Nicholas Rowe Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Nicholas Rowe adapted some odes of Horace to current affairs and published many poems on public occasions. He contributed a memoir of Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux to a translation of Boileau-Despréaux’s Le Lutrin (1674, 1683; partial English translation, 1682) in 1708, took some part in a collective rendering of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e. (English translation, 1567), and published translations of work by Jean de la Bruyère in the same year. In 1709, he edited William Shakespeare’s works, creating the first truly modern edition, an edition still highly respected. A highly praised translation of Lucan’s Bellum civile (60-65 c.e.; Pharsalia, 1614) was published posthumously.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Nicholas Rowe was an extremely cultivated man, well-acquainted with the classics and with French, Italian, and Spanish literature. He was esteemed as a conversationalist; Alexander Pope called him “the best of men” and seemed to delight in his society, both in London and in the country.

One of Rowe’s chief achievements was his edition of Shakespeare’s works, first published in 1709, generally regarded as the first attempt to edit Shakespeare in the modern sense. It was Rowe who first added a list of dramatis personae to each play. He was also the first to divide and number acts and scenes on rational principles, to mark the entrances and exits of the characters, and to modernize the spelling.

Hugh Blair and Samuel Johnson, also eighteenth century writers, found most of Rowe’s drama too cold and too flowery, but two of his plays escaped such censure: The Tragedy of Jane Shore and The Fair Penitent. Johnson found Rowe’s other literary efforts more enduring than his plays; he described Rowe’s translation of Lucan as one of the greatest productions of English poetry.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Aikins, Janet E. “To Know Jane Shore: ‘Think on All Time, Backward.’” Papers on Language and Literature 18 (Summer, 1982): 258-277. Provides an intriguing close reading of The Fair Penitent and The Tragedy of Jane Shore, describing the nature of the two protagonists as “static.” Rowe deliberately creates passive heroines to whom events happen, rather than active individuals, to suggest the role of fate in their downfall. Consequently, he creates a tragedy that arouses “generous pity” in the audience, leading them to pardon the offenders.

Burns, Landon C. Pity and Tears: The Tragedies of Nicholas Rowe. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1974. Examines Rowe’s gradual abandonment of the style of the seventeenth century heroic play for pathos and sentimentality. Rowe gives to his villains the posturing and bravado of John Dryden’s heroes, while creating realistic heroes; further, Rowe redefines the drives for both love and admiration that animate heroic characters in the earlier plays.

Canfield, Douglas. Nicholas Rowe and Christian Tragedy. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1977. Canfield’s is the first book to analyze all Rowe’s tragedies. He links Rowe’s use of the structuring device of the “trial” of the protagonist’s faith to the Christian...

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