Fool Without Book, The

William Rowley (1623-24)

Historical Records

Stationers' Register

From a long list of plays entered by Humphrey Moseley on 9 September, 1653:

The Foole without Booke
} by Wm: Rowley
A Knaue in Print, or One for another

(S.R.2, 1.429; Greg, BEPD, 1:61; Bentley, 5:1022).

The Burn transcript of Herbert's Office-Book

The Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, survives only in various partial transcripts. In 1996, N. W. Bawcutt published new records deriving from a hitherto overlooked transcript, made by the nineteenth-century scholar Jacob Henry Burn, Collections Toward Forming a History of the Now Obsolete Master of the Revels. These records include the following undated note:

"Rowley, Foole without Booke; full of faults, and must be Corrected, if allowed 1li. For the Prince's Company."

(Bawcutt, Control and Censorship, entry 436.)

Theatrical Provenance

Herbert's record indicates that the play was written for Prince Charles's (I) Company.


The Stationers' Register entry offers no clues as to the date, and Herbert's record of the play is undated. However, since Herbert became Master of the Revels in 1623, and the Prince's Men broke up in 1625, and Rowley died in 1626, Bawcutt suggests that the play "probably dates from 1623 or 1624".

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

None known.

For What It's Worth

The phrase "without book" refers to a lack of studying (see OED, book, n., 15). A "fool without book" is presumably either a natural fool (who does not need to study to achieve folly), or a person who has studied hard to become a fool (and hence no longer needs the book), or else a person who has inadvisedly tried to become a fool without studying first. It may be worth noting that Rowley's subplot for The Changeling (1622) features two characters who try to pass for fools within a madhouse, and whose impersonations ultimately fail to convince.

Works Cited

Site created and maintained by David Nicol, Dalhousie University; updated 15 July 2010.