Margaret Hughes

by Aleisha from Fredericksburg

POW! went the strong man's iron fist as it smashed into the cheek of his arch nemesis. The handsome man in tights flies into the air, holding the enemy in his tight grip and finally throws him into the window of a nearby building. He has once again saved the day and broken plenty of windows in the process. The grateful citizens watch him from the ground as they wonder who this mysterious savior is. Men want to be him.  Women want to be his. Everybody loves him, but is a superhero the only type of hero that "exists"? The answer to this question is no. In my opinion, a hero is just someone who other people can look up to for certain qualities or legacies that they posses. In this case, I believe that Margaret Hughes, the first woman to act on the English stage, is a hero.

As a young woman who is interested in the world of theatre and performing arts, Margaret Hughes is a significant person to me. She played a part in the reason why I am allowed to pursue my own passions in the arts today.  I find it important for me to understand the history of theatre and what molded it into what it is today, and that is how I learned about Margaret Hughes, a hero to female actresses.

Born on May 29, 1630, there was not a large amount of information collected about the early life of Margaret Hughes, however, her adult life was documented greatly.  On the 8th of December 1660, she stepped out onto the stage of Vere Street Theatre to play Desdemona in Thomas Killigrew's production of  Shakespeare's Othello. The tradition in English theatre had originally been that all female parts were played by boys. Women were not allowed a career in the world of theatre. Hughes made history in theatre that day as she became the first actress to ever act on the English stage.

Hughes became an actress during a difficult time for English drama. The English Civil War and the Interregnum period rolled in and in 1642, it was also banned by the Puritan Parliament. This ban was soon demolished as the reign of King Charles was restored. During his reign, King Charles gave two royal patents to Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Dovenant. After the debut of Margaret Hughes, the idea of female actresses became more and more attractive and accepted by the public. King Charles, who was an avid theatre-goer, had observed this change and the many benefits that it had to the development of theatre. There were also concerns of encouraging men to play female roles as it was "unnatural." In 1662, Charles then issued a royal warrant stating that all female roles were to be played only by women. The popularity of women as actresses escalated higher as more directors began casting women and more audiences accepted the change. Killigrew even produced an all female production of The Parson's Wedding in 1664 and in 1672.

Margaret Hughes played a pivotal role in the progress of women in theatre. It was her outstanding performance in Othello that sparked the inclusion of women in theatre across the country. She set the stage in England for women to have careers in acting.  Without her, the progression of women in this field would not have gotten the boost that it needed.

Works Cited

Santoski, Teresa. "Daily TWiP - Margaret Hughes Becomes England's First Legal Professional Actress Today in 1660." Nashua Telegraph. Nashua Telegraph, 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 09 Jan. 2014.

Shelton, Jennifer. "Woman of the Week." FemCentral. N.p., 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 09 Jan. 2014.

Adams, Davenport. "The Appearance of Women on the English Stage." The Appearance of Women on the English Stage. J.B. Lippincott Company, n.d. Web. 09 Jan. 2014.

Lely, Sir Peter. Margaret Hughes. N.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.

Portrait of Margaret Hughes. 1670. Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki, Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki. Http:// Auckland Art Gallery. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.

Page created on 1/25/2014 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/9/2017 5:23:19 PM

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