Joseph Shepherd Munden

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Joseph Shepherd Munden, by George Clint, circa 1822-1824

Joseph Shepherd Munden (1758 – 6 February 1832) was an English actor.

He had a long provincial experience as actor and manager. His first London appearance was in 1790 at Covent Garden, where he mostly remained until 1811, becoming a leading comedian. In 1813 he was at Drury Lane. He retired in 1824.

Early life[edit]

Munden was the son of a poulterer in Brook's Market, Leather Lane, Holborn. He was by the age of twelve in an apothecary's shop; subsequently he was apprenticed to Mr. Druce, a law stationer in Chancery Lane. In Liverpool he was engaged for a while in the office of the town clerk, also appearing on the stage as an extra.[1]

After some experience of repertory companies, Munden was engaged to play old men at Leatherhead. He began to make his mark at Canterbury under the manager Hurst, where in 1780 he was the original Faddle in Mrs. Burgess's comedy, The Oaks, or the Beauties of Canterbury. In the company of Joseph Austin and Charles Edward Whitlock in Chester he held a recognised position, and he toured the country. Munden was then able to borrow money purchase the share of Austin in the management of northern theatres. Here he played the leading comic business, rising in reputation and fortune.[1]

A liaison with an actress named Mary Jones, who deserted him after having by him four children, marred his reputation. He married, 20 October 1789, at the parish church of St. Oswald, Chester, Frances Butler, five years his senior, an actress of the Chester company who then retired from the stage.[1]

At Covent Garden[edit]

After the death in 1790 of John Edwin, Munden was engaged for Covent Garden Theatre. Having sold to Stephen Kemble his share in the provincial theatres, he came to London with his wife, living first in Portugal Street, Clare Market, and then in Catherine Street, Strand. On 2 December 1790, as Sir Francis Gripe in the Busy Body (by Susanna Centlivre) and Jemmy Jumps in the Farmer (by John O'Keeffe), the latter being a part created by Edwin two or three years earlier, he made his first appearance in London, and had a warm reception.[1]

At Covent Garden, with occasional summer appearances at the Haymarket Theatre, and excursions into the provinces, Munden remained until 1811, rising gradually to the position of the most celebrated comedian of his day.[2] On 4 February 1791 he was the original Sir Samuel Sheepy in Thomas Holcroft's School for Arrogance, an adaptation of Le glorieux of Philippe Néricault Destouches. On 14 March he was the first Frank in O'Keeffe's Modern Antiques, and 16 April the earliest Ephraim Smooth in O'Keeffe's Wild Oats.[1]

Munden played between two and three hundred characters.[3] In pieces of George Colman, Thomas Morton, Frederick Reynolds, and other dramatists of the day he took principal parts. His Old Dornton in Holcroft's Road to Ruin, 18 February 1792, was an immediate success, and remained a favourite to the end of his career [4] At the Haymarket, 15 July 1797, he was the first Zekiel Homespun in George Colman the younger's The Heir at Law. At Covent Garden he was, 12 January 1799, Oakworth in Joseph George Holman's Votary of Wealth; 8 February 1800 Sir Abel Handy in Morton's Speed the Plough, and 1 May 1800 Dominique in James Cobb's Paul and Virginia. This season saw the dispute between the principal actors of Covent Garden and Thomas Harris the manager. Munden was one of the signatories of the appeal which Lord Salisbury the lord chamberlain, as arbitrator, rejected in every point. Munden at the close of the season visited Dublin, Birmingham, Chester, and elsewhere.[1][5]

At the close of the 1811 season Munden quarrelled with the management on financial questions, and did not set his foot in the theatre again, except for a benefit. At the Haymarket he played, 26 July 1811, Casimere in the Quadrupeds of Quedlinburgh, taken by Colman the younger from The Rovers (a piece in the Anti-Jacobin, by George Canning, John Hookham Frere, and George Ellis).[6] He was again at the Haymarket in 1812. During the two years, 1811-3, however, he was mainly in the country, playing in Edinburgh (where he was introduced to Walter Scott), Newcastle, Rochdale, Chester, Manchester, and elsewhere. He earned large sums of money, but began for the first time to be called tight-fisted.[1]

Drury Lane[edit]

On 4 October 1813, as Sir Abel Handy in Speed the Plough, Munden made his first appearance at Drury Lane where, 11 March 1815, he created one of his great roles, Dozey, an old sailor, in Thomas John Dibdin's Past Ten o'Clock and a Rainy Night. On 14 December 1815 he was Vandunke in the Merchant of Bruges, Douglas Kinnaird's alteration of the Beggar's Bush of Beaumont and Fletcher. At Drury Lane he played fewer original parts of importance, the last being General Van in Edward Knight's Veteran, or the Farmer's Sons, 23 February 1822. He had been in bad health, and took his farewell of the stage 31 May 1824, playing Sir Robert Bramble and Old Dozey, and reciting a farewell address.[1]

Munden after his retirement was mostly confined to the house, where he was nursed by his wife. He made bad investments, but refused invitations to reappear, and after the death of a favourite daughter spent most of his time in bed. He died 6 February 1832 in Bernard Street, Russell Square, and was buried in the vaults of St George's, Bloomsbury. The disposition of his property, including a poor provision for his wife, who died in 1836, caused comment.[1]


Munden left several children. A son, Thomas Shepherd Munden, who died at Islington in July 1850, aged 50, wrote his father's biography.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1894). "Munden, Joseph Shepherd". Dictionary of National Biography. 39. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  2. ^ In his first season, he played Don Lewis in 'Love makes a Man,' Darby in the 'Poor Soldier,' Quidnunc in the 'Upholsterer,' Lazarillo in 'Two Strings to your Bow,' Level in 'High Life below Stairs,' Cassander in 'Alexander the Little,' Pedrillo in the 'Castle of Andalusia,' Daphne in 'Midas Reversed,' Tipple in the 'Flitch of Bacon,' and Camillo in the 'Double Falsehood.'
  3. ^ They included: the Gentleman Usher in 'King Lear,' the Second Witch in 'Macbeth,' the First Carrier and Justice Shallow in 'King Henry IV,' Lafeu, the Tailor and Grumio in 'Katherine and Petruchio,' Autolycus, Polonius, Dromio of Syracuse, the Town Clerk and Dogberry in 'Much Ado about Nothing,' Launce, Launcelot Gobbo, Menenius in 'Coriolanus,' Malvolio and Stephano in the 'Tempest,' Sir Anthony Absolute, Hardcastle, Don Jerome in the 'Duenna,' Peachum in the 'Beggar's Opera,' Trim in 'Tristram Shendy,' Scrub in the 'Beaux Stratagem,' Robin in the 'Waterman,' Tony Lumpkin, Sir Peter Teazle, Justice Clement and Brainworm in 'Every Man in his Humour,' Marrall in 'A New Way to pay Old Debts,' Hardy in the 'Belle's Stratagem,' Croaker in the 'Good-natured Man,' Sir Fretful Plagiary in the 'Critic,' and Foresight in 'Love for Love.'
  4. ^ On 19 March 1795 he played Sir Hans Burgess in O'Keeffe's 'Life's Vagaries;' on 23 Jan. 1796 Caustic in Morton's 'Way to get Married;' 19 Nov. 1796 Old Testy in Holman's 'Abroad and at Home;' 10 Jan. 1797 Old Rapid in Morton's 'Cure for the Heart Ache;' 4 March 1797 Sir William Dorillon in Mrs. Inchbald's 'Wives as they were and Maids as they are;' 23 Nov. 1797 Solomon Single in Cumberland's 'False Impression;' and on 11 Jan. 1798 Undermine in Morton's 'Secrets worth Knowing.' These parts were all played at Covent Garden.
  5. ^ At Covent Garden on 3 Jan. 1801, he was Old Liberal in T. Dibdin's 'School for Prejudice,' and 11 Feb. Sir Robert Bramble in the younger Colman's 'Poor Gentleman; 'on 15 Jan. 1805 General Tarragon in Morton's 'School of Reform;' 16 Feb. Lord Danberry in Mrs. Inchbald's 'To marry or not to marry,' and 18 April Torrent in the younger Colman's 'Who wants a Guinea?' On 15 Nov. 1806 he was the Count of Rosenheim in Dimond's 'Adrian and Orrila,' 3 Dec. 1808 Diaper in Tobin's 'School for Authors,' and on 23 April 1811 Heartworth in Holman's 'Gazette Extraordinary.'
  6. ^ Michael R. Booth (1980). Prefaces to English Nineteenth-century Theatre. Manchester University Press. pp. 177–. ISBN 978-0-7190-0823-8. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1894). "Munden, Joseph Shepherd". Dictionary of National Biography. 39. London: Smith, Elder & Co.   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Munden, Joseph Shepherd". Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 4. 

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