English Poets Laureate: Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718)

Nicholas Rowe, the English dramatist and miscellaneous writer, was born to John Rowe, a barrister and sergeant-at-law, in 1674. Rowe was baptized on June 30 of the same year in Little Barford, Bedfordshire. The future English poet was educated at Westminster School under the guidance of Dr. Busby. In 1688, Rowe became a King's scholar, which was followed by his entrance into Middle Temple in 1691. On his father's death, he became the master of an independent fortune.

Nicholas Rowe's playwriting career began in 1700 when his first play, The Ambitious Stepmother, was produced. In 1702, he produced his second play, Tamerlane. In this play, William III is lauded as a conqueror, and Louis XIV is denounced as Bajazet. It was acted regularly for many years on the anniversary of William's landing at Torbay. Rowe's third play, The Fair Penitent, an adaptation of Massinger and Field's Fatal Dowry, was produced in 1703. This play contains the famous character of Lothario, whose name has passed into current use as the equivalent of a rake. Samuel Jonson declared that it was one of the most pleasing tragedies in the English language.

In 1704, Rowe tried his hand at writing comedy in The Biter, which was played at Lincoln's Inn Fields. The play was ultimately a failure and Rowe returned to writing tragedies. Perhaps in 1709, Rowe made his most memorable contribution to English literature by becoming an editor of Shakespeare's plays. Unfortunately, he based his text on the corrupt fourth folio, a mistake that many editors continued to follow. We do owe him, however, credit for the preservation for a number of Shakespearean traditions. Rowe also divided the plays into acts and scenes, noted the entrances and exits of the players, and prefixed a list of the characters to each play.

The English playwright also had an active political life. He acted as under-secretary to the Duke of Queensbury when he was the principle secretary of the state for Scotland. On the accession of George I, Rowe was made surveyor of customs. In 1715, he succeeded Nahum Tate as poet laureate. Rowe was also appointed clerk of the council to the Prince of Wales. Lord Chancellor Parker nominated Rowe as the clerk of the presentations in Chancery in 1718.

The poet laureate died on December 6, 1718. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. Rowe was twice married, and his widow received a pension from George I in 1719 in recognition of her husband's translation of Lucan. Samuel Jonson called Rowe's translation one of the greatest productions in English poetry.

ROWE'S WORKS

Poems

-A Poem upon the Late Glorious Successes of Her Majesty's Arms (1707)
-Poems on Several Occasions (1714)
-Maecenas. Verses occasion'd by the honours conferr'd on the Right Honourable Earl of Halifax (1714)
-Ode for the New Year MDCCXVI (1716)

Original Plays

-The Ambitious Stepmother (1700)
-Tamerlane (1702)
-The Biter (1704)
-The Royal Convert (1707)
-The Tragedy of Jane Shore (1714)
-The Tragedy of Lady Jane Grey (1715)

Adaptations and Translations

-The Fair Penitent (1703), an adaptation of Massinger and Field's Fatal Dowry
-Ulysses (1706)
-Ajax of Sophocles (1714), translation from Greek
-Lucan (1718), a paraphrase of the Pharsalia
-Caractres (date unknown), translation of Jean de La Bruy
-Callipaedia (date unknown), translation of Claude Quillet

Edited Works

-Works (1727), first modern edited edition of Shakespeare

Miscellaneous Works

-Memoir of Boileau (date unknown), prefixed to translation of Lutrin


This biography is adapted from the following source: Wikipedia: The Free Online Encyclopedia


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