What is it about?

The name of the first professional English actress was never officially recorded, but many historians believe that it might have been Margaret Hughes. This paper examines the available evidence to support this claim evaluates the validity of each source.

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Why is it important?

This paper corrects an historical inaccuracy that has been repeated for hundreds of years. It argues that much of the available evidence has been misinterpreted and shows that Margaret Hughes was not on the stage early enough to have been the first English actress.


This paper was the culmination of years of archival research on a topic I think is fascinating. It has taken painstaking investigation of hundreds of historical documents and theatre histories to piece together the legend of Margaret Hughes and trace the evolution of the story of her as the first professional English actress.

Melissa Merchant
Murdoch University

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This page is a summary of: “The woman newly come, called Pegg”: an historiographical examination of Margaret Hughes as the Vere Street Desdemona, The Seventeenth Century, July 2019, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/0268117x.2019.1642796.
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