Peg Woffington

1714-1760; born poor; part in a Lilliput prod. of Beggar’s Opera at the Aungier St. Theatre, 1730; travelled to London with Madame Violante, 1931; returned to Dublin and found work at Smock Alley, under Elrington, through influence of Charles Coffey, 1732; played mediocre Ophelia (smock Alley 1737) and other parts; great success in breeches part as Sir Harry Wildair, 1739 [part formerly played by men and rendered a breeches part by her, to be played later by Dorothy Jordan]; broke of with Taaffe, 1740; visited his fiancée in disguise as officer, and revealed his duplicity, at ball; travelled to London with Coffey, 1740; persuaded Rich to accept her in part of Silvia (The Recruiting Officer), 1741; repeated breeches part, 1741; joined Garrick (her sometime lover) at Drury Lane; 1752, Dublin; Beefsteak Club; 1754, London, Covent Gdn.; celebrated roles incl. Sir Harry Wildair, Rosalind, Cordelia, Lady Anne (Richard III), Mrs Ford, Lady Townley, Portia, Isabella, Viola, Queen Katherine, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, the Queen in Hamlet; quarrelled with Mrs. Bellamy while acting in her Statira, drove her off the stage and stabbed her; d. after several years of illness; Peg Woffington by Charles Reade is based on an episode of her life involving a painting and disclosure scene. RR ODNB DIB OCEL OCIL.

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[John Magill, ed.,] A Supplement to the Memoirs of Mrs. Woffington, being the Achievements of a Pickle-herring, or the Life and Adventures of Buttermilk Jack (3rd edn. Dublin 1760); J. Fitzgerald Molloy, The Life and Adventures of Peg Woffington, with Pictures of the Period in which she lived (London: Downey 1897) [var 1884]; Jane Dunbar, Peg Woffington and Her World (1968), 245pp.; Brid Mahon, A Time to Love: The Life of Peg Woffington (Dublin: Poolbeg 1992).

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Percy Fitzgerald, Lives of the Sheridans, 1886, Vol. 1, p.29; quotes from Hitchcock’s History of the Irish Stage: ‘The well-known Peg Woffington was playing at the Theatre, and seems to have exercised much influence over Sheridan who made her president of the Dublin Beefsteak Club, and caused some gossip by bringing her down to Quilca, where, it turned out, she had conformed to the Established Church. This actress was, indeed, to be mainly accountable for the serious troubles which were now at hand. A play full of dangerous political allusions, viz. Mahomet, &c. ... the handsome Woffington, who appealed to them [the audience] was not listened to. A frightful riot followed ..’ (p.231.)

G. C. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (Dublin: Talbot Press UP 1937), Peg Woffington, her name is something to conjure with - a wild creature, erring, wayward, lovable, mesmeric on and off the stage, with a beauty and spirit in her acting that left the playhouse delirious with wonder and delight. And ftn., Percy Fitzgerald in his Life of Mrs. Clive (1888) fails to confirm the statement made by others that she wrote a play called The Faithful Irishwoman. NOTE, A MS play, Peg Plunket or the Dublin Courtezans (MS 25992) [c.1730] was presented the BM by Coventry Patmore; considered immoral (acc. Duggan).

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She is the subject of Masks and Faces (1852), a play by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor, on which Reade based his novel, Peg Woffington (Bentley 1853) [dealing with her affair with Sir Charles Vane, the distress of his wife Mabel, and ending with her moral conversion and early death, following a famous scene in which she masquerades in a portait frame to overhear Mabel at prayer, SUTH]. See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, pp.634-29.

Mrs Delany wrote of her, ‘Mrs Woffington is much improved ... Her person is fine, her arms a little ungainly, her voice disagreeable, but she pronounces her words perfecly well, and she speaks sensibly’. (In Autobiography; cited in Mrs Esther Morris, ‘The Delanys of Delville’, Dublin Historical Record, 9, 4 (Dec. 1947-Feb.1948), pp.105-116; p.115.

Patrick Kennedy gives account of Peg Woffington from first appearnace in Fownes Court, nr. Anglesea St., appearing as under ten; ‘In time the little basket girl was the best representative of the high bred lady, which the theatres of London could supply; almshouses founded by her at Teddington still survive; her nother ‘had nothing to mind but going the rounds of the Catholic chapels and chatting with her neighbours’ (cited from Irish Quarterly Review). See Kennedy, Modern Irish Anecdotes (n.d.), p.177.

Geoffrey Ashton, review of Kalman A. Burnim and Andrew Wilton, eds., Pictures in the Garrick Club: A Catalogue [1997]), in TLS (27 June 1997), quotes comment on a ‘splendid portrait of Woffington [which] shows her posed aslant a sofa, wearing an alluring low-cut dress of golden satin, contemplating, with lowered eyes, a man’s (Garrick’s?) miniature portrait’: a number of portraits of unknown ladies … have been called Woffington, and the subject should be approached with caution’.

Peg Woffington as Mrs Ford in Merry Wives of Windsor, mezzotint 1751 (n.a.), Theatre Museum, London, rep. BREF 249. ALSO, Peg Woffington by J. B. Van Loo, c.1742 (see Anne Crookshank, Irish Portraits Exhibition [Catalogue] (Ulster Museum 1965). [See under Burnim, infra.]

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