Woffington was born of humble origins in Dublin. Her father is thought to have been a bricklayer, and after his death, the family became impoverished. Her mother was obliged to take in washing while Peg sold watercress door to door.
As a child of ten, she was recruited by an Italian rope dancer called Violante and played Polly Peachum in a Lilliputian production of The Beggar's Opera. She danced and acted at various Dublin theatres until 1740, when her success as Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple led to her being given her London debut at Covent Garden; she became well known as an actress thereafter.
Woffington enjoyed success in the role of Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer. She performed at Drury Lane for several years and later returned to Dublin, appearing in a variety of plays. Her most well-received performances were in comic roles, such as elegant women of fashion like Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley, and breeches roles. She was impeded in the performance of tragedy by a harsh tone in her voice that she strove to eliminate.
She lived openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs (including liaisons with Edward Bligh, 2nd Earl of Darnley and MP Charles Hanbury Williams) were numerous and notorious. She became friend and mentor to the socialite/actress sisters, Elizabeth and Maria Gunning, and also shared the stage with the likes of Charles Macklin, Kitty Clive, and the tragedienne Susannah Maria Arne (then known as Cibber, following her marriage to Theophilus Cibber).
She was made president (and the only female member) of Thomas Sheridan's Beefsteak Club in Dublin. She also educated and supported her sister Mary (usually known as Polly), and cared for and pensioned her mother.
For whatever reason, Woffington left Garrick in about 1744 and moved to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place. In 1754 she became the beneficiary of the will of the Irish impresario Owen Swiny. In 1756, she performed the part of Lady Randolph in Douglas, a part which found a later exponent in Sarah Siddons.
On 3 May 1757, she was playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It when she collapsed on stage. She rallied, but would never act again, lingering with a wasting illness until 1760. She built and endowed by will some almshouses at Teddington, and was buried in St. Mary's Church, the parish church.
Having a reputation for beauty, Woffington appeared in portraits and paintings by several artists of the day, including Jacobus Lovelace in 1744, Peter van Bleeck in 1747, and John Lewis in 1753.
She has been portrayed as a character in the stage play 'A Laughing Matter' by April de Angelis.
- Webb, Alfred (1878). " Woffington, Margaret". A Compendium of Irish Biography. Dublin: M. H. Gill & son. Wikisource
- Austin Dobson's Introduction to Charles Reade's novel Peg Woffington (London, 1899)
- Augustin Daly's Woffington: a Tribute to the Actress and the Woman (1888)
- Janet Camden Lucey's Lovely Peggy: The life and times of Margaret Woffington (Hurst and Blackett, 1952)
- Janet Dunbar's Peg Woffington and her World (Heinemann, 1968)
- "Illustrious Irishwomen: being memoirs of some of the most noted Irishwomen ... - E. Owens Blackburne - Google Books". Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-11-08.
- Goodwin, Gordon (1892). "Jones, Henry (1721-1770)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 31. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Matt Wolf (2003-02-02). "A Laughing Matter". Variety. Retrieved 2013-11-08.
- Detail from a copy of Peg Woffington and her World published by Heinemann with an ISBN 0-434-21650-X
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Woffington, Margaret". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Margaret Woffington.|
- Peg Woffington at the London Metropolitan Archives
- Various works in the National Portrait Gallery
- "Woffington, Margaret". The American Cyclopædia. 1879.