Margaret Hughes (1645–1 October 1719), also known as Peg Hughes or Margaret Hewes, is widely recognized as being the first professional actress in the English theatre, appeared on December 8, 1660.
Hughes began her career as an actress during a moment of significant change in English drama, which had been negatively affected by the English Civil War and the Interregnum, and had been banned by the Puritan Long Parliament in 1642.
Hughes made theatre history when she became the first woman to act on an English stage at the age of 15. In the production of Thomas Killigrew’s new King’s Company at their Vere Street theatre, she performed Desdemona in Shakespeare’s play, Othello.
Hughes was known for her acting skills; diarist Samuel Pepys described her as ‘a mighty pretty woman,’ and ‘a great beauty, with dark ringletted hair, a fine shape, and particularly good legs.’
Margaret Hughes was the subject of a one-act play called the first actress, which was produced in 1911 at the Kingsway Theatre in London by a group of suffragette actors known as the Pioneer Players. Hughes’s first performance on stage is also discussed in the 2015 drama Nell Gwynn, however, she is only a supporting character. In Diana Norman’s historical novel The Vizard Mask, Hughes is the primary character (1994).
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