The mask of simplicity : religion, politics and dramaturgy in the plays of William Rowley (fl.1607-1626).
This purpose of this thesis is twofold: to analyse the drama of William Rowley
in search of characteristic assumptions, ideas and dramaturgical techniques; and to
consolidate available knowledge about Rowley's canon. William Rowley was a
prolific Jacobean dramatist, but his work has been under-appreciated because of
assumptions about the inferiority of popular playwrights, and because of the practical
difficulties of studying dramatists whose output is primarily collaborative. The thesis
argues that it is possible to find in Rowley's writing qualities that distinguish him
from his collaborators, and that understanding these qualities is of great importance in
the interpretation of the plays to which he contributed. Rowley is revealed as a
playwright, company manager and clown-actor, who was rooted in popular culture.
His drama offers unusually radical stances on politics and gender, as well as a
coherent religious perspective.
The thesis begins with a theoretical justification of reading collaborative
drama from an author-centred perspective. A methodological approach is proposed
which emphasises the possibility of tracing the effects created by the differences
between writers within a collaborative text. The next chapter puts this methodology
into practice by reading The Changeling as a collaborative work. By comparing the
methods of characterisation in Rowley's tragedy, All's Lost by Lust, with those of
Thomas Middleton's tragedies, it is demonstrated that some of the effects generated
by The Changeling are the result of differences between recurring dramaturgical
choices of the two playwrights.
The next three chapters demonstrate three more distinctive qualities of
Rowley's writing: an unusual response to the questions of social mobility that were
important in Jacobean London (Chapter 3); a distinctive method of representing female charactersw ho are independento f the patriarchal gender systemt hat demands
female submission (Chapter 4); and a characteristic method of structuring clown
subplots (Chapter 5). In each chapter, Rowley's distinctiveness is demonstrated by
comparing his plays with those of other dramatists on similar subjects.
The conclusion shows that the notion of `simplicity' was important to
Rowley's writing, and suggests that Rowley's clowning was an influence on the
distinctive ideas that are discussed in the main body of the thesis. It is therefore
possible to describe an `authorial identity' for Rowley, which can be used as a valid
aid to interpretation of the plays to which he contributed.
The thesis includes a long Appendix, which offers a detailed consideration of
the dates, theatrical auspices and authorship of Rowley's drama, in an attempt at
clarifying and consolidating available knowledge. Stylistic attribution techniques are
used to ascertain the authorship of plays that have not yet been studied in this way.