The question pretty much says it all, though I have a specific example in mind. In the mid-1500s while working on his Ars Magna Cardano asked Tartaglia to solve the cubic $x^3=9x+10$. Using Tartaglia's formula results in having to take the square root of a negative number, which was undefined at the time; neither Tartaglia nor Cardano could solve the equation.
However, with a little work the above equation can be factored into $(x+2)(x^2-2x-5)$, and the three roots readily found using nothing more complicated than the quadratic formula which was known at the time. Clearly neither Tartaglia nor Cardano did this, as they had no solution to the original cubic.
All that aside, when was it realized that such higher-order equations could be factored?