Nicholas Rowe and Christian Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe and Christian Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe and Christian Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe and Christian Tragedy

Excerpt

Nicholas Rowe is an important literary figure simply be cause he was the first biographer and editor of Shakespeare, as most of us know. He is also important as the translator of Lucan's Pharsalia into what Samuel Johnson called "one of the greatest productions of English poetry," as most of us do not know. But his greatest importance in his own time -- as it should be in ours -- is that he was the major tragedian of the early eighteenth century and became poet laureate in 1715 on that basis. Nearly all of his tragedies were initially successful, and after Shakespeare, three of them -- Tamerlane, The Fair Penitent, and The Tragedy of Jane Shore -- were among the most popular of the century. Historically, Rowe she-tragedies -- The Fair Penitent, Jane Shore, and Lady Jane Gray -- influenced not only the development of English and continental domestic tragedy but also Richardson and the development of the novel (Clarissa is obviously indebted to The Fair Penitent). Because of their popularity and their historical importance, the four plays mentioned are still being edited and anthologized anew (see Bibliography A), and one or another is still being taught in dramatic surveys of the period.

Popularity and literary history aside, however, Rowe's tragedies deserve to be studied for their intrinsic meaning and merit. His Ulysses is one of the better classical tragedies of the many attempted in this neoclassical age, and his she-tragedies are the best tragedies of the entire century. In them Rowe achieves the naturalness of diction and the smoothness of verse for which he has been traditionally praised, plus a fine weave of metaphoric and allusive patterns and a keenness of characterization, as in his famous "gay Lothario." The she-tragedies are, fur-

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