Nicholas Rowe (dramatist)

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Nicholas Rowe (June, 1674December 6, 1718), English dramatist and miscellaneous writer, son of John Rowe (d. 1692), barrister and serjeant-at-law, was baptized at Little Barford in Bedfordshire on June 30 1674.

Nicholas Rowe was educated at Westminster School under Dr Busby. He became in 1688 a King's Scholar, and entered the Middle Temple in 1691. 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 in Persepolis, was produced in 1700, and was followed in 1702 by Tamerlane. In this play the conqueror represented William III, and Louis XIV is denounced as Bajazet. It was for many years regularly acted on the anniversary of William's landing at Torbay.

The Fair Penitent (1703), an adaptation of Massinger and Field's Fatal Dowry, was pronounced by Dr 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 to Samuel Richardson the character of Clarissa Harlowe, as Lothario suggested Lovelace.

In 1704 Rowe tried his hand at comedy, producing The Biter at Lincoln'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 at Drury Lane with Mrs Oldfield in the title role in 1714, ran for nineteen nights, and kept the stage longer than any of his other works. The Tragedy of Lady Jane Grey followed in 1715.

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 being The 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 of George I he was made a surveyor of customs, and in 1715 he succeeded Nahum Tate as poet laureate.

He was also appointed clerk of the council to the prince of Wales, and in 1718 was nominated by Lord Chancellor Parker as clerk of the presentations in Chancery. He died on the 6th of December 1718, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was twice married, and his widow received a pension from George I in 1719 in recognition of her husband's translation of Lucan. This verse translation, or rather paraphrase of the Pharsalia, was called by Samuel 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 of Shakespeare. 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 at Stratford-on-Avon by Thomas Betterton. These materials he used with considerable judgment in the memoir prefixed to the Works. 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 the dramatis personae to each play. Rowe wrote occasional verses addressed to Godolphin and Halifax, adapted some of the odes of Horace to fit contemporary events, and translated the Caractres of Jean de La Bruyère and the Callipaedia of Claude Quillet. He also wrote a memoir of Boileau prefixed to a translation of the Lutrin.

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

Reference


Preceded by:
Nahum Tate
British Poet Laureate
1715–1718
Succeeded by:
Laurence Eusden

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