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Nicholas Rowe (dramatist)


June 20,1674 -December 6,1718)

Nicholas Rowe,Englishdramatist and miscellaneous writer, son of John Rowe (d. 1692),barrister and serjeant-at-law, was baptized at Little Barford inBedfordshire onJune 30 1674.

Nicholas Rowe was educated atWestminster School under Dr Busby. He became in 1688 a King's Scholar, and entered theMiddle Temple in1691. On his father's death he became the master of an independent fortune. His first play,The Ambitious Stepmother, the scene of which is laid inPersepolis, was produced in1700, and was followed in 1702 byTamerlane. In this play the conqueror representedWilliam III, andLouis XIV is denounced as Bajazet. It was for many years regularly acted on the anniversary of William's landing atTorbay.

The Fair Penitent (1703), an adaptation ofMassinger andField'sFatal Dowry, was pronounced byDr Johnson to be one of the most pleasing tragedies in the language. In it occurs the famous character of Lothario, whose name passed into current use as the equivalent of a rake. Calista is said to have suggested toSamuel Richardson the character of Clarissa Harlowe, as Lothario suggested Lovelace.

In1704 Rowe tried his hand at comedy, producingThe Biter atLincoln's Inn Fields. The play is said to have amused no one except the author, and Rowe returned to tragedy in Ulysses (1706).The Royal Convert (1707) dealt with the persecutions endured by Aribert, son of Hengist and the Christian maiden Ethelinda.The Tragedy of Jane Shore, which was played atDrury Lane withMrs Oldfield in the title role in1714, ran for nineteen nights, and kept the stage longer than any of his other works.The Tragedy ofLady Jane Grey followed in1715.

Rowe's friendship with Pope, who speaks affectionately of his vivacity and gaiety of disposition, led to attacks inspired by the publisher Edmund Curil, the best known of these beingThe New Rehearsal, or Bays the Younger, containing an Examen of Seven of Rowe's Plays, by Charles Gildon. Rowe acted as under-secretary (170911) to the duke of Queensberry when he was principal secretary of state for Scotland. On the accession ofGeorge I he was made a surveyor of customs, and in 1715 he succeededNahum Tate aspoet laureate.

He was also appointed clerk of the council to the prince of Wales, and in 1718 was nominated byLord ChancellorParker as clerk of the presentations in Chancery. He died on the 6th of December 1718, and was buried inWestminster Abbey. He was twice married, and his widow received a pension from George I in1719 in recognition of her husband's translation ofLucan. This verse translation, or rather paraphrase of thePharsalia, was called bySamuel Johnson one of the greatest productions in English poetry, and was widely read, running through eight editions between 1718 and 1807.

Rowe was the first modern editor ofShakespeare. It is unfortunate that he based his text (6 vols., 1709) on the corrupt Fourth Folio, a course in which he was followed by later editors. We owe to him the preservation of a number of Shakespearian traditions, collected for him atStratford-on-Avon byThomas Betterton. These materials he used with considerable judgment in the memoir prefixed to theWorks. Moreover, his practical knowledge of the stage suggested technical improvements. He divided the play into acts and scenes on a reasonable method, noted the entrances and exits of the players, and prefixed a list of thedramatis personae to each play. Rowe wrote occasional verses addressed toGodolphin andHalifax, adapted some of the odes ofHorace to fit contemporary events, and translated theCaractres ofJean de La Bruyère and the Callipaedia ofClaude Quillet. He also wrote a memoir ofBoileau prefixed to a translation of theLutrin.

Rowe'sWorks were printed in 1727, and in 1736, 1747, 1756, 1766 and 1792; his occasional poems are included inAnderson's and other collections of the British poets.

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