Peg Woffington

Peg Woffington

Woffington, Peg (Margaret Woffington), 1714?-1760, English actress, b. Dublin. Her charm and beauty as a child attracted attention, and at the age of 10 she acted in the role of Polly Peachum in a Lilliputian production of The Beggar's Opera. She made her first important appearance in Dublin in 1737 as Ophelia and followed it with her greatest role, the breeches part (male role) of Sir Harry Windair in Farquhar's Constant Couple, which in 1740 led to her engagement by John Rich for Covent Garden. She was Garrick's leading lady in London and Dublin from 1742-48. Her attachment to Garrick was the most publicized of her numerous affairs. Ill health compelled her to retire in 1757. She was best suited for comedy, although her grace and vivacity helped to overcome the harshness of her voice in tragic roles. Charles Reade's play Masks and Faces and his novel Peg Woffington are based on her life.

See biography by J. Dunbar (1968); B. Marinacci, Leading Ladies (1961).

Margaret "Peg" Woffington (c. 1720 - 26 March 1760) was an Irish actress, the toast of Georgian London.

Early life

Woffington was born in Dublin, of humble origins. Her father is thought to have been a bricklayer, and after his death the family became impoverished. Her mother was obliged to take in washing while Peg sold watercress door to door. As a child of ten she was discovered by an Italian rope dancer called Violante and played Polly Peachum in a Lilliputian production of The Beggar's Opera. She danced and acted at various Dublin theatres until 1740, when her success as Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple led to her being given her London debut at Covent Garden, and she became well known as an actress thereafter.

Theatrical success, associations

As Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer, she had enormous success, and starred at Drury Lane for several years, as well as making a triumphant return to Dublin. She appeared in all the plays of the day to ever–growing popularity. Among her best impersonations were the elegant women of fashion, like Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley, and in breeches roles she had no rival. She was perhaps most loved for her comic roles, though, in order to master tragedy, she strove to eliminate the harsh tone that occasionally appeared in her voice.

She lived openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs (including liaisons with Edward Bligh, 2nd Earl of Darnley and MP Charles Hanbury Williams) were numerous and notorious, but her generosity and kindness of heart were equally well known. She became friend and mentor to the socialite/actress sisters, Elizabeth Gunning and Maria Gunning, and also shared the stage with the likes of Charles Macklin, Kitty Clive and the tragedienne Susannah Maria Arne (then known as Cibber, following her marriage to Theophilus Cibber).

Renowned for her quick wit, she was made president (and the only female member) of Thomas Sheridan's Beefsteak Club in Dublin. She also educated and supported her sister Mary (usually known as Polly), and cared for and pensioned her mother.

For whatever reason, Woffington left Garrick in about 1744 and moved to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place.

On 3 May,1757 she was playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It when she collapsed on stage. She rallied, but would never act again, lingering with a wasting illness until 1760. She built and endowed by will some almshouses at Teddington, and was buried in St. Mary's Church, the parish church.


Always described as an extremely attractive woman of nice build, she was immortalized in portraits and paintings by several artists of the day, to include John Lewis in 1753, Peter van Bleeck in 1747, and Jacobus Lovelace in 1744.


  • Austin Dobson's Introduction to Charles Reade's novel Peg Woffington (London, 1899)
  • Augustin Daly's Woffington: a Tribute to the Actress and the Woman (1888)
  • Janet Camden Lucey's Lovely Peggy: The life and times of Margaret Woffington (Hurst and Blackett, 1952)
  • Janet Dunbar's Peg Woffington and her World (Heinemann, 1968)

External links


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