The Life of William Rowley (1585?-1642?)

Excerpted from:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed., vol. XXIII.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 788-9.

WILLIAM ROWLEY, English actor and dramatist, collaborator with several of the dramatists of the Elizabethan period, especially with Thomas Middleton. 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 Edmonton1 (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).

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.

Excerpted from:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed., vol. XXIII.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 788.

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Image: Woodcut from the title-page of Faire Quarrell, 1617.

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