William Rowley was an English Jacobean dramatist, best known for works written in collaboration with more successful writers. His date of birth is estimated to have been c.1585, while his death was recorded in 1626 (this unambiguous record of Rowley's death was discovered in 1928, but some authorities persist in listing his death-date as 1642).
Rowley was an actor-playwright who specialized in playing clown characters (that is, characters whose function is to provide low comedy). He seems to have begun his career working for Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull playhouse. In 1609, he was part of a group of actors who set up a new playing company, the Duke of York's Men, which became known as Prince Charles's Men after 1612. Most of Rowley's career was spent writing and clowning for this company, which was based at a series of different playhouses, including the Curtain, the Hope, and the Red Bull. In 1623, Rowley seems to have left his company and joined the highly successful King's Men at the Globe, until his death in 1626.
Plays by Rowley
Rowley's canon is plagued by uncertainty and by the complexities of collaboration: the following is only an approximate guide.
- All's Lost by Lust (performed 1618-19; printed 1633)
- The Birth of Merlin; or, The Child Hath Found its Father (performed 1622; printed 1662). The title page claims William Shakespeare as Rowley's co-writer, but this claim is necessarily disputed.
- The Changeling (performed 1622; printed 1653). Co-written with Thomas Middleton.
- A Cure for a Cuckold (performed 1624; printed 1661). Co-written with John Webster.
- A Fair Quarrel (performed 1614-17; printed 1617). Co-written with Thomas Middleton.
- Fortune by Land and Sea (performed c.1607; printed 1655). Co-written with Thomas Heywood.
- The Maid in the Mill (performed 1623; printed 1647). Co-written with John Fletcher.
- A Match at Midnight (performed c.1622; printed 1633). Attributed only to 'W.R.', and stylistic analysis suggests that it may not be by Rowley.
- A New Wonder: a Woman Never Vexed (performed 1610-14; printed 1632). Possibly a collaboration; George Wilkins and Thomas Heywood have been suggested as co-writers.
- The Old Law, or, A New Way to Please You (performed 1618; printed 1656). Co-written with Thomas Middleton, and, possibly, a third collaborator who may have been Philip Massinger or Thomas Heywood.
- A Shoemaker a Gentleman (date of composition unknown; printed 1638)
- The Spanish Gypsy (performed 1623; printed 1653). Although the title page attributes this play to Rowley and Thomas Middleton, stylistic analysis strongly favours a different playwriting team: John Ford and Thomas Dekker.
- The Thracian Wonder (date of composition unknown; printed 1661). The title page attributes this play to Rowley and John Webster although few readers accept Webster's presence.
- The Travels of the Three English Brothers (performed and printed 1607). Co-written with George Wilkins and John Day.
- Wit at Several Weapons (performed c.1615; printed 1647). Although it was first printed as part of the Beaumont and Fletcher folio, stylistic analysis suggests that this play was heavily revised by Rowley and Thomas Middleton.
- The Witch of Edmonton (performed 1621; published 1658). Co-written with John Ford and Thomas Dekker.
- The World Tossed at Tennis (performed and printed 1620). Co-written with Thomas Middleton.
G.E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1941-68)