth and vertuous life of Edward Prince of Wales (1605), of interest because of its possible connexion with the Shakespearian play of Henry VIII., and The Noble Souldier. Or, A Contract Broken, justly reveng'd (1634), which was entered, however, in the Stationers' Register as the work of Thomas Dekker, to whom the major share is probably assignable.

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