Born: c. 1585
Birthplace: London, England
Died: c. 1642
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Collaborator with Thomas Middleton
English actor and dramatist, collaborator with several of the dramatists of the Elizabethan period, especially with Thomas Middleton. He is not to be identified with "Master Rowley, once a rare scholar of learned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge", whom Francis Meres described in his Palladis Tamia as one of the "best for comedy." The only Rowley at Pembroke Hall at the period was Ralph Rowley, afterwards rector of Chelmsford. William Rowley is described as the chief comedian in the Prince of Wales's company, and it was doubtless during the two years' union (1614-16) of these players with the Lady Elizabeth's company that he was brought into contact with Middleton. Rowley joined the King's Servants in 1623, and retired from the stage about four years later. The fact of his marriage is recorded in 1637, and he is supposed to have died about 1642. Four plays attributed to his sole authorship are extant: A new Wonder, A Woman never Vext (printed, 1632); A Match at Midnight (1633); A Tragedie called Alls Lost by Lust (1633); and a Shoomaker a Gentleman with the Life and Death of the Cripple that stole the Weathercock at Paules (1638). They are distinguished by effectiveness of situation and ingenuity of plot, so that we may conjecture why he was in such request as an associate in play making, and he had further an experimental knowledge of the coarse comedy likely to please the pit. It is recorded by Langbaine that he was "beloved of those great men Shakespeare, Fletcher and Jonson." With George Wilkins and John Day he wrote The Travailes of the Three English Brothers (1607); with Thomas Heywood he produced the romantic comedy of Fortune by Land and Sea (printed, 1655); he was associated with Thomas Dekker and John Ford in The Witch of Edmonton (printed, 1658); A Cure for a Cuckold (printed, 1661) and The Thracian Wonder (printed, 1661) are assigned to the joint authorship of Webster and Rowley; while Shakespeare's name was unjustifiably coupled with his on the title page of The Birth of Merlin: or, The Childe hath found his Father (1662). Rowley also wrote an elegy on Hugh Attwell, the actor, and a satirical pamphlet describing contemporary London, entitled A Search for Money (1609).
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