Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 9. His Collaborators

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

III. Middleton and Rowley

§ 9. His Collaborators

If, as has been conjectured, The Old Law leads the way from the farcical comedies to the tragic comedies like A Faire Quarrell, it is in that play that the influence of William Rowley may be first distinguished; and it is impossible not to connect it with the change which came about in the work of Middleton, a change from work almost wholly comic, and of the city kind, to work partly tragic and partly comic in a higher and more romantic sense. We find Rowley’s name beside Middleton’s on the title-pages of The Old Law, A Faire Quarrell, The World tost at Tennis, The Spanish Gipsie and The Changeling: most, that is, of the finest of Middleton’s later work, with only the two exceptions of Women beware Women and A Game at Chesse. The manner and measure of this collaboration is not so easy to discover as may at first sight appear. It is his faults that are most obvious in Rowley, his dissonant verse, his over-strained speech, his incapacity for construction, something jagged and uneven in his whole work; and it is only gradually that critics are beginning to realise that these defects are not the essential part of him. His plays have had the not unnatural misfortune to be chaotically printed; verse and prose never clearly distinguished from one another; and some of them are only to be found in a few rare copies of the original editions. It is difficult to be certain of his exact share in many plays to which, rightly or wrongly, his name is appended. One thing is certain: that the plays written by Rowley and Middleton together are finer than any of the plays written by either separately. And it is almost equally certain that Rowley’s share in the work was not confined to those scenes or passages in which his actual hand can be distinguished in the versification, but that there was a further and closer collaboration of a kind which no tests of style or versification can ever disentangle. We have seen Middleton working alone, and, to some extent, with Dekker; we shall see him, at the end of his career, again working alone. We have now to consider what is discoverable about Rowley, in such work as he did by himself or in company with others, before we can hope to arrive at any conclusion in regard to the work in which he is the companion of Middleton.