The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.
§ 12. Samuel Rowleys When you see me, You know me
Samuel Rowley wrote comparatively little for Henslowe. He was a player in the Admiral’s company, and begins to receive payments as a playwright in 1601. He apparently showed capacity, for, in 1602, he received £7 for a play called Joshua, not extant, as well as £4 for additions to Doctor Faustus, written in conjunction with W. Birde. But we must not judge him by his attempts to introduce into Marlowe’smasterpiece some comic relief which would help the play with the groundlings. Comic scenes of this nature were insisted upon by popular audiences, and it was probably this childish weakness which forced Shakespeare’s imagination to that high flight which succeeded in harmonising these comic scenes with tragedy in Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. Rowley’s capacity must be judged by When you see me, You know me, Or the famous Chronicle Historie of king Henry VIII, acted in May, 1603. In all respects, the play is like the Munday plays discussed above, with this important difference, that it is more definitely a “history” than are these plays. It leaves the region of folklore and chap-book and ballad, and attempts to dramatise actual history. This it does more clearly and effectively than Sir John Oldcastle, where the main character is dealt with as a popular favourite and not historically. Rowley’s play is of great interest as the forerunner of Henry VIII; but, in itself, it has merits. There is force and movement in the verse, and Wolsey’s character, as an embodiment of pride and ambition, is presented with decision. The soliloquy in which he states his intention “To dig for glory in the hearts of men,” is the germ of his great speeches in the later play. But the scenes in which Will Sommers appears carry us back to the days when the leading clown was allowed to display his comic talents regardless of the progress of the play; and the element of popular tale and story is given full scope in the night rambles of Henry VIII, while the naïve indelicacy of the jokes at the end of the play is not to be paralleled in Munday’s work. We cannot, therefore, claim that Rowley has produced a “history” in Shakespeare’s style, although, in this play, he may be said to have worked in that direction. There is extant, also, The Noble Souldier, printed in 1634 as “written by S. R.” It is an interesting play, containing work by Day which he uses over again in his Parliament of Bees, and it probably had been worked over by Dekker. Rowley, very possibly, wrote a large part of the original play, and it adds to the impression of his talent produced by When you see me, You know me.