Peg Woffington



  • (Margaret Woffington; c. 1714 - 60) Dublin-bornactress, noted for her beauty. After her father died a pauper shejoined a children's acting troupe, playing roles that included PollyPeachum in The Beggar's Opera. In 1740 she joined the CoventGarden company and made her reputation in the breeches partof Sir Harry Wildair in Farquhar's The Constant Couple. Sheimmediately became the toast of the town and her portrait was paintedby Hogarth. Off-stage, however, she constantly quarreled with otheractresses, particularly Mrs George Ann Bellamy, whom she is said tohave wounded with a dagger on one occasion.

    After one season, she argued with manager John Rich over hersalary and moved to the Drury Lane Theatre, where she became the mistressfirst of Charles Macklin and then of David Garrick (who wrotethe song 'My Lovely Peggy' for her). When Garrick brought in the actressKitty Clive, however, Peg returned to Covent Garden, playing suchroles as Lady Macbeth to less popular acclaim.

    In 1751 she joined Sheridan's company at Dublin'sSmock Alley Theatre, opening the season with The Provok'd Wife;she soon became a famous figure in the city, even though she annoyedthe Irish by presiding over the Beefsteak Club, which entertainedEnglish aristocrats with luxurious meals. In 1754 Sheridan took achance by staging Voltaire's politically dangerous play Mahometwith Peg as Palmyra. The audience rioted and nearly destroyed thetheater; it was, however, refurbished later that year, with Peg appearingin a benefit performance of All for Love.

    In 1757 Peg was starring as Rosalind in As You Like It,when she collapsed as she came to the end of the epilogue. She immediatelyretired, having played more than 125 leading roles in 30 years. Sheapparently repented of her former lifestyle, amazing friends and foesalike by her piety in her last years. Her life became the subjectof Charles Reade and Tom Taylor's play Masks and Faces (1852), in whichSybil Thorndike starred in 1915.